03/17/2015 09:58 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT

Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue hopes to avoid drastic budget crunch

The province is working with Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue to find a way to avoid a serious budget crisis for the West Island municipality.

The town receives about a quarter of its annual revenue from the veteran’s hospital, most of which comes in the form of a $4 million compensation in lieu of property taxes from the federal government.

But there is a dwindling need for beds for aging veterans at the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue facility. There are currently more than a hundred empty beds there, according to MNA Geoffrey Kelley.

For that reason, a long-term plan to transfer the hospital to provincial hands is set to come to fruition in 2016.

But while there will be benefits to the health system, namely in geriatric care, the transfer could devastate the town’s coffers. Quebec would pay the compensation in lieu at a different rate than Ottawa, meaning the revenue for the town would drop to approximately $1 million.

When other related losses are factored in, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue mayor Paola Hawa says the town is facing a loss of $4 million from its approximately $17 million annual budget.

"When you're going to lose 25 per cent of your budget, there's concern all around," said Hawa.

Hawa says the town has already cut nearly half a million dollars from its budget over the last two years, and at a time when provincial austerity is affecting revenues for all municipalities, she says her town just can't take much more.

"We’re bare bones, there's no fat left on the bone," she said.

Help on the way

Kelley says, however, there may be will to help the town avoid financial disaster.

“I think there are solutions for that if we work creatively together,” he said.

Kelley arranged a meeting between himself, Hawa, and Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau on Monday, where Hawa says Moreau promised a solution would be found.

"We’re not going to get a cheque for $4 million,” said Hawa. “What we’re going to get is something unique to Sainte-Anne."

Hawa says a solution will come down to what she calls an accounting adjustment that should spare Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue from the bulk of the potential budget shortfall.

At the same time, Kelley says there could be other places the town can find funds.

"It's a transfer of a great deal of land, so maybe there are other vocations for some of that land which can generate new tax revenues," said Kelley.

New uses

Kelley says he believes, in the end, the hospital falling under provincial jurisdiction will only benefit the area.

"I think [the hospital] can have links to McGill University, it can be a bit of a geriatric research centre," he said.

The Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue veterans' hospital is set to transfer to provincial hands next spring.

Moreau was not available for comment.