Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has kept residential property tax increases at the level of inflation in a city budget that puts more money into affordable housing, bike paths and relief for small businesses.
After breaking an election promise and hiking residential property tax rates by an average of 3.3 per cent in her first budget, the average residential property tax rate will go up by 1.7 per cent in 2019.
Residents in the borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce will be the hardest hit, with an average property tax rate increase of 2.75 per cent.
The budget, unveiled Thursday morning, "places the economy and the environment at the very heart of its considerations," Plante said, adding that the budget was her first chance to put her own stamp on Montreal.
Last year, she said, much of the spending was already planned out by her predecessor, Denis Coderre.
Total spending for 2019 is projected at $5.7 billion, up by more than four per cent from 2018.
Lionel Perez, leader of opposition party Ensemble Montréal, was critical of Plante for what he called her free-spending ways.
"They have no fear to spend and have no fear to [leave the debt] to the future population," Perez said.
He said new spending should have been kept to a minimum and that more money should have been devoted to paying down the debt.
Help for local businesses
Plante said the city was able to use additional revenue from the city's booming real estate market to fund its spending.
"Our budget will make a difference for our business owners and the vitality of our commercial arteries," Plante said.
Non-residential properties will see their tax rates go up by an average of 1.3 per cent. But they will also get a 10 per cent property tax reduction on the first $500,000 of their assessment.
This new measure will provide relief to merchants who own their property. Others who have leases will also benefit, based in part on the property tax rate.
There is also $5.2 million set aside to help businesses hurt by construction projects.
In practical terms, Plante said, the changes will help "corner stores" and "mom and pop shops."
The moves were welcomed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. A spokesperson said the city is "moving in the right direction," but there is more work to be done.
Bike paths, parks and police
Here are some further highlights from the 2019 budget:
- More than $1 billion is set aside for public security (the largest section of the budgetary pie), with $662.2 million of that total going to police.
- Paying down the debt makes up the second-largest slice: $950 million next year.
- $89 million for bike-related infrastructure, including new bike paths and improvements to the Bixi network.
- $56.8 million for improvements in the city's largest parks, such as La Fontaine Park, which is currently undergoing major overhauls.
- 3 per cent of the budget will go to snow removal, totalling $166.4 million. That's an increase of $3.1 million over last year.
- $6.5 million will go toward preparation and planning of the extension of the Metro's Blue line.
- $1 million will fund research on the Pink line.
Montreal's public transit agency, the STM, also released its annual budget on Thursday, totalling $1.5 billion, up from $1.4 billion a year earlier.
The STM is promising to provide service every five minutes on the Green and Orange lines during off-peak hours on weekdays, and increase the frequency of trains during the morning rush hour as well.