Montreal unveils 2021 budget amid coronavirus uncertainty

Click to play video 'Plante unveils 2021 budget to bolster Montreal’s economy' Plante unveils 2021 budget to bolster Montreal’s economy
WATCH: As Quebec takes steps to bolster the province's economy, Montreal is trying to do the same. The mayor released the 2021 budget on Thursday which includes tax freezes and spending cuts. But as Tim Sargeant reports, the city is also increasing investments in areas to try and help Montrealers during one of the most difficult years on record. – Nov 12, 2020

The City of Montreal has unveiled its budget for the upcoming year amid the backdrop of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which includes discounts for transit users and increased contributions from suburban cities.

As the health crisis gains steam again, Mayor Valérie Plante says the goal of the $6.17-billion budget for 2021 is to meet the needs of Montrealers. The budget is a drop of $1.5 million compared to last year. The city has been on red alert and in partial lockdown — including the closure of gyms, museums, bars and dining rooms — since October.

“It is a budget anchored in today’s reality as the second wave of the pandemic is sweeping through our city, while we work towards our economic recovery,” she said in a statement.

The Conference Board of Canada projects Montreal’s economy to shrink by 6.9 per cent this year, followed by a growth of 6.0 per cent in 2021, according to city documents.

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As part of the budget, the city had already previously announced in October that it would freeze property taxes for businesses and homeowners next year. The tax break comes to about $56 million, which Plante says will help merchants and residents facing financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Montreal unveils property tax freeze for 2021 amid coronavirus crisis

But there will be an average increase of 0.2 per cent for residential taxpayers’ bills due to an increase in property values and borough fee hikes.

The highest increase will be in Verdun, where homeowners will see an average hike of 1.8 per cent, while Anjou homeowners will benefit most, with an average decrease of 3.5 per cent to their property tax bills.

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Under the budget, 15 suburban cities on the Island of Montreal are required to increase contributions to the city of Montreal by an average of 3.1 per cent. The City of Baie-D’Urfé is facing the largest hike, 6.5 per cent.

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN-NDG) Mayor Sue Montgomery said Montreal’s most populous borough is being neglected by the city with insufficient funding transfers.

“There is no doubt CDN-NDG is not getting its fair share of of city funds,” Montgomery said. “The borough is dead last in terms of per capita funding.”

In the shadow of the ongoing health crisis, the city has also put aside $10 million to fight poverty and $3 million for homelessness. Officials say the pandemic has exacerbated social inequality in the city, which has been the epicentre of the virus outbreak in Canada.

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Under its budget, the city is reducing transit rates by 50 per cent for seniors, starting in July 2021. Children under the age 12 of will be able to access the bus and Metro in Montreal for free. It will cost the city $9.3 million.

Funding for the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM), the organization which oversees all mass transit agencies in greater Montreal, will be cut by $35 million in 2021.

The city also revealed a capital works project, totalling $18.6 billion over the next 10 years. The plan specifically focuses on road and water infrastructure, including replacing lead pipes.

A total of $456 million has been earmarked toward water infrastructure for next year, as part of about $4.8 million dedicated to the sector in the 10-year period.

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Protesters decry funding for police

A group of protesters showed up at the fiscal planning meeting to demand the city defund Montreal police.

“No justice, no peace,” they chanted. “Defund the police.”

The budget for police in 2021 is $679 million, which is an increase of $14.6 million or 2.2 per cent compared with 2020.

–with files from Global News’ Alessia Maratta