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City, 'burbs broker pact

'A win-win scenario' Montreal gets more autonomy and new powers of taxation; island suburbs spared millions in shared costs; property owners to get single tax bill



Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay leads Municipal Affairs Minister Nathalie Normandeau (left) and Westmount Mayor Karin Marks to a news conference at city hall. Two deals signed yesterday amend Bill 22, a bid to resolve a power feud between Montreal and the suburbs.



Published: 6 hours ago


Peace was declared yesterday by the municipalities of Montreal Island, and with it comes new tax powers, greater autonomy and special status for the city of Montreal.


Mayor Gérald Tremblay, the mayors of the 15 island suburbs and prominent Quebec cabinet ministers announced they had brokered an accord to revamp the agglomeration council that manages island-wide services and has been a source of acrimony since the suburbs demerged from Montreal in 2006.


Taxpayers in the suburbs would now receive one tax bill instead of two, while their cities and towns would regain control over maintenance of major roads in their areas and be spared millions of dollars in shared costs with Montreal.


And, under a separate deal with Montreal, Quebec agrees to grant a long-standing wish of Tremblay and previous Montreal mayors for more clout and for the power to raise revenue through new forms of taxation.


Both deals, signed at Montreal city hall yesterday, provide a package of amendments to Bill 22, legislation that was tabled in the National Assembly last year to resolve a power feud between Montreal and the suburbs.


The amendments will be submitted to the National Assembly for a vote before the current session ends late next week.


"In every step of this negotiation, we were looking for a win-win scenario," Municipal Affairs Minister Nathalie Normandeau said of the deals.


"Today, we can say, 'Mission accomplished.' "


Montreal acquires new power to tax assets and property in its territory and to claim royalties for use of resources.


The deal also allows Montreal to walk away with $25 million a year in aid from the province starting in 2009, the power to unilaterally set the rate it charges for the "welcome tax" on property sales above $500,000 and a cheque of $9 million a year from the province to cover property tax on the Palais des congrès.


The new, potentially sweeping tax power was inspired by the City of Toronto Act, Normandeau said. Using that legislation, Toronto is now creating a personal vehicle tax that it will begin charging car owners this fall.


The Montreal deal would overhaul the governance of the downtown Ville Marie borough.


It would also bestow status on the city as the metropolis of Quebec, which would be written into the city charter.


As well, the deal would allow city council to centralize any borough responsibility in case of danger to health or safety by a majority vote for up to two years.


And in response to criticism of the way the city bypassed its independent public-consultation office to approve the redevelopment of Griffintown this spring, the deal would extend the boroughs' power to initiate changes to the city's urban plan to the city council and require such changes to be sent to hearings by the public-consultation office.


Tremblay refused to say what new taxes he would create.


"We're not going to identify an additional source of taxation today," he said, adding that Toronto spent a year consulting businesses and groups before deciding what new taxes to create.



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Suburbs gingerly upbeat: 'A bit of a new start'



Published: 7 hours ago


Suburban mayors were cautiously optimistic yesterday about what the proposed new amendments to Bill 22 will mean for improved governance of Montreal Island.


But they stopped short of endorsing Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay's declaration that "it is time we turn the page" on the acrimonious history of municipal mergers and demergers.


"Mr. Tremblay is turning the page a little bit more forcefully than we are," said Westmount Mayor Karin Marks, also president of the Association of Suburban Mayors, which represents the 15 island suburbs.

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The amendments don't signal an end to suburban discontent; Marks said they simply represent a good first step toward the resolution of differences over how the agglomeration council should work.


Bill McMurchie, mayor of Pointe Claire and vice-president of the association, said the proposed amendments "really do represent a bit of a new start."


He said he was particularly happy that the provincial government agreed to an amendment that would lead to creation of a new audit committee within the agglomeration council to monitor governance disputes.


"Every corporation should have an audit committee; it's a body through which minority rights can be protected,"


McMurchie said.


"You will find an audit committee in any modern corporation, and Montreal is a corporation of sorts."


Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather said the amendment package gets rids of a lot of little irritants that had soured relations between the central city and the demerged suburbs.


Among those irritants, the suburban mayors say, was the requirement for suburbs to subsidize certain recreation centres within the city of Montreal, such as the Pierre Charbonneau Centre, without any reciprocating support for suburban facilities, like the Pointe Claire aquatic centre.


How the agglomeration council will work


As part of the amendments to Bill 22, the 15 suburbs of Montreal Island had been pushing for changes in the way the Montreal agglomeration council works.


The council, through which Montreal and the suburbs have run shared services, like policing and island transit since the 2004 municipal demergers, has been a sore point with the suburbs. They didn't get everything they had been asking for yesterday, but did win some concessions.


Among the highlights:


Creation of a secretariat to support the agglomeration council. Suburbs had been asking for this as a mechanism to compel the central city to provide them with background documents on proposed agglomeration bylaws, before they are tabled.


Quota-share financing. All property owners in Montreal and the suburbs would receive a single tax bill from their own city hall. Out of this bill, a portion of taxes would be handed to the agglomeration to pay for shared services. The exact amount a municipality would have to pay would be determined by its tax base. This is the way things worked before the forced mergers. For example, if a suburb has two per cent of the residential and non-residential island tax base, it pays two per cent of the policing bill.



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