Kramberger: West Island mayors see litigation as final recourse on agglo payments

“We are nothing but a cash cow for the city Montreal,” Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle says.

Article content

It seems, by and large, residents of West Island municipalities remain in favour of being demerged from the city of Montreal, even if more than half of their property taxes are handed to the agglomeration for ever-increasing charges for island-wide services including police, fire protection and public transit. Taking legal action might be a long shot, but there doesn’t seem to be much hope demerged cities will be able to achieve a fair quota-sharing deal by pleading with Montreal or provincial politicians.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Agglomeration spending is controlled by Montreal city council since the 15 reconstituted cities account for 13 per cent of the voting power on the island body, which is based on population stats. Residents in these demerged suburbs vote in their own civic elections but don’t have any say on ballots for Montreal’s mayor or city council.

Article content

The demerged cities voted en masse last week — albeit in vain — against the agglomeration budget for 2024 as set by Montreal’s Plante administration.

Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle and Dollard-des-Ormeaux Mayor Alex Bottausci, representing demerged municipalities, co-authored a minority report on agglomeration financial shortcomings and increasing unfairness, and offered recommendations ahead of the budget vote. It pointed out that between 2019 and 2024, the city of Montreal’s share of agglomeration expenses increased by 19.3 per cent, while the total shares payable by the 15 demerged cities rose by 28.2 per cent during the same period. The agglomeration has a budgetary problem as it regularly absorbed deficits linked to previous fiscal years since 2006, the report noted.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Bourelle said residents of demerged municipalities are paying around 65 per cent more per capita, on average, than Montreal residents.

“We are nothing but a cash cow for the city Montreal,” he added.

Bourelle noted that Beaconsfield residents don’t regret that their city demerged in 2006 but are frustrated with agglomeration overpayments.

The disparity between the totality of what demerged cities are forking over and what Montreal pays for shared services keeps growing year to year, Bottausci said.

By demerging, Dollard has been better able to respond to the needs of its citizens and render local services instead of having everything controlled by a central Montreal administration, Bottausci said.

Bourelle and Bottausci both believe litigation to contest the agglomeration system might be the final approach for demerged cities to achieve a fair deal with Montreal.

Beaconsfield launched a legal challenge on its own in 2020 to correct what it deemed as over-taxation by the agglomeration to pay for shared island-wide services, claiming an algorithm formula used to calculate shares is flawed.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“That’s why Beaconsfield went ahead with its lawsuit, because the only way to get through to the city of Montreal and the government of Quebec to seriously look at this situation is by suing,” Bourelle said. “Our lawsuit will be well over $14 million (as of 2024).”

Bourelle hopes a form of mediation could be held to settle out of court.

For his part, Bottausci said some amendments to the agglomeration cost-sharing formula were introduced a few years ago, but these simply did not go far enough. However, he doesn’t think there is much of a chance of negotiating a better deal with Montreal’s administration.

“The next step is we are going to have go down a legal route because this story cannot continue to be this way. The fiscal calculations, the way it’s done, is not done in a moral and ethical way. It is done in a very mathematical way,” Bottausci said.

As a result of their growing agglomeration expenses, the demerged suburbs are pressured to promote more high-density development to create new revenue streams, but this leads to changes in the composition of neighbourhood characteristics, he added.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Related Stories

Pointe-Claire Mayor Tim Thomas believes his city of 34,500 residents is still better off since leaving the Montreal ‘mega-city’ in 2006 after a four-year stint, which followed referendums held to undo Quebec’s forced municipal mergers. He points out that at least Pointe-Claire city council, under the agglomeration system, still controls around half of its annual budget to spend on local services such as snow clearing, garbage and recreational activities.

“We’re still better off being demerged because what we do with our part is way better than what they can do with it,” Thomas said. “We do a really good job with our part, and for that alone it was worth it.

“We deliver services efficiently and better than the city of Montreal,” he added. “The more we can control (as a reconstituted city), as far as I’m concerned, the better. We certainly had to pay a price for the demerger, there’s no doubt about it. Nonetheless, we are further ahead having done it but not as much ahead as probably many of us would have liked it to have been.”

The perceived and real lack of political influence at the provincial level makes it more of an uphill battle for the 15 demerged cities to lobby for a significantly improved cost-sharing formula under the agglomeration, particularly if there is reluctance from Montreal’s administration to act.

[email protected]

Advertisement 6

Article content

Article content