The Association of Suburban Municipalities (ASM) says its members are paying Montreal too much for services and is asking the Quebec government to step in to help negotiate a new way to calculate payments.
“We need a mediator. It’s a 15-year-old system that’s broken,” ASM president Beny Masella said following the tabling of Montreal’s $6.2 billion budget, Monday.
The ASM represents around 250,000 citizens in 15 suburban municipalities on Montreal Island. Suburbs are compelled to pay the Montreal Agglomeration Council for potable water, transportation, landfill transport and firefighting and police services. Some suburbs end up paying close to 50 per cent of their operational budget to the agglo and have no power when it comes time to sit down and discuss fiscal decisions. That’s because the ASM represents around 13 per cent of the vote, with Montreal and its boroughs controlling the rest.
Masella, who is the mayor of demerged Montréal-Ouest, called the way the payments to the Montreal Agglomeration Council are calculated out of whack.
“Calculations are based solely on property values,” Masella said. “If property values go up, we pay more, but we’re not getting one more police car or one more road built. How can we justify that a police car in Beaconsfield costs more than a police car downtown? It’s absolute folly.”
When the property assessment roll for 2020-22 was released this fall, it showed a 25.9 per cent property-value spike in Beaconsfield, the second highest hike in the West Island after Île-Dorval, at 27.4 per cent.
Monday’s budget listed substantial increases to the two suburbs’ agglo payments, with Beaconsfield now expected to pay 11.3 per cent more and Île-Dorval, 10.5 per cent.
Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle has consistently criticized the way agglo payments are calculated. Last month, he urged West Island citizens to mobilize, encouraging them to call on the Quebec government to step in and make changes.
“It’s not a bad budget, with the average of a 2.1 per cent increase in taxes,” Bourelle said, Tuesday. “However, I think the allocation of (agglo) payments is absolutely unjust and inequitable.”
Bourelle said he would be asking why it is that Montreal and its boroughs pay 82.6 per cent of the service fees when the territory represents 87.89 per cent of the population.
“That’s unfair,” he said. “I am upset and disappointed because my poor residents will have to pick up the bill and they don’t deserve it. They will pay extra for absolutely nothing.”
The current agglo-payment system was put in place by the then Liberal government in 2008.
“Yes, they are following the letter of the law, but is it right to enforce an inequitable law?” Bourelle said.
Masella said the ASM did a study of service costs covering 2009 to 2018. He said the study showed that, proportionally, suburbs were paying 62 per cent more for shared services than Montreal and its boroughs.
The ASM has requested that the agglomeration sit down to discuss the issue, but to no avail.
Masella said the ASM proposed studying the payments in four categories — landfill transport, potable water, transportation and security. He said the ASM had examples of different ways payments were being calculated in other municipalities in Quebec, be it an “origin and destination” analysis to determine transportation fees, user fees for water management or a combination of property values and population density for security services.
“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel. We’re not even going that far afield to find examples of different ways to do things,” Masella said. “There are some Quebec municipalities that are getting (provincial) government subsidies to pay for their police forces. Why can’t Montreal have something like that?”
The ASM has asked that a government mediator convene negotiations as early as June 2020. But at the moment, “we are in limbo,” Masella said. “We’re not asking for payments to drop to zero. We just want a fair and equitable system put in place.”
Here is a breakdown of percentage increases or decreases (in parentheses) of payments to the Montreal Agglomeration Council from West Island, demerged, suburbs: