The tax levy increase in the 2024 United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) budget remains at 4.25 per cent. UCPR council received the second draft of the budget at a special meeting held on Wednesday, November 8.
The UCPR will collect $58,039,400 in taxes in 2024, an increase of $2,363,700 from 2023. The increased 2024 levy includes $1,000,000 in growth due to increases in property tax revenue from growth and development.
The UCPR is projected to finish 2023 with $43,459,800 in reserves. Reserves are projected to decrease to $39,638,000 by the end of 2024. The Nation Mayor Francis Brière questioned why there is still a need for a COVID-19 reserve fund of more than $3 million because the worst of the pandemic seems to be past. Brière asked if the reserve fund could be discontinued and dispersed to reduce taxes in other areas of the budget.
Acting Treasurer Mélanie Gratton explained how the COVID-19 funds were provided by the Ontario government and there are restrictions on how they may be used. She said the only thing they may be used for is to facilitate telecommunications and employees working from home.
“Basically, we can’t spend it to reduce the tax rate,” Chief Administrative Officer Stéphane Parisien said. He added the UCPR is awaiting direction from the province on what the funds could be used for.
Casselman Mayor Geneviève Lajoie asked if the COVID-19 reserve fund could be used to facilitate telecommunications and remote working for employees of the eight municipalities, or if the funds could be allocated to assist with mental health programs related to COVID-19.
Parisien did not have an immediate answer to Lajoie’s question and said further research would be necessary.
Brière noted people wonder about why there are so many reserve funds and money in them, even though the amount of taxes being collected continues to increase.
Parisien explained reserves are used for accounting purposes to demonstrate to the provincial government that money is being spent on responsibilities the UCPR is required to uphold.
Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux said he is quite comfortable having significant reserves due to the future need to address the UCPR’s significant asset management shortfall.
Organizations and hospitals
The 2024 UCPR budget contains a total of $1,267,000 for various community and not-for-profit organizations. Aside from the $550,000 allocated to the council discretionary fund, the organization receiving the greatest amount is the Centre d’Accueil Roger-Séguin long-term care facility in Clarence Creek which will receive $250,000 for its redevelopment plans. Funding for the Conseil des Arts Prescott-Russell Arts Council (CAPRAC) has been maintained at $169,000 and $35,000 will be given to the Eastern Ontario Agrifood Network (EOAN).
The budget now includes the $43,000 council agreed to give to Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell on October 25 to eliminate the organization’s deficit. The budget also includes $50,000 for the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital (HGH) Foundation, which is the first installment of a plan to contribute $200,000 to the foundation over four years.
The HGH Foundation had previously requested funding from the UCPR. Leroux presented information indicating the Winchester District Memorial Hospital serves three times the number of Russell Township residents than HGH. Leroux suspects the Winchester hospital will make a funding request to the UCPR in 2024. In 2023, there were 3,248 visits to the Winchester emergency department alone by residents of Russell Township.
Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Lefebvre agreed but noted HGH’s request is funding for equipment not funded by the province.
Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth said he is concerned the Ontario government will gladly let regional governments pick up the slack in health care funding and refuse to acknowledge its own shortcomings.
“I think we’re going to start to get pulled into a lot of areas that were historically provincial,” remarked Zanth.
The final 2024 budget will be presented to UCPR council for approval on November 22.