le Vendredi 3 février 2023
le Lundi 5 Décembre 2022 9:34 Tribune-Express (Hawkesbury)

Debate begins on 2023 budget plan for UCPR

The first draft of the 2023 budget for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) includes a three-per-cent tax increase. UCPR council and staff are still working on drafting the final version of the budget for approval in January.  — file photo
The first draft of the 2023 budget for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) includes a three-per-cent tax increase. UCPR council and staff are still working on drafting the final version of the budget for approval in January.
file photo
The focus in December for the staff and council of the United Counties of Prescott-Russell will be to create an acceptable 2023 budget for approval in January.

The eight mayors of the new United Counties of Prescott-Russell council (UCPR) meet November 30 for a special session with administration for discussions on the first draft of the 2023 budget. Chief Administrator Stéphane Parisien (CAO) told council that administration, with advice from all departments, tried to provide « something balanced with numbers that are reasonable » for the initial budget report.

Parisien also noted that council should take advantage of its review of the 2023 preliminary to help focus on both its priorities for Prescott-Russell during 2023 and also during the following three years of its mandate as UCPR council.

Budget highlights

The draft budget report noted that operating costs for the UCPR, including normal services, programs, salaries, and other expenses, are projected at $177,274,700. Part of that cost is covered through senior government support funds for some programs and services and the provincial government’s annual grant to municipalities.

The proposed capital works portion of the 2023 budget is $61,575,500. Various grants, reserve funds, loans, and other sources of funds would cover $49,229,200 of that projected budget for roadwork and other capital projects. That leaves about $12.3 million left that will covered through part of the UCPR’s municipal property tax levy.

The projected municipal tax levy for 2023 is $55,303,800. About 70 per cent, or $38.9 million, will go towards the operations budget, with 23 per cent, or $12.7 million, for the capital budget, and the remaining seven per cent, or $3.65 million, going towards maintaining various funding reserves for future needs and emergency expenditures.

Finance Director Valérie Parisien proposed a three-per-cent tax increase for the municipal levy. For residential property owners, that works out to $13 more for every $100,000 assessed value of their property. For the average homeowner, with a house and land valued at $276,984, that means a $35 increase to the UCPR portion of the property tax.

Priorities

UCPR staff highlighted several priority items included in the 2023 budget. CAO Parisien noted that since the pandemic many UCPR staff work from home and also make greater use of their mobile phones to stay in contact with the main office, other staff, and other contacts as part of UCPR business. With the increase on cyberattacks on all levels of government, on businesses, and on average citizens, the 2023 budget includes $90,000 for upgrading the UCPR’s own cybersecurity setup.

« Cybersecurity has become the word of the day as far as all IT requirements are concerned, » CAO Parisien said. « We have to spend more and more money on making sure we’re not hacked.

UCPR Public Works Director Jérémie Bouchard noted that the capital works portion of the budget includes $18.4 million towards roadwork, storm sewer improvements, traffic signal installations, and other improvements. That includes $5.78 million for upgrading the Bélanger Bridge on County Road 8, which he described as « a fairly large bridge renovation » that must be done in 2023 before inflation can affect the cost of materials and contracts.

Following presentation of the preliminary budget report, the eight mayors discussed a suggestion from Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux for creation of a new community aid fund that could help support small community projects in any of the eight UCPR member municipalities that contribute to « quality of life ». Creation of the fund would require either a further increase in the UCPR tax rate for the municipal levy or else reducing some other expenses for next year’s operations or capital works budgets.

Approval of the final budget won’t take place until January. UCPR staff will make revisions to the preliminary budget draft, based on comments and suggestions from council, and present the second draft of the 2023 budget during the December 7 session of UCPR council.