Economic development prioritized; city aims for post-COVID reset
In keeping with a pledge announced in October by Mayor Marc Demers, the average residential property owner in Laval won’t be getting a tax increase in 2021, according to the city’s latest annual budget which was tabled during a webcast from Laval city hall on Dec. 7.
Over the coming year, the City of Laval will be operating on a budget of $932 million. This compares to the $921.4 million budget the city set for itself in 2020. Operating expenses will cost $846.9 million, which is $54.4 million (or 6.9 per cent) higher than in 2020.
According to the budget, the city is alloting $30 million to improve or add to existing municipal services. As for the three-year capital works budget (PTI), the city is allotting nearly $1.37 billion, with $382 million to be spent in 2021, $499 million in 2022 and $487 million in 2023.
‘Our financial position allows us to do this without undermining the economic re-launch,’ says mayor marc demers
It is the eighth budget put together by Mayor Marc Demers and his councillors with the Mouvement lavallois municipal party, who hold the majority of seats in Laval city council. He said they had three priorities in mind while preparing this budget.
City’s three priorities
“Improving services for citizens, to offer the best re-launch of the economy possible in Quebec, and protecting the environment,” said Demers, adding that the city’s excellent standing with commercial credit raters is allowing the City of Laval to enhance its services to residents, while freezing taxes.
Regarding the tax freeze, Demers said, “In these trying times, we hoped to do the most to lighten the burden of taxpayers, while helping with the pocketbooks of Laval residents. Our financial position allows us to do this without undermining the economic re-launch.”
Wagering on development
With the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic probably on most people’s minds, the city decided to increase the economic development department’s budget by a whopping 26 per cent. The City of Laval wants to increase its spending on promoting the City of Laval internationally.
As part of that increase, the city is also allotting $20 million as a sort of economic development contingency fund to meet additional needs in that department should they suddenly manifest themselves, as is often the case in these unpredictable times.
A breakdown of budget expenses
- $72.5 million to repair and maintain roads and streets, overpasses, bridges and viaducts;
- $34.8 million over the next three years to convert Laval’s street lighting to LED technology;
- $28 million for traffic calming measures and improvements to sidewalks, additional traffic lights and a new system to coordinate traffic lights and signals from a central location;
- $26.4 million to implement preferential traffic measures for buses along Le Corbusier Blvd. and des Bois Ave.
- $2.6 million to optimize snow removal operations, including an update of the seasonal parking policy (the idea being to end alternate-side winter street parking by next year).
Parks and buildings:
- $39.2 million to refurbish Laval’s existing parks, including chalets, in parks that include Pie-X, Le Boutillier, Couvrette and Berthiaume-Du Tremblay;
- $29.3 million for a new municipal service centre in eastern Laval, which is something that has been long awaited in Saint-François and Duvernay-Est;
- $24.3 million for the creation of new parks and riverbank spaces, including some recently announced for Sainte-Rose;
Fire and library services:
- $20.9 million for the construction of two new firehalls to provide fire protection in Laval-Ouest, Fabreville, Sainte-Dorothée and Pont-Viau;
- $9.6 million over the next three years for new municipal infrastructure in Laval’s downtown area, which will bring together under one roof a new central library branch, along with a new venue for theatre and other artistic activities;
Green and forested spaces :
- $28.9 million for the acquisition of land for green spaces and forest areas;
- $21.1 million to plant new trees in order to help counter the effect of heat islands; $4.1 million to maintain wooded areas in the Bois de la Source and the Bois de l’Équerre.
Opposition reacts to budget
In spite of a tax freeze decreed by the Demers administration in its 2021 budget, the two main opposition parties at Laval city hall have reacted negatively to the annual accounting exercise.
‘Not suited,’ says Trottier
In a statement issued by Parti Laval leader Michel Trottier’s office, the official opposition leader said that on a preliminary reading, the 2021 budget “is not suited to the reality and needs” of 2021.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, Mayor Demers is not seizing the opportunity to offer the Laval population what it really needs, proximity services and neighbourhood infrastructures,” he added. “A change of direction is necessary. It is far too little, far too late for an eighth budget of an administration that is faltering and accumulating missteps.”
‘Too little, much too late,’ says Parti Laval
Lack of eco-centres
Trottier also said that after two terms in office, the Demers administration has only managed to create one eco-centre. “Only one eco-centre after eight years in office is embarrassing,” he said. “The lack of pools and arenas in the neighborhoods is pathetic.
“In eight years, the Demers administration has done nothing to make up for this lack and offer more sports and recreational infrastructures to the Laval population,” he continued. “Then, we will come back with road repairs and service to citizens. In my district, for example, there is still a dirt road. A road in the image of the Demers administration, a road from another era.”
Still overtaxed, says councillor
As for the tax freeze, Parti Laval city councillor for Fabreville Claude Larochelle said that “after six years of consecutive tax increases, [it] serves to make people forget all of the Demers administration’s fiascos. But in the end, the citizens of Laval remain overtaxed. Our AA credit rating must be attributed to the people of Laval who have been overtaxed year after year.”
Action Laval, the second opposition party at Laval city hall, also reacted to the budget in a statement. Action Laval leader and mayoralty candidate Sonia Baudelot and Action Laval city councillor for Saint-Bruno David De Cotis called it “an electoral budget,” noting that the next municipal elections are now less than a year away.
“Marc Demers is giving you gifts today to make you forget his disastrous management over the past few years,” said Baudelot. She also noted that the tax freeze was a move which had originally been suggested by Action Laval, although the Mouvement lavallois had previously rejected a tax freeze while continuing to accumulate surpluses in the municipality’s coffers.
‘It’s a pre-election budget,’ Action Laval says
“I was pleased to learn that the Demers administration had finally agreed to our proposal to spare citizens during this difficult year by accepting to freeze taxes,” she added. “I now realize that it was only a strategy that the Demers team had been preparing for several years. It was a little electoral game for him.”
Took credit, said De Cotis
De Cotis said: “Now we understand that the mayor’s refusal was justified only because he wanted to make the announcement himself.”
Baudelot and De Cotis also noted that as recently as September, the Demers administration was forecasting a deficit of $60 million, and that the tax freeze was partly made possible by financial assistance provided by the Quebec government.
“By all accounts, it was the help from Quebec that facilitated this electoral budget, and not the improvised management of the Marc Demers team,” they claimed. Getting down to specifics, Action Laval said the Demers team wasted taxpayer money in several dossiers:
● Up to $16 million spent settling a lawsuit brought by the developers of the aborted Le Commodore.
(They sued after their condo project, which had been tracked to proceed by the former Vaillancourt administration, was cancelled after the 2013 election when the Mouvement lavallois was elected.)
● $10 million spent on foundations for the future Aquatic Centre, which was then postponed because of doubts over excessively high bids for the project.
● $1 million in the “blue and white lines” fiasco, when the city painted cautionary warning lines on the edge of sidewalks near schools all over Laval, leaving many residents mystified about their significance.
● Two auditor-general’s reports (2018 and 2019) which drew attention to shortcomings in the city’s administration. ● Poor planning in the $45 million purchase of four properties, which Action Laval said was “improvised.”