‘Laval no longer under trusteeship’

De Cotis: Memo to Moreau

By Robert Frank

City hall came out swinging last week, after Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau threatened to claw back a tax hike triggered by provincial cutbacks.

Laval executive committee vice-chair David De Cotis told The Suburban that Moreau’s move was a high-handed attempt to undermine the municipal government that Laval citizens elected last year.

“As far as we understand it, his ultimatums are illegal,” he said in an interview. “It’s not for him to say how Laval’s mayor and city council should frame and communicate their budget. That’s our responsibility. We’re not under trusteeship any more. We’re dumbfounded as to why, as a lawyer and a municipal expert, he would make those kinds of threats.”

“In early November, the City of Laval budget was already balanced. We were about to announce a two per cent tax increase, in line with inflation,” he explained. “Within days, we received word that Minister Moreau would be reducing provincial government transfers to the city by $15 million.”

The executive committee reviewed the budget to try to reduce the burden on taxpayers, De Cotis said. “We [scaled back] some projects and postponed others until 2016.”

Those cutbacks still weren’t enough to hold the municipal tax increases to two per cent, he continued, “so Laval Mayor Marc Demers clearly communicated that the extra 1.2 per cent was the impact [of provincial cuts].”

Condo owners will get a bit of a break, seeing their taxes rise only 2.2 per cent next year. The average jump in tax on single-family homes is 3.18 per cent, and non-residential commercial properties will face a 3.2 per cent hike in 2015.

Moreau suggested that Demers was “taking people for morons” by blaming Quebec City and that Laval should instead dig into its budget surpluses which, during the past two years, let it freeze city taxes at 2012 levels.

Looking only at the operating budget is misleading, De Cotis countered.

“The city still has a pension fund shortfall of about $275 million,” he reminded, “as well as a gross debt of about $700 million.”

He added that some of the surplus is earmarked for long-awaited improvements.

“The $117 million surplus is Laval taxpayers’ money that hasn’t yet been used to restore infrastructure, renovate arenas, and invest in projects for the city like Place Bell, the Grande bibliothèque and the aquatic centre,” De Cotis asserted.

“The province is punishing success and rewarding failure,” he contended, referring to Standard & Poors’ ringing endorsement last week of the Laval financial self-discipline (see accompanying report).

“If Minister Moreau wants to run for mayor in 2017, he can put his name on the ballot,” De Cotis concluded. “Otherwise, it’s up to city council to decide how the budget is to be adopted.”

Municipal opposition party Action Laval sided with the Liberal government during last week’s city council meeting.

Opposition leader Jean-Claude Gobé claimed that the city has room to cut back, alleging that city hall had created the equivalent of 90 new permanent positions in the municipal administration, including several new directors and executives.

“This budget is particularly characterized by the bureaucratization of the administration. The heaviness of the administration is not a guarantee of efficiency and Laval residents are going to pay the price,” he said in a statement. “Citizens are entitled to expect more rigorous control from the municipal administration.”
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