United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) mayors recently agreed that the levy increase for the 2021 counties budget should be kept at one per cent.

At the October 14 Committee of the Whole meeting, UCPR Treasurer Valérie Parisien presented the preliminary budget.  She identified that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the food hub project, and the new Prescott and Russell Residence are the three major, ongoing financial obligations the UCPR has in 2021.  The tender process for the new residence is to be completed at the end of October and the general contractor selected before the end of 2020 with construction to begin in 2021 at the site on Spence Avenue in Hawkesbury.

Several road projects are part of the UCPR’s priorities for 2021.

Parisien explained that unforeseen repercussions of the pandemic, and an increase in the amount of social services financing the counties will have to provide due to cuts in external funding will be challenges in the year ahead.

According to Parisien’s report, a one per cent increase—or decrease of the county tax rate is equal to $475,000 in revenue or loss.  She explained that the one per cent increase equals an additional $4.00 per $100,000 of assessment value and $11.00 per the $272,538 average assessment value of a house in Prescott and Russell.

The preliminary budget did not include an increase in the per diem the UCPR provides to subsidized residents of hostel accommodations, consideration of additional COVID-19-related expenses, any increase to the county share of funding for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, transfers to a reserve fund for future widening of County Road 17, or revenue from when UCPR ambulances respond to calls in Ottawa or Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry.

As a response to Parisien’s budget presentation, the mayors commented with a consistent recommendation to keep the tax levy increase at one per cent, especially due to the financial uncertainty many UCPR residents are facing due to the pandemic.  At the time of the presentation, the increase was 1.39 per cent.

“A lot of people have been affected,” said Alfred and Plantagenet Mayor Stéphane Sarrazin.

La Nation Mayor François St-Amour commented that property values are higher in the western communities of the UCPR which means taxpayers there would face higher taxes due to an increase in the county levy.  He suggested the increase be limited to one per cent.

“One per cent is the maximum,” said Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel.

In a separate interview, Riopel noted that the tax base is always based on residential properties, but he said it is important to consider industrial and commercial properties due to their tax burden as well.

East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby said on October 14 that one per cent was reasonable due to the pandemic conditions.

The Finance Department will re-evaluate the preliminary budget and make changes to comply with the mayors’ one per cent directive.  Revisions are being presented to UCPR council on October 28, the final edition will be presented on November 10, and the budget will be officially adopted by council on November 25.