United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council reacted sharply at its May 8, 2019 Committee of the Whole meeting to a plan by the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO)—the region’s French-language public school board to increase its development charges for new building construction within its territory.

According to UCPR Treasurer Julie Ménard-Brault, the charge is to go from $444 per new residential unit to $1,086 per new residential unit over a three-year period.

Board documents state that the current charge was implemented in 2015.

Mayors had strong words for the board regarding the proposed fee increase and how it could affect development in their municipalities.

“I am completely against the augmentation,” said La Nation Mayor François St-Amour.

He wanted the school board and the Minister of Municipal Affairs to be notified of objections and concerns with the proposed increase.

Alfred and Plantagenet Mayor Stéphane Sarrazin agreed.  He noted there are many different schools in each municipality that are all under the jurisdiction of different boards.

In addition to the CEPEO, Prescott-Russell also has schools under French Catholic, English public, and English Catholic school boards.

Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly said the increase is incredible and that it is time to address the number of school boards.

In an interview following the Committee of the Whole meeting, Assaly noted that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing recently told municipalities that development charges should decrease on some types of housing.

She said it seems like the school board is in a race with the province to increase its charges before any measures are brought in to reduce them.

Assaly explained that the charge is supposed to increase by $300 in 2019 and another $300 in 2020, and then by $75.00 in 2021 to reach $1,086.

“That’s very excessive,” she said.

Assaly stated that taxpayers cannot afford to finance four school boards.

“It’s no longer sustainable,” she commented.

Development charges are one of the few options to raise direct revenue that school boards have for financing the construction of new schools.  Legislation approved in 1998 ended the practice of allowing school boards to set their own education property tax rates, and it also established the four-board system that is currently in place.  Property owners choose whichever school system they want their education taxes to support.