By Robert Frank
Off-island property owners who pay school taxes to support the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) won’t see next month’s bills jump by the hundreds of dollars that other off-islanders’ school tax tab will.
Last week, Quebec English School Boards Association president David D’Aoust said in an interview that “on July 1, when school board tax bills are issued for all of the off-island board areas, taxpayers will notice a significant increase.”
However, this week LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day reassured ratepayers that her board is an exception. She explained that property owners whose taxes support LBPSB are treated “as if they were a part of a Montreal island board.”
The only difference, she noted, is that off-island residents receive their bills from the Trois Lacs school board, which then remits the funds to LBPSB.
“Elsewhere in Quebec, in 2007, there was a big increase in real estate evaluation,” Montreal island school tax management committee ceo Sylvie Dorion explained in an interview.
“The government decided to implement a special grant because off-island taxpayers were paying the maximum 35¢ rate for every $100 of evaluation–but the higher real estate evaluations in Montreal meant that we were not at 35¢—so we never got the rebate grant,” Dorion continued. “That’s why they can’t cut it–because we never had it.”
As reported last week, off-island residents can still expect to receive school tax bills, on average, 2.29 per cent higher than last year. They are slated to go out July 1—the fifteenth anniversary of the introduction of linguistic school boards in Quebec by then-Education Minister Pauline Marois.
At the time, critics fretted that Marois’ move would permit the Quebec government to slash the budgets that the province’s school boards receive. Those fears appear to have been well-founded, as D’Aoust reported that school boards in Quebec received $1 billion less in funding during the past five years.
Although the Ministry of Education [MELS] web site extols the province’s school boards as “local governments” that “have taxation powers”, according to Dorion, they now do little more than implement increases imposed by provincial fiat and act as tax collection agencies.
“The maximum [school] tax proceeds [that can be collected] is decided by MELS rules,” Dorion confirmed.
Day underscored in an electronic mail message that “MELS dictates the amount that can be collected. The [Montreal island school tax management committee] does the math to determine the rate. There is virtually no marge de manœuvre.”
LBPSB assistant director-general Carol Heffernan expressed concern that revenue will be insufficient. She observed that Hydro Quebec has already announced electricity rate increases of 2.4 per cent for the coming year, higher than the increase in school tax revenue.
“We already know that we will have a shortfall in our energy expenses,” Heffernan warned.
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