The Town of Sutton adopted its 2023 budget at a special meeting held on Dec. 14 to a majority council vote. The budget was presented to the public at the town council meeting held on Jan. 18.
This year's budget amounts to $14,706,731; a budget that was deemed necessary due to increases in operational costs, including the salaries of town employees, and inflation rates.
The budget calls for a tax increase between 11.5 per cent and about 15 per cent for homeowners depending on the value of the house.
The tax increase, however, is deemed too high by some Sutton residents. A petition, spearheaded by Victor Marchand, has been circulating that has so far garnered over 700 signatures against the budget. Two councillors also expressed their concerns on the property tax increase.
Marchand presented the petition to council at the Jan. meeting asking the town to review the budget.
Despite the expressed concerns, mayor Robert Benoît made it clear that the town is sticking by its decision in order to fill in a gap left by a tax freeze over the years.
“The former administration, for about the last 10 to 20 years, didn’t want to increase taxes. You will see in the budget that it was always stable at $10 million. It’s impossible to give the services that we have today at $10 million, we need at least $15 million to $16 million,” explained Benoît. “(…) We have a gap here to recover.”
Our spending at this time is way over the revenue that we have, continued Benoît, we cannot make a deficit for the town, so what do we do?
“When there is a new homeowner, they pay the town a certain percentage depending on the price of the house. We had revenues of about $1.6 million to $2 million for the last two to three years,” he explained. “Why? Because there was a boom in the housing market. (…) Can we expect that to be maintained today with the cost of living, with interests rates, and all? I don’t think it’s prudent for the town to count on those revenues to offset the difference between revenues and spending.”
Benoît noted that if the town cuts its spending, it would be “terrible.”
“We are at the minimal level. (…) We would have to fire people, there would be less work done on the roads, and less services for the population,” he said.
According to Benoît, just the cost of diesel to run the municipal trucks increased by 63 per cent.
“So what do we do? We don’t run the trucks anymore? We don’t update the roads? We don’t repair them? It doesn’t make any sense. The only way to go is to increase it (property taxes) taking into account that people who have houses below $400,000, which is the average cost of a house right now, will play about $250 to $300 more per year. That means it’s about $25 more a month,” Benoît said, breaking down the increase for CIDI.
If the value of a house is less than $200,000, it is even less than $250 a year, continued Benoît.
“We have to realize that although it’s 11% or 14%, it means in relation to the cost of their house,” he emphasized.
Addressing the petition launched by Sutton resident Victor Marchand, Benoît said it offers no alternative solutions to fill in the financial gap the municipality is experiencing.
“We are not going to make any decisions with a petition that only says they are against it,” he noted. “(…) It’s the same thing for the two councillors who are saying they don’t want to increase the taxes, they are against that. I asked them what they propose. For a month and a half, we haven’t heard anything about what we should do.”
Benoît told CIDI that he will be there to inform and respond to citizen’s questions regarding the budget at all meetings.
His administration’s focus is maintaining the municipal, social, and cultural services that he says benefit Sutton residents and keeping town employees.
“This is the first time in 20 years that we have an exceptional team. Do we want to demoralize those people so that they get away?,” mentioned Benoît.
CIDI reached out to the two municipal councillors that voted against the budget Lynda Graham and Carole Lebel.
In an email to CIDI, Graham wrote that she made her views very clear at the meeting on Jan. 18 and especially at the meeting on Dec. 14. She said that she “respects the decisions taken by the majority of the council” and she does “not wish to continue the debate further.” She declined to comment.
Lebel also reached out to CIDI by email thanking us for our our invitation, but declined to comment. She said that the arguments at the base of her decision that led her to vote against the budget were well pronounced at the last two meetings.
CIDI tried to reach out to Marchand, but could not track down the correct contact information. He expressed his concerns at the council meeting on Jan. 18 and we have included a clip in this episode of Townships’ Daily News Bits.
Watch the Jan. 18 council meeting here.
Find more information on the budget here.
Listen to the full interview below: