Ste. Anne down to wire to pass budget

Residents urged to attend Dec. 21 public meeting

Ste. Anne-de-Belleuve town councillors are seemingly still at an impasse on a proposed 2016 municipal budget and at least one elected official is urging residents to come out in force for a public meeting being held Monday during which council will attempt to pass the budget.

If councillors continue to lock heads in the stalemate, provincial officials could be called in to arbitrate.

Under provincial regulations, the budget must be passed by Dec. 31.

More pressing, according to Mayor Paola Hawa, is passing the budget in time to issue tax bills so the city can collect revenue in time to pay its own bills.

“We have to pay our bills in March and unlike larger cities, we don’t have the money to carry us over,” she said.

Hawa says they’re “down to the wire” to issue tax bills that will be collected 30 to 40 days later.

The budget, as it currently stands, includes a tax increase that is below rate of inflation according to municipal councillor Ryan Young.

“It’s a smaller increase than last year,” he said.

Young says the biggest bone of contention concerns a $60,000 a year administrative assistant position which three town councillors allegedly feel should not be included in next year’s budget.

The position has existed since “about halfway through (former mayor) Francis Deroo’s tenure,” according to Young. The employee is shared by Hawa and Director General Martin Bonhomme.

The position recently came into question since the person holding the job is set to retire.

Hawa says the line item is actually one of four jobs being questioned, though the other three are unionized positions that are harder to do away with, she noted.

 Impasse

According to a lengthy Facebook message Young posted on his personal page this week, the town’s council is evenly split following the recent death of District 3 councillor Andrée Deschamps.

‘The divisions on council are now crippling the functioning of the city administration,’ Young wrote.

He said the impasse is pitting Hawa, councillor Dana Chevalier, and Young against councillors Daniel Boyer, Michel Boudreault, and Yvan Labelle.

‘…those same three councillors refuse to agree to support the 2016 budget that both they and everyone else on city council (and with the city administration) worked hard to develop. So it’s now three against three,’ he stated.

A by-election to fill Deschamp’s seat that must be held by March will not be done in time to ease the stalemate, he added.

Hawa and Young say they won’t budge on the administrative assistant’s job as it directly affects the running of the city.

“I’m not willing to reduce services to citizens so I can see a headline that says how much money we’re saving. We’ve cut more than $300,000 (from the budget) already,” the mayor said.

Though both officials admit there has been no movement between the two sides, and there are no plans to come together prior to the Dec. 21 public meeting, taking place at 6:30 p.m. at Centre Harpell, Hawa  remains hopeful. “I think reason will prevail,” she said.

And if it doesn’t?

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

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