2006 Budget Adoption

COTE SAINT-LUC, DECEMBER 19, 2005-In the six weeks since being sworn into office, members of the reconstituted city council of Côte Saint-Luc have worked overtime to prepare a budget which will allow core services to be returned to pre-merger levels.
On December 19, the council adopted a balanced budget of 29,975,594 million for 2006. There were numerous variables in the construction of Cote Saint-Luc's first city budget in five years. Important information was missing which needed to be reconstructed or negotiated with the Quebec government, the Transition Committee and the City of Montreal. The constantly changing information led to marathon council meetings which sought to put monies into local services, but to limit the tax impact on residents. As a result of the substantial increase in labour costs since the mergers, the increase in the cost of water, the 9.1 percent increase in Cote Saint-Luc's evaluations and the one time transition costs, a tax increase was inevitable in 2006. However council's goal was to keep it manageable while taking steps to limit the need for major increases in coming years. Finally, with great effort the budget projects a tax increase of approximately 9.46 percent based on an assumed agglomeration rate of 73 cents for residential. This is substantially less than what is anticipated in most other reconstituting communities. Mayor Anthony Housefather lauded the efforts of his eight city councilors, notably Dida Berku who assumes responsibility for the finance portfolio. "Dida has put in an enormous amount of hours working with Council and our new finance department staff these past few weeks and all of the taxpayers of Côte Saint-Luc owe her much gratitude," he remarked. "This is Cote Saint-Luc's first true budget since the one adopted in December 2000 and everything had to be put together from almost scratch. For the first time since the mergers I now actually feel that I have a handle on our finances and we have now regained control of the process which allows our city to be fiscally responsible. In fact, monies spent in CSL this year will go up by $1,664,669 million from 2005 to ensure services return to 2001 levels. Council took into consideration that we wanted to cut spending wherever possible, but we wanted to pump new funds into services to allow them to be first rate and better than we have known during the merger period."
A total $11,816,444 will go toward paying the salaries and benefits for Côte Saint-Luc's municipal employees. The second-largest expenditure, $5,080,000 million, will be put towards Côte Saint-Luc's debt, which includes more than $29,040,616 million going to Montreal and demerger costs, $792,559 million to the debt balance still owing from 2001.In reviewing the budget numbers prepared by civil servants during these past six weeks, council was able to make more than $2 million in cuts. However, every effort was made to allocate monies to have enhanced services. "We have made efforts to be creative through intermuncipal agreements with Hampstead dealing with the library, dispatch services and use of the snow dump," said Councillor Berku. "This will generate new revenues. We have maintained our state of the art library with the largest per capita expenditure on the island, increased our book buying budget $ 100,000 as compared to last year and eliminated the annual $5 membership fee for existing Côte Saint-Luc members.
"First class service is now being expanded to include water maintenance. For the first time we will have a contract to maintain and keep our water infrastructure in top condition. Furthermore over the next two years we will have completed diagnostics for long term investment. "If we want to move ahead and expand recycling we will have to be innovative in the field of service delivery. Now that we have solved the issue of public private partnership for the water system, we may look to creative ways to increase service in garbage and recycling. That will be next year's budget challenge. In the meantime we will start a pilot project for recycling in condos."
As predicted, notes Councillor Berku, the costs of running the city have increased substantially due to increased labour costs as a result of the merger of Côte Saint-Luc with Montreal and the turnover of personnel due to the breakup of the three cities. "The cost of transition will be paid over the next few years and the increased costs for water maintenance are going to bring positive tangible results for the residents," she said.

Mayor Housefather said he now anxiously awaits the Agglomeration Council's budget. "While we have a seat at this table, the City of Montreal controls 87 percent of the votes," he said. "We hope they will act responsibly andwork in cooperation with the reconstituting communities to prepare the budget. The agglomeration decree means that the residential rate which was set out in the original agglomeration budget of 78 cents should be at least five cents less."
Mayor Housefather stated that preparing the budget in such a short period was a major challenge. Côte Saint-Luc, in fact, had a more difficult challenge than any other demerged suburb. Not only is it demerging from Montreal, but it is also separating from a borough which included the reconstituted towns of Hampstead and Montreal West. "Virtually all of the municipalities had no turnover in staff," said Mayor Housefather. "They simply change the nameplate in front of their building from borough to city or town and their staff component remains in place. Our staff are still managing borough affairs. And we have incurred a severe staff turnover. Our new director of finance has only been in place for two weeks and several other key posts have yet to be filled."
Mayor Housefather said he looks forward to having a full 12 months in office to get Côte Saint-Luc in order. "In the brief period since being sworn in we have tried to be creative," he said. "We've entered into some revenue generating agreements with Hampstead, we have introduced a Privilege Card to allow use of our recreational facilities for CSL residents free of charge, we have drastically increased the book buying budget for the library, we have succeeded in getting a three year reprieve for EMS and we have used the budget exercise to introduce other new services such as a pilot recycling program for condos. In addition, there are many interesting projects on the table for 2006 and beyond."
City Council will formally adopt the tax rates at the next public meeting on Monday, January, 16, 2006 at 8 p.m.


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