The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) will collect 4.25 per cent more in taxes in 2024, based on a consensus reached by the eight UCPR mayors on Wednesday, October 25.
The preliminary budget presented by Acting Treasurer Mélanie Gratton originally contained a projected levy increase of 3.61 per cent for 2024 which would have resulted in an additional $16.00 on the residential tax bill per $100,000 of valuation or $45.00 for a residential house valued at $281,906, which is the average residential house value for the UCPR.
Gratton said a one per cent levy increase equals $555,000. In 2023, the UCPR collected $56,475,700 in tax revenue. Gratton also said about $1,000,000 in additional tax revenue is projected for 2024 due to growth in the tax base.
However, council decided to make additional financial contributions to organizations and agencies that had made previous requests, set aside additional funds for future debt payments associated with the new Prescott and Russell Residence, and to increase Cultural Fund contributions to the three UCPR municipalities with the greatest population.
The first draft of the budget included $169,000 for the Conseil des Arts Prescott-Russell Arts Council (CAPRAC), which is an increase of $69,000 from 2023.
Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux suggested reducing the contributions to CAPRAC and the Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network (EOAFN) and instead allocating funds needed by Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell (RAPR) to eliminate its $43,000 deficit. Chief Administrative Officer Stéphane Parisien cautioned against that and said UCPR funding is something solid which sustains the organization.
“To cut CAPRAC at this point is going to be a tremendous blow to them,” he said.
Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Lefebvre referred to the recent request to the counties by the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital (HGH) Foundation for $200,000 and recommended including that funding in the 2024 budget.
Gratton reminded council that granting various funding requests will affect the 2024 levy.
“The list of grants to organizations is getting bigger and not shorter. This is a public meeting. You will probably hear from others who want to come before council and request funding,” Parisien commented. He suggested an organization funding policy be developed. They mayors agreed and decided to have one established in the months ahead.
Leroux noted that Russell Township, the City of Clarence-Rockland, and The Nation Municipality would like to see an increase in what they each receive in Cultural Fund money beyond the base amount of $50,000. The three municipalities have requested additional funding based on them having the three largest populations and tax assessments in the UCPR. For example, Russell Township wants $158,000 for 2024.
Leroux requested additional Cultural Fund money be allocated to the three largest municipalities and then recommended a total levy increase of 4.25 per cent. He also suggested most of the increased amount could go to future payments of the debt associated with the construction of the Prescott and Russell Residence.
According to numbers provided by Gratton, in 2024, debt resulting from the new residence will cost the UCPR $298,500 because a $846,200 construction funding subsidy will cover the majority of the projected $1,144,700 in capital and interest payments. However, as of 2025, the projected payment will be $1,755,500 each year for 25 years.
Council agreed to the 4.25 per cent levy increase. However, Casselman Mayor Geneviève Lajoie said she would rather see a defined policy on the use of the Cultural Fund before any additional monies are allocated and have knowledge of how the funds will be used in the communities receiving them.
“It’s a slippery slope what we’re doing here and I would prefer having a very clear outlined policy before we start asking for more money,” Lajoie remarked.
Parisien said a policy is being developed and that for this year, municipalities have until November 30 to indicate if they want this year’s allocation from the Cultural Fund.
Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth said he does not want a policy which allows municipalities to carry over unused Cultural Fund money says a policy is needed and does not like the idea of being allowed to carry over unused funds.
The final draft of the 2024 UCPR budget will be presented to council for approval at the next regular meeting on November 22.