Draft Budget for 2020 Available for Comment

You have to give Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin credit – the initial budget requests by staff were well over her 1.9% target but the draft budget being presented for approval is very close to the target.  I also appreciate the clarity in the numbers – a great job by Treasurer Ian Davey. You have to look at the numbers closely – actual expenditures excluding Police are 4.4% higher but an increase in expected revenue brings that down to 3.8%.  Then add the Police budget of $6.3M with a small 1.09% increase and include $240K of additional tax revenue because of Town growth (more taxable properties) and the total Operating budget proposed for 2020 comes to $24,262,417 or 2% over the 2019 budget of $23,985,529.  But let’s look at the details – who were the spenders and who cut back?  And what can we learn about what will get done in 2020?

Major budget items (over $1M)

Dept 2019 Budget 2020 request % Responsibilities
General Govt. $3.31M $3.38M 2.3% Mayor, Clerk, Vic Hall
Police $6.20M $6.27M 1.09% Police
Protection – other $3.54M $3.592 1.5% Fire and Bylaws
Public Works $4.3M $4.39M 2.1% Roads, sewers, transit
Parks & Rec $3.56M $3.87M 8.8% Parks, Marina, CCC
Culture and Community $1.67M $1.82M 8.9% AGN, Concert Hall, Grants, Library, Special Events

The two departments with big increases are Parks & Rec and Culture and Community so let’s look at them more closely.  The first thing to note is that the Community grants budget is only asking for $50K – right on target.  However, the draft budget has no indication which organizations will be missing out (see this article for a list of requests)

Parks and Recreation

Suzanne Seguin
Suzanne Seguin

The big jump is the Cobourg Community Centre (CCC) – the 2019 budget expenses were $2.33M and the requested 2020 expenses are $2.64M for an increase of 13.1%.  Revenue will increase from $1.35M to $1.4M (4.1%).  Combining these, the request for 2020 is a net expense budget of $1.24M  compared to the 2019 budget of $985K  making a total increase of 25.4%.  Only one other cost is less – the closed Memorial arena but that only saves $85K.  Parks operating costs (mostly salaries, a 2% increase) goes from $2.15M to $2.23M (3.9%).  The increase beyond the payroll costs is because of a collection of minor items that add up.  The Marina and campground are shown as break even.  So we can blame the CCC for most of the increase and that is primarily because of increased payroll costs no doubt because additional staff are planned or have already been hired.

Culture and Community
Looking at the requests from this department, notable are:

  2019 2020  
AGN $160K $200k 25%
Special Events $290K $361K 24%
Library $905K $933K 3.1%

Although not a really large amount, the list of planned special events and their 2020 budgets are interesting:

Event 2019 Budget 2020 Budget
First Night $4,000 $4,000
Movies in the Park $5,500 $5,500
Sandcastle Festival $25,000 $25,000
Christmas Magic $20,000 $50,000
Winter Festival $4,000 $4,000
Street Pianos $5,000 0
Canada Day Celebrations $26,000 $27,000
Family Day in Cobourg $1,000 $1,000
Christmas Market $3,000 $3,000
2020 Special Event $30,000 $25,000
* Transportation – Community Events   $3,500
* Port-a-Potties – Community Events   $3,500
* Garbage Removal – Community Events   $16,000
Total   $167,000

* New for 2020

The rest of the special events expenses were attributed to payroll ($242K) and miscellaneous expenses ($15K).  Expected revenue for these events was budgeted for $67.5K in 2019 and $63K in 2020.  There is no word on what the big special event will be in 2020.

Overall Budget

If nothing is trimmed (or added), the average taxpayer in Cobourg will have an increased tax bill of 2%.
But that’s operating budget – let’s now look at Capital projects planned – at least in the draft budget.

Significant projects
My choices – for a full list see Capital projects on Town’s web site – link below.

Sidewalk Construction – per priority policy $200K
Sandstone Work Victoria Hall Entrance $270K
Matthew Street Reconstruction $820K – net $140K after grants $140K
Kerr Street Extension (Division to D’Arcy) $2.72 – net $2.1M after grants $2.1M
Terry Fox Storm Water Management Pond Rehabilitation $350K
Sanitary Sewer Rehabilitation $1M
Street Light Replacement Program $355K
Cooey Park Development $100K
Water Bottle Filling Stations (2 each year) $24K
Adult Fitness Park $90K – net cost to Town $25K $25K
Waterfront Plan East Pier – design, engineering, consultation $275K
Security gates for docks $60K
Electrical System upgrades $310K
Campground improvements – design, engineering, consultation $127K
Several Waterfront projects – mostly engineering designs for repairs and improvements. $313K

Not included is any money for landscaping at the CCC.

Capital dollars obviously have to be found from somewhere.  My understanding is that a relatively small amount is included in the operating budget ($424K in 2020) and the rest becomes long term debt ($651K per year).

The above excludes Operational and Capital Costs for sewers which are covered by revenue from water bills and are managed separately.

The draft budgets are now online for public comment – see the links below.


Note.  This article quotes dollar amounts rounded to 3 significant figures. The percentage changes resulting are quoted from the full budget which calculate percentages based on the full numbers in the draft budget.

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Cobourg taxpayer
17 December 2019 7:05 pm

If the requested budget increases are any indication the necessities such as sewer, water, building maintenance, pier repairs, roads and sidewalks etc are at the lower end. The extras such as culture and community services are at the higher end. This discrepancy bothers me if the town can’t be maintained at the very basic level why is this excessive money being spent on the extras. Where are the priorities? Also the CCC, the campground, marina and numerous special events generate no revenue for the town???? Government officials and staff must run the town as a business not an endless money pit where taxes keeps increasing. The county and the town want to help homelessness, unaffordable housing, mental health and drug issues. I’d rather my tax money went there then supporting the CCC and the ballooning staff hired there.

MJ Bathe
17 December 2019 6:23 pm

Summer Revenue Generation idea

New to this! I invite feedback as I am information gathering on this idea.

Perhaps it has been tried but I was very curious about why the Town of Cobourg doesn’t have pre-paid/pay by phone stations located and active south of University Ave to the Lake. East boundary D’Arcy and west boundary William?

Many Visitors last summer asked me where these items were and noted,”What! We park for free?” Local residents could be issued a sticker so they could continue to park free year round.

Starting the Conversation. Thanks.

Brian Wynn
17 December 2019 4:59 pm

I’m wondering why 1) Special event revenues are declining slightly while costs are increasing more than slightly ($71K); 2) Why is campground revenue flat while campground improvement projects are $127K. Is the town aggressive enough in Identifying and exploiting increased revenue opportunities? Maybe a looksee at projected 2020 revenues/rationale vs. 2019 and 2018 actuals may help my perspective.

17 December 2019 10:24 am

I am consumed with curiosity as to what is being planned for Christmas Magic 2020 that more than doubles the cost.

John Draper
Reply to  GailR
17 December 2019 10:50 am

Explanation given is as follows:
Recommended budget increase in response to the public request and Christmas Magic Ad Hoc Committee recommendations. Additional budget is required to install lights in Victoria Park as per recommendations. Will also assist the Town in creating a cultural event for both locals and guests to enjoy throughout the winter season. Budget includes cost of renting street pole lights that had previously been in the Public Works budget.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  John Draper
17 December 2019 11:10 am

More lights in Victoria Park? I thought that we had a climate change emergency! Surely there will be no more lights nor encouragements for the marina and trailer park to use more electricity until we get a full report on sustainability. We should view the current lack of electricity in the marina as an opportunity to start to do our part to fight climate change.

Miriam Mutton
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 December 2019 12:19 pm

It may be useful to compare cost of the lighting display before energy efficient lights came on the market with the cost now using newer style of decorative lights. I believe that the newer lights give off less heat so better for live trees when carrying lights. And, there used to be bus tours from out of Town which included the light display on their tour agenda. An attraction for both local citizens and visitors. Lighting the park up to King Street is a good idea. It is magical walking through the display, especially in Victoria Park, with fresh falling snow. This year the lights near the outdoor skating rink are also amazing.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
17 December 2019 12:59 pm
Ken Strauss
Reply to  Miriam Mutton
17 December 2019 1:08 pm

And, there used to be bus tours from out of Town which included the light display on their tour agenda.

Bus tours use diesel buses so they should be discouraged in order to reduce CO2 pollution.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 December 2019 2:41 pm

Your petty sarcasm aside, the name of the game is cutting back where it is feasible. In the towns case that means using LED lights for the display, for tour bus operators that means buying more fuel efficient vehicles, and in the future, electric ones.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Durka
17 December 2019 4:22 pm

Petty sarcasm? When there is an emergency we must make all feasible sacrifices. Of course fuel efficient buses are a step in the right direction but no tour buses at all is far better. LED lights, rather than incandescent bulbs, are the current norm but no lights of any kind is far better. The suggested changes are obviously “feasible”. Even if these tiny changes make little difference they will remind everyone of the far greater sacrifices to come. Most of Canada’s cities understand climate change and have declared climate emergencies but most small towns have not. Cobourg’s symbolic sacrifices will encourage other small towns to also do their part. Remember, 97% of scientists know that we have very few years to avert the end of life on earth. There is no planet B!

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Durka
17 December 2019 4:56 pm
Old Sailor
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 December 2019 2:46 pm

Ken, you seem to have it in for taxpayers who rent slips at the marina or sites at the trailer park. How about instead of your suggestion of not restoring power to the marina, the town have a 2 year trial by cutting off all of the power to CTA member homes and to all of the sports facilities they use – like golf clubs. And then, if none of the CTA members complain after two years Council can vote on restoring the power to the marina. Does that seem like a more balanced approach?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Old Sailor
17 December 2019 4:37 pm

I have absolutely no problem with those who rent slips and hope that they continue to do so. However, do you believe that encouraging the use of electricity on pleasure craft will be part of Cobourg’s sustainability plan? Do you believe that encouraging the use of air conditioners in the trailer park will be part of the sustainability plan? I hope that you favour taking all feasible actions to deal with the recently declared climate change emergency and certainly not embarking on new capital projects prior to an approved sustainability plan.

As an alternative to your suggestion why don’t we wait until Cobourg’s Sustainability Master Plan is approved? If the approved sustainability plan recommends significantly increasing the consumption of electricity for purely recreational purposes then Council can approve the proposed capital projects at the marina and trailer park.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 December 2019 6:23 pm

Ken having watched you turn almost every topic into an environmental crusade can we ask if you practise what you preach? Publish your KW usage for the past three months and let’s see if they are any smaller than than the average. And have you stopped driving yet?

Wally Keeler
Reply to  ben
17 December 2019 7:08 pm

As one who has never owned, let alone driven an internal combustion engine vehicle, my contribution to climate change is relatively minimal in that regard. Maybe even less than your carbon footprint Ben. However, I understand Ken insofar as Cobourg Town Council, on behalf of all the people of Cobourg, has declared that there is a climate crisis/emergency and that is now the Town’s “top priority“. I didn’t think you would be a climate denialist Ben. There is an urgency and it is surprising that you are so casual and blasé about the FACT that we are at the “beginning of a mass extinction” according to Great Greta and locally, Walter Luedtke.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
17 December 2019 7:23 pm

Far from being a “denier” Wally I just asked Ken for his bona fides, after all he seems to be on his high horse on all things environmental

Wally Keeler
Reply to  ben
17 December 2019 7:54 pm

Oh Ben! Asking for his “bona fides” concerning a social situation reminds me of the ubiquitous social credit system being set up by the socialist government of China.

I suspect that Ken is doing some devil advocacy and it is not without some merit. The high horse applies to the climate change committee and Town Council — not a single question from any Councillor, just a rubber stamp, a TOP PRIORITY stamp.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
17 December 2019 10:40 pm
Old Sailor
Reply to  ben
17 December 2019 8:22 pm

Ben, a tip of the hat to you!!!!!!! Some among us prey on easy targets to shoot at like boat slip renters or trailer park site renters because no one will defend them – including regretfully the Town of Cobourg that rents the slips and sites. Shame on the town.

Not to repeat myself too often but if the marina is not run like a normal for profit marina business, maximizing slip occupancy and expanding the in demand winter storage facility/fees how can we judge it on its financial performance when it has all of these handcuffs limiting its normal competitive potential.

I am not even talking about expanding the marina slips west in the harbour which would further generate more revenue. But I agree it should not be done as a large segment of harbour users are against that expansion. I personally buy into that.

But all of these limitations should be recognized as marina revenue limitations which negatively impact the marina reported financial results. And lets not punish current slip renters as if they were the problem. The handcuffs are the financial problem.

17 December 2019 9:05 am

If the art gallery can’t pay for itself with events and sales profits, we should either downsize until it is self financed or eliminate it entirely. How do private art galleries stay in business??? They operate as a business not a charity.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  cornbread
17 December 2019 10:16 am

I don’t think that Cobourg can nor should afford an art gallery. That said:
Private galleries mostly exist to profit from the sales of art; the AGN does not sell its holdings.

Looking at the most recent CRA charitable return for the AGO in Toronto:
Federal government paid $527K, Province paid $21.34M, Region paid $684K, Membership fees (including mine) $5.783M and total revenue was $80.34M.

Based on these numbers, all levels of government contribute about $1.50/Ontario resident to support the AGO yet the AGN wants $10/Cobourg resident (over $20/Cobourg family). And we get very little for our money!

Deborah O'Connor
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 December 2019 5:34 pm

Perhaps you might be happier if you moved back to Toronto. Failing that, suppose you hold your tongue until you’ve learned how life here is vastly different than that found in the city. Have you ever considered that we locals think it’s worth the extra cost to have an Art Gallery?

Canuck Patriot
Reply to  Deborah O'Connor
17 December 2019 6:31 pm

There you go again with your dislike for anybody who wasn’t bred and born in Cobourg. You remind me of Jacques Parizeau and his comments about pure laine Quebecois. I somehow doubt that the majority of Cobourg residents support your claim that “we locals” are eager to hand over $200,000 a year to the AGN. Instead of continuously driving a wedge in our community with this “we” vs. “them” mentality how about recognizing that all residents are equal and that length of residency doesn’t bestow superiority or special status.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Deborah O'Connor
17 December 2019 6:37 pm

Deborah, I believe that your concern for my tongue is unwarranted.

I’m certain that some families think that a local gallery with very limited holdings is worth $20/year. You may disagree but I feel that spending $140/year for a family membership in the AGO that includes free reciprocal admission to the National Gallery in Ottawa and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (and many other galleries) plus numerous education programs plus a magazine plus discounts in their outstanding gift shop plus discounts in their restaurants is a better deal.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 December 2019 7:25 pm

It sure is Ken but are you going to pay for us to go to the ‘smoke’ to enjoy the deal?