For the first time since early March 2020, United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council met as a group in-person for a Committee of the Whole meeting on October 13. The eight mayors and three members of the administration were in the council chamber, but department heads still participated by video-conferencing.
One of those department heads, Treasurer Valérie Parisien, presented the preliminary 2022 budget to council. As it was presented on October 13, the amount the UCPR would request in tax revenue for 2022 would have increased by 3.56 per cent. In 2021, the UCPR requested $48,978,000 from taxpayers, and the preliminary 2022 budget would have requested $50,712,400. However, the mayors directed the treasurer to keep the increase at three per cent.
According to Parisien, expenses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, construction of the new Prescott and Russell Residence, and continued plans for a regional food hub project, remain as major factors in budget development.
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) has also decided to delay the phase-in of new market-value assessment values for taxation purposes in 2022. MPAC had already delayed the phase-in scheduled for 2021 due to the pandemic.
“We have included the food hub in our 2022 budget,” said Parisien.
She explained the project was carried over from 2021 because the project is still in the planning stage. An additional $200,000 has been added to the 2022 budget, to be financed by the taxation levy.
The $2 million fund, which is distributed to municipalities for local road improvements, also remains in the 2022 budget, along with an unexpected top-up in gasoline tax rebate funds from 2021, which is being carried over to 2022.
Parisien explained that one per cent of taxation in the 2022 budget represents $489,000.
She also noted that the UCPR’s revenue situation would be greatly improved if development charges were introduced for certain infrastructure projects.
“These projects could have been financed by this additional revenue stream,” said Valérie Parisien.
For social services, 2022 is the final year of changes for the provincial childcare funding formula. The changes will result in a $182,000 increase in the UCPR’s childcare budget.
However, the provincial subsidy of the daily amount for long-term care residents of the Prescott and Russell Residence is increasing from $4.50 to $7.27 per day, per bed.
Salary increases and unresolved contract negotiations have also been budgeted for 2022.
Items not yet included in the budget are the daily subsidy the UCPR pays for individuals living in hostels, and alignment of budgeted expenses with the counties’ asset management plan and the UCPR contribution to the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). Provincial funding through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund is also unknown for 2022. In 2021, the approximate amount was $7 million.
“We’re falling behind on our asset management plan,” commented Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux. He also inquired about the status of the rural paving plan.
Interim Director of Public Works Jeremie Bouchard said he has identified two areas for paving and has added them to the budget.
“Are we reducing the amount of paving?” asked Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel.
Bouchard said the UCPR is not reducing paving because there is a difference between the funding of stand-alone paving projects and paving resulting from sewer replacement projects or projects on boundary roads coordinated jointly with the City of Ottawa.
“The residence is very important,” said Warden Stéphane Sarrazin, noting its significance to the population. He asked Parisien what the contribution to the EOHU will be in 2022. She said it is $1.4 million.
“Will the United Counties have a surplus in 2022?” asked Riopel.
Valérie Parisien said that is not yet known.
“Is it possible to go below three per cent (for increases)?” Riopel asked.
“If we go below three per cent, we’ll have to make cuts,” responded Chief Administrative Officer Stéphane Parisien.
Riopel proposed the levy increase be no greater than three per cent. The recommendation was seconded by Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly.
Valerie Parisien is hoping to have the 2022 UCPR budget approved by council on November 24.