Hawkesbury council faces tough budget choices

by Gregg Chamberlain - EAP
Hawkesbury council faces tough budget choices
Hawkesbury council members face a big challenge with plans for next year’s budget. The first draft of 2024 budget, if unchanged, calls for a 6.5-per cent tax increase. (Photo : Gregg Chamberlain)

Hawkesbury council members may have no choice but to approve a big tax increase for the 2024 municipal budget.

«Inflation has caught up with us,» said Mayor Robert Lefebvre, during an interview after the November 15 special session of council.

Councillor André Chamaillard was the sole member of council absent for the Wednesday afternoon meeting during which Finance Director Philippe Timbers presented the first draft for the 2024 budget.

The proposed budget calls for $25,099,526 for municipal operations expenses, almost a $900,000 increase compare to the 2023 municipal budget. After accounting for all senior-level government grants and other revenue sources for the town, the budget requires a municipal levy of $12,749,404 raised through property taxes to meet all of next year’s operations expenses.

That means a 6.5-per cent increase in the amount of taxes that the municipality needs to collect. For the average homeowner, with a house and land valued at $162,853, that means an increase of $125.84 in property taxes for possible municipal tax bill of $2,049.15.

Other homeowners, whose property has an assessed value higher or lower than the average, would pay more or less property taxes. Businesses and other properties within the municipality would have different property tax amounts.

Employee salaries and benefits, fire protection and policing service, recreation services, and transportation costs like gasoline for municipal vehicles account for almost 85 per cent of municipal operation costs. These are fixed costs, with few or no options for council and administration to consider for reducing expenses and lowering the tax increase.

Mayor Lefebvre noted that the big challenge for council and administration for this budget will be trying to find a balance between maintaining existing programs and services and finding ways to reduce some operation costs.

For several years now council and administration have managed to keep the annual tax rate increase low when planning the annual budget. But that may not be possible for the 2024 budget.

«We have to maintain our infrastructure,» said Mayor Lefebvre, adding that some municipal services, like Hawkesbury’s public library and the indoor pool inside the sports complex serve more as regional facilities. People from East Hawkesbury Township and Champlain Township use those facilities also, not just Hawkesbury residents.

Council will meet later in the month for a second budget review session. The specific date is not decided yet.

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