Hawkesbury council has asked staff to develop a second draft of the 2024 municipal budget following a presentation of the first draft to council on Wednesday, November 15. The first draft, if it had been adopted by council, would have resulted in a 6.47 per cent increase in the residential tax levy during the next year.

According to information presented by Treasurer Philippe Timbers, the 2023 budget anticipated $24,240,091 in operating revenue and expenses. For 2024 in the first draft, $25,099,526, which is 3.55 per cent or $859,435 more in operating revenue and expenses was projected for 2024. However, out of that increase in revenue, $701,165 would be from residential property taxes, resulting in a levy increase of 6.47 per cent. The remaining revenue would come from other categories of property taxation and fees.

The tax increase projected in the first draft of the budget would have resulted in an additional $125.84 on the residential tax bill for a home valued at $162,853, which is the average current value assessment (CVA) of a residential house in Hawkesbury. In 2023, the average CVA was $162,739 and property taxes for a house at that value were $162,739.

Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis commented how residential taxes in Hawkesbury are in the middle of the range of the eight municipalities of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) because the average residential CVA in Hawkesbury is lowest among them. Mayor Robert Lefebvre noted Hawkesbury residents also pay for things which are billed separately from the tax rate, such as water and sewer use.

Tsourounakis said property values in Hawkesbury are increasing and believes tax rates will decrease as valuation increases.

Councillor Yves Paquette asked about using funds from the tax rate stabilization reserve to mitigate any levy increase. Both Timbers and Lefebvre explained it is usually only used in situations where a specific, urgent project will significantly affect the tax rate.

A series of possible capital projects were presented to council for possible inclusion in 2024. They include $7,850,000 for a new municipal garage, $650,000 to reconstruct Cameron Street between Lansdowne and Aberdeen streets, $450,000 for new storm sewers in that same area, and $750,000 for new traffic lights along McGill Street at the Nelson/Bon Pasteur Street and Spence Avenue intersections.

The list of $635,000 in possible recreation capital projects includes $115,000 for a new boiler and pump for the swimming pool at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex, and $200,000 for a new generator at the facility. Also included in the possible recreation projects is $170,000 for further landscaping and a play structure at Place des Pionniers.

After the presentation of the budget, councillors shared their opinions and suggestions on how to further modify it. There was no consensus on a maximum levy increase but Councillors Raymond Campbell and Tsourounakis each suggested it remain at around four per cent, which was the increase for 2023.

Councillor Julie Séguin said she does not necessarily like the numbers presented in the budget but is trying to be realistic. She said staff need to go ahead with another draft.

“It’s a good wish list,” was how Councillor Jeanne Charlebois described the first draft. She said it would be nice to approve everything in it, but finances are limited.

Councillor Yves Paquette said there are other options for the budget that could be presented but understands staff are conscious of the challenges.

In a separate interview with The Review, Lefebvre said he is reluctant to suggest a maximum tax levy increase to staff. He explained that one of the reasons there is pressure on the residential tax burden in Hawkesbury is because the tax rate ratio for multi-residential properties has been reduced from 1.4 to 1.2 as part of a UCPR effort to follow a provincial directive. Lefebvre said that decrease has meant the revenue shortfall has had to be covered by the regular residential category.

A second draft of the 2024 Hawkesbury municipal budget will be presented to council at a future meeting.

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