Few Citizen inputs to Town’s 2020 budget

Cobourg Council held a public meeting on Monday to hear submissions by the public on what the Town’s 2020 budget should include – or not.  There were 4 submissions on a range of subjects with only 7 people in the gallery.  The meeting was chaired by Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin because of her responsibility for budget management. She started the meeting with a reminder that the budget should align with the Strategic Plan and said that the theme this year is to “refurbish, restore and re-vitalize”, that is, we should “look after what we have before we start planning for anything new”.  There were four submissions: an email from Diane Lush, a verbal submission by Ted Williams, a presentation with PowerPoint slides by Bryan Lambert and a verbal submission by Vivian Vanderhazel.

Diane Lush

Diane said (via email) that “what should be a warm welcoming space [in Victoria Hall] is instead a cold empty foyer” and she asked that the ticket office be moved to the foyer including a place to pick up or view maps of the downtown core and beach.  She finished with “We are a feel good town so let’s make it a feel good place”.  Suzanne commented that this would be included in budget discussions [as it was last year but was rejected].

Ted Williams

Ted Williams
Ted Williams

Ted started with the comment that “last year I asked for a 2% reduction in the budget but got a 2% increase” and this year is also requesting a 2% reduction.  Ted said his intention is not that services should be cut but that costs should be reduced.  For example, $300K on a skateboard park, $300K new childs’ waterpark, $200K for new washrooms.

Ted said that in the Waterfront Needs Survey, 65% said that they wanted little or no money spent on the waterfront, they just wanted it well-maintained; instead the consultants came back with $24M.

He commented that there is quite a bit of money spent on lifeguards which are not legally required; we have spent hundreds of thousands on consultants. 

Ted criticized the concept of revenue generation from residents but then went on to talk about user pay for the Marina and the “RV Campground” and said that no Town funds (not even Holdco) should be used for their costs.  They should be viewed like private businesses and should get any additional funds from a bank based on their business case.

Ted said that “Bang the Table” is a much better vehicle for public engagement than he imagined and a number of people have addressed campground issues and they make for an interesting read.  [Go here to see for yourself]

On the Marina, Ted calculated its reserve fund to be $160K yet taxpayers are paying for some Marina costs.

In researching the subject of residents paying for parking at the Waterfront, Ted found that many other municipalities find some way to allow residents to park at low or zero cost at their waterfronts – typically with some kind of pass.  He said “Why do the residents of Cobourg have to pay to use the beach in their own Town?”

Bryan Lambert

Bryan Lambert
Bryan Lambert

As an accountant, Bryan was critical of three issues: 1) spending that was over budget 2) a missing explanation for how non-recoverable HST was paid and 3) how the Marina financing was managed.

See the links below for this presentation by Bryan plus reports on his previous similar presentations.  One new suggestion was that the Town use Zero based Budgeting Lite – instead of the onerous method of starting from scratch each year required by Zero Based Budgeting, instead target  “the lower of 2019 budget or actual” + 1.9%.  He also suggested showing department headcounts – or FTE (Full time equivalents).  This idea was earlier rejected based on privacy concerns but Bryan pointed out that FIR reports are public and they include these numbers.

Bryan’s comments on Marina financing were also new.   Bryan said that Director Hustwick last summer said that the Marina Reserve Fund was $350K and Bryan estimates that it is now $600K.  So the proposed costs of needed Marina repairs should come from that and taxpayer funding would not be needed.

Vivian Vanderhazel

In a short verbal presentation, Vivian said that one of her concerns is the Parks and Rec department and the hiring of consultants.  She has been at every public meeting to discuss what we are doing with the waterfront and has “heard the same things from the public at almost all these meetings – we ask that spending be reined in by not continuing to hire consultants.”  “What’s discouraging is that we keep saying the same thing over and over again, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.”

Another concern is that her perception is that Town staff has grown out of proportion to Tax revenue.  Also consultants seem to base their findings on unrealistic assumptions of projected town population.


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Depends a bit on the subject under discussion.
If Council discusses a project involving Rotary such as the Cobourg Rotary Waterfront Park,
I would think folks are entitled to know that three members of Council are Rotarians.
When Council’s Budget public meeting involves taxing and spending, folks are entitled to know that two of the presenters are directors of an organization (CTA) which has definite policy positions on those matters.
But then it seems that the public does not really care about any of the those subjects.
And that must be disheartening for the CTA execs who made great efforts to raise public awareness. Not even the CTA membership turned up for the public meeting.
But I don’t think that shooting the messenger will help here.

Not to make excuses but I didn’t attend because I am in hospital in Toronto.

I agree that it is sad that everyone complains about taxes but few care enough to take an hour to make their views known to their representatives. Even worse, most only care about elections when a photograph of a candidate in brownface is published.

Well said, Ken!

“He commented that there is quite a bit of money spent on lifeguards which are not legally required;”

This jumped out at me as sort of horrific. Surely the town’s budget can afford having professionals on hand to try and save the lives of our citizens and visitors? We’re not legally required to have lifeguards on duty, but I sort of feel we’re morally required to do so, no?

How many of these people are coming to the meeting as individual citizens or do any of them speak on behalf of the Cobourg Taxpayers Association? I believe Brian Lambert sits on the executive of the CTA. Was he attending on the group’s behalf or on his own? Do the others making presentations sit on the board or are they members? Do they represent or belong to other groups? This is an important perspective in giving context to their comments. I don’t think it changes the validity of what they say but helps us understand a broader picture. That is all. Thanks!

Yes I am a CTA executive. My presentation was not on behalf of the CTA. If it had been, I would have said so and the CTA logo would have been on the presentation material.
Many people have a variety of interests and affiliation. That does not mean that all of their comments are representative of any of the groups or organizations.
Mayor Henderson, DM Seguin and Councillor Burchat are members of Rotary. Does that mean that everything they say and do is “Rotary?

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The good old days!
Protest rally against tax increases April 2016.
The CTA made a lot of noise during the term of the last Council.
And so during the election, almost all of the candidates jumped on the openness/transparency/public input bandwagon.
Now after the County budget open house debacle – 5 citizens attended – we get the same thing here.
What we do get in Cobourg are the usual CTA tax fighters – this time only two – going on about cutting taxes, hiring consultants, bloated bureaucracy, marina, Holdco. etc etc etc.
In front of a rapt gallery of seven (7) citizens!

Walter, I didn’t see you at either meeting. Does that mean that you LIKE high taxes, overpaid consultants, bloated bureaucracy, a marina with electrics under water, a town owned electrical utility that imposes a stealth tax on all residents…?

Do you ever deal with the argument put forward in a post, Ken?
Or does it always have to be an attack on the poster?

What exactly is the point of your argument other than CTA bashing?

You say that there were two CTA tax fighters. I don’t recall anyone indicating that they spoke on behalf of the CTA. Just everyday citizens
like you except that they make an effort to participate and contribute to this democracy. Nor do I recall comments about cutting taxes.

As for Ken’s comments, not an attack at all. Simply an observation that you did not attend the meeting and a request for clarification on what you do like.

To that subset of the community that continually argues for spend less, tax less and get more I suggest you focus on the deputy mayor and those Councillors who are pressing for another personal wage hike at the expense of all the taxpayers. They set the example for the Town staff. Is that the type of prudent governance the various CTA groups wanted when they supported this candidates?

I for one believe in paying our members of Council a fair and reasonable salary for what they do. The Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations were insulting and degrading. Why should our policy setters and representatives of the public be paid less than minimum wage or for that matter less than any member of staff.

Let’s get past the archaic scrooge like thinking that politicians are not deserving of a living wage for the hours they put in working for the community.

There is no question in my mind that this new Council is engaged, informed and prepared to debate the issues that matter to Cobourg citizens. A breath of fresh air.

Paul and Ken, The history of the Coboutg Council and precedents set from that have always dictated that any increase in Councillors’ compensation was approved by the PREVIOUS Council. What is insulting and degrading is approving your own salary increase. I would have liked to hear each of those Councillors, when running as candidates, state clearly and definitely, as they did in opposition to the marina expansion,that they were fully satisfied with the pay. Most people don’t accept a job if they believe they are under paid BUT only politicians get to unilaterally increase theirs without the boss’s approval. Of course I have no problem if you gentlemen want to send them a personal cheque if you believe they are being hard done by.

There is a difference between being hard done by and being fair and reasonable. The previous Council failed in establishing a proper salary review. The cheque that I send to pay for my municipal taxes covers a number of expenses including council salaries. I feel they provide good value for the money. I’m disappointed that you don’t see their worth or contribution and feel they should be treated as second class citizens.

Paul, They knew the salary when they ran. A real breath of fresh air would have been if any or all told the voters, before the election: “we are going to give ourselves a raise because we deserve it.” Second class citizens are the ones who have to pay for things, like self awarded salary increases, that they did not get to vote for. Perhaps a referendum is in order to see if the majority of the Town agrees with you.

Mr. (Ms. or Mrs. or…) MCGA:
The CTA has always supported paying both staff and Councillors a reasonable salary. Certainly Councillors deserve to earn at least the Ontario minimum wage. Do you disagree?

I know!
The fact that you, Ken Strauss, and Ted Williams are on the exec of the CTA does not influence tour opinions and attitudes in the least. Admirable!

Walter, you have it backwards. We are on the exec because of our opinions rather than in spite of them.

There were no presenters on behalf of the CTA but rather as concerned residents.

What was your argument?

Judging by the facts of the minuscule attendance at the County Budget open house and Cobourg Budget public meeting, a conclusion is obvious.
So my argument – since I must explain it – is that the public is not interested or just plain tired of the constant carping and bad mouthing of our elected representatives.
As for me personally, I have spent a life time in community service in the Colborne, Brighton and Cobourg Rotary Clubs. and I am happy with the hard work and service given by Council.
The various posters who have chosen to pile up on me, should Google the logical fallacy of the “ad hominem’ argument.

No ad hominem argument, Walter. Just curious if you feel that everything is perfect. If not perfect what are you doing to improve things?

Write a post based on facts, just as I did at the start of this thread, and develop an argument.

I’m sorry Walter but, like Wally, I missed both your facts and your ensuing cogent argument. Could you please repeat them?

my argument – since I must explain it – is that the public is not interested or just plain tired of the constant carping and bad mouthing of our elected representatives.

There are two elements to your argument to explain the weak turnout: (1) The public is not interested, OR (2) the public is tired of constant carping bad-mouthing of politicians.

I am inclined to believe that the public has many, more important things to engage them than a Town budget. I am inclined to believe that the public has many, many, more important things to engage them than to care about the constant carping bad-mouthing of politicians. Constant carping bad-mouthing of politicians is practiced by dissidents inside dictatorshits.

We are in a democracy where constant carping and bad-mouthing of politicians is not suppressed. It’s a part of the messy turbulence of democrazies. Sometimes it is annoying. That’s about as serious as it gets. Relax.

that is a most absurd extrapolation, Ken. Obviously there are an infinite number of reasons why one has not attended a specific meeting. You harm your own cause with such foolishness.

And your contribution to public engagement and the betterment of the Town has been?

To whom was this remark addressed to?

To Walter.

“… going on about cutting taxes, hiring consultants, bloated bureaucracy, marina, Holdco. etc etc etc.”

The nerve of some citizens to baldly comment on such matters!

So tell us Walter, what kind of citizens can comment on cutting taxes?
So tell us Walter, what kind of citizens can comment on hiring consultants?
So tell us Walter, what kind of citizens can comment on bloated bureaucrazy?
So tell us Walter, what kind of citizens can comment on the marina?
So tell us Walter, what kind of citizens can comment on Holdco?
So tell us Walter, what kind of citizens can comment on etc etc etc?

So tell us Walter, when was the last time you appeared before Town Council to comment on anything?

Ted has repeatedly stated that the Town pays for various marina expenses. That is absolutely false. In fact, for the period from the marina’s initial funding by the Federal Government in the 1980s until 2009 ALL the annual profits from the marina were absorbed by the Town, not saved in reserve for future marina repair or replacement. From 2009 until 2014, the marina profits were reserved and then employed in 2015 to build G dock and move F dock. The $160K in current reserves, if Ted is accurate, relate to marina profits since 2015. Read my lips: The Town did not pay for the marina and still does not.

You say that Ted said the Town pays for various marina expenses, I didn’t hear it that way and Ted has always maintained that the marina was paying non-marina expense ie Town expenses. Last year, Dir Hustwick indicated to Council that these “non-marina” expenses amounted to $4-500K.

As for the 2014 slips, the original 2014 plan was that marina expansion would be done in 3 phases and the cost would be funded by debt. The project was cancelled and only phase 1 was completed. The Town paid the bill ($290K) but the funding transaction to charge the marina reserve fund has never been recorded.

In my view the marina business plan is out step with other marinas and clubs around Lake Ontario. We leave 30% of the slips empty in spite of having a waiting list of boaters, and declining transient visitors. We have over 200 slips and an easily expandable storage facility which currently holds only 50 boats. Any outside marina operator looking at this business plan would wonder what management is smoking. If the marina is not self sufficient re needed capital expenditures the intentional slip and storage revenue giveaways are a big part of the problem. The problem is not the boaters or what they are charged. It is the facility’s business plan.

Dear MCGA I don’t know who you are, but you have completely mis-represented what I have said for years. Please let me clarify. The Town says the Marina is “fully user-pay”. For years the boaters have been paying their user fees but some of this money has been spent on Town assets, such as the $ 25,000 per year for three years for a sink hole on the East Pier. This was done with very little consideration for sustainability for upcoming large capital expenses, like the $ 1.2M for new docks.(estimate from staff in 2015)
In addition, the operations budget has grown to $ 760,000 with 14 employees. for marina and RV campground. I believe this is high for a seasonal operation. In both cases, I believe the boaters are victims of mis-management.
Another issue, the 32 docks added in 2014 at a cost of $ 270,000 were paid by debenture. This debt to the taxpayer is made by the Marina in annual payments. I don’t believe this $ 270K has been allocated to the Marina reserves. I hope this clarifies my position.

Ted, if I misunderstood your position, I apologize. The fact is there was no debenture for G dock, and the aggregate cost was over $400K and left only $5K in the marina reserve. (I actually reviewed the books with the CFO) The only time the marina employed a debenture was the purchase of the dredge and that bond was repaid in full over 10 years. As to staffing, it is comparable, in count to Trent Port marina, as an example. I do share your discomfort with the fact that almost 30 years of marina profits were used to reduce Town taxes rather than being saved for future repair and replacement. Lastly, everyone should recognize that the marina was FREE, a gift from the Federal government. No Town funds were paid out, and, in fact, not all of the $850K (might be a little more) given to Cobourg when the commercial port was gifted was ever spent on the marina. Makes computing your ROI problematic.

I have several emails and spreadsheets from the Town’s CFO indicating that the marina reserve fund (MRF) balance at Dec 2014 was $282,798 and that the $290K cost of the 2014 marina expansion phase 1 has NOT been allocated (charged) to the MRF and requires Council direction to do so.

Per the CFO, the MRF balances for the years 2011-2016 are:

2011 $150,340 2014 $282,798
2012 $199,457 2015 $280,522
2013 $219,811 2016 $350,807

The dredge is not part of the marina and should never have been included in the marina’s accounts. It is now included in the “harbour” accounts

Bryan, Ted declared in the lead article that the current marina reserve was $160K. So after an additional two years of profits your $$351K of reserves (in 2016) has declined by over 50% and nothing was paid out from reserves to pay for the new G dock, etc. It is bad math like that that misinforms the taxpayers and has them assuming invalid conclusions. As to the dredge, you are wrong again. Marina staff operate it and the marina reserve paid the 10 years of debt…per two of the past Councillors who voted on it. In the previous year the marina manager actually operated it.

MCGA, Can’t vouch for the $160K number and the Town doesn’t publicaly release the reserve account numbers. Best approach is to ask the CFO. I don’t think that you have the evidence to conclude “bad math”.

As for the dredge, I said that the dredge is not part of the marina and is included in the “harbour” dept. The budget documents for the past two years clearly show this. Prior to that, the dredge was included in the marina’s accounts. It is a perfect example of non-marina expenses paid by the marina. They are all in the budget documents.
The MRF balances shown above are the Town’s numbers, not mine. The marina typically had a net surplus of $50-100K per year which was transferred to the MRF. It’s not possible to maintain those MRF balances, pay for capital repairs/additions and, in addition, service the dredge debt from the MRF. The CFO’s spreadsheet that details the MRF balanced also shows the transactions. Dredge debt payments are not listed.

I think that your bad math and the “you are wrong” comments are erroneous and unsubstantiated. Get the data and we’ll compare documents.

Bryan, not to beat this to death but as there is regular criticism within the Town that the marina is NOT selfsuficient and thus a drain on the taxpayer, it is worth getting the facts right. Some rudimentary financial analysis: the review I did with the CFO in 2015 showed that the cost of G dock and the relocation of F dock had been fully paid for and charged against the available reserve. And, the reserve was reduced to about $5K. You then add to that remaining balance, the marina net profits for years 2016-18 at somewhere near the stated historical average and magically, you approach Ted’s and my number, not yours. Beyond that, if the CFO did not charge and reduce the marina reserve for all that work, what account did he charge and why wouldn’t the auditors take exception to it.
As to the dredge, the bond issue (that happened to carry the Town’s garauntee) which was used to purchase it was fully repaid out of marina revenues prior to 2009. Its operational costs are borne by the marina and in 2018, the marina manager was the principal operator.

Hi MCGA, Thanks so much for your reply to my first blog entry. It is clear we are all struggling to understand the Marina finances. Unfortunately staff have done little to clarify and to explain the finances to us. One thing is known – the boaters have paid for Town assets for years. Last week I asked the Director of Parks “how much money have the boaters paid to the town over the past 10 years”. This is a fundamental question to justly manage the marina finances. He could or would not answer this question. He asked me to do a freedom of information request.
The budget does nothing to clarify reserves. Until the staff are open and transparent we will continue to struggle. Thank you for caring about the Marina.

Ted, From my perspective, in a traditional representative democracy the guys (unisex) we elect to represent us have the responsibility and obligation to respond and inform. I raised the reserve question to the staff and Councillor listeners on the “EngageCobourg” site regarding the West Pier. Simple question: ” How much have we already saved for any form of fix to a chronic problem of decay.” The silence was deafening. So our paid representatives are not responding to a fundamental question. Either they feel no obligation to or they do not know the answer or, and this is the worse of the three, there has been no savings even though this chronic problem has been long recognized. Sure sounds like they should award themselves a raise.

Marina repairs and the financial management of the marina is an operational issue, a STAFF responsibility. The questions and complaints that you raise are valid and important. Ted has also been asking these questions for several years with much the same results….nothing.

However, it is a new day and a new Council and hopefully a new responsiveness to resident comments and complaints. As noted in one of the recent “boater’s” delegations, two council members, DM Seguin and Clr Chorly made an expensive tour of the marina with several boaters.

As the primary responsibility for the marina’s situation is marina management, parks executive and the CAO, I suggest that you address your concerns directly to them. Use the Town’s complain form (procedure). This not only documents your complaint (making it harder to “mis-place”, it provides feedback and resolution timelines.

Regarding the Council raise. It was the prior council that approved a raise to the current level AND recommended the remainder of the proposed increase be considered by the new council early in their new term.

Just a point of information MCGA, are you willing to work for less than minimum wage?

Bryan, the minimum wage argument has no bearing here. Council jobs are contract positions and the terms are all known before they become occupied through a voluntary application and selection process. If you don’t like the terms or pay, don’t apply. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard candidates or incumbents specifically remark that their interest is not for the pay and yet they don’t give that impression once a little time has passed. My solution is to tie the remuneration levels to the dollars collected through taxes…the greater the responsibility, the more is paid to administer them. As for minimum wages, that implies a known number of hours spent on “company business” and in politics, that’s impossible.

Good points Manfred. I know that at least half of the Council members work close to 40 hrs per week on Town business. The Town is a $50M per year business. What do you suggest is appropriate compensation for that amount of work and responsibility level?

Yes, being a member of Council is an important role with obligations and responsibilities. Since we are dealing with public money, how about full disclosure on the value of the accompanying benefit package (including health insurance and computer/mobile device package and IT services, parking and any car/mileage allowances); itemization of expenditures in role as elected member (and whether any reimbursed expense involved a spouse or partner e.g. attending a conference or event as a couple); and, a list of gifts (and value of gift) received and source/occasion, and whether the gift is personal or for the Town (People of Cobourg). To compare, I checked the City of Toronto policy, which may not be totally fair in that Toronto has it own Act and City Council members can qualify for pensions, but City policies do show the detail of information that is expected from an elected member.

it seems that a review of historical data correlating Council remuneration levels and tax revenues would be a relatively straight forward exercise and provide a baseline, as Ben calls it, for a formula to calculate future council remuneration levels. I’m not saying that it’s simple math but I do think with some well thought out criteria applied to the development of a working formula, all done through an arm’s length and impartial agent (or consultant with the appropriate and proven expertise if you will) could be established to achieve a fair system and take the subjectivity out of the process thereafter. I’ll leave the calculations to the experts though, Bryan.

Bryan, I know some of the previous Town Council members and I am certain that they put in the required time to properly perform their duties. They did not give themselves a raise. In fact, the tradition was not to do that. Again, the current council knew the pay, had received a boost from the previous Council, that should be adequate. They, of course, could vote to raise the next Council’ compensation just as it has always been done and then, at the next election, the taxpayers can judge its fairness.

how would the “taxpayers … judge its fairness…” at the next election, MCGA?

Simply by weighing if anything was offered that adequately justified violating the long standing tradition of the Council. Added to that would be this additional thought: by establishing this precedent our Counillors can, at any time they wish, unilaterally enrich themselves for the duration of their term without consultation or agreement from those people whose taxes pay them. And with this precedent established, every succeeding council could as well. Who else gets to do that and why should they have that power? I suspect most people would want to know why they wanted a job where they were under compensated and if they only took that job because they knew they could bump the number.

judging by your last comment MCGA, I guess I misconstrued the “at the next election” part of your comment, assuming ‘judgement’ would somehow be exercised in a subsequent action one could take. I would say ‘judging its fairness’ could be done at any time in that case, no need to wait for an election.

True, weighing fairness is not limited to any one moment in time. My reference to the next election is that those Councillors, running for reelection after having boosted compensation might find the electorate judging them as unfair for raising the amount beyond a certain level in anticipation of being reelected or elected as say mayor from a another position. Most of us understand benchmarks like CPI and can weigh the reasonableness/fairness of things like salary increases against those objective benchmarks, as a starting point. As an aside, it is strange to me that for the first time ever Cobourg Council is actually rewarding themselves. Why never before? Why was the precedent and tradition important to all past Councils but not this one? I believe the term “fairness” may well be revisited in the fullness of time.

Bryan, two fundamental observations:
1. The question I raised on the “Engage Cobourg” site regarding the available reserve for repairing known damage to the West Pier was asked of ALL the listeners; none responded and in a representative democracy, the staff report to the elected officials who obviously knew there had been no response and should have required it if they did not or could not provide it themselves. “EngageCobourg” was described as a medium for dialogue. In dialogue you ask questions. In dialogue it is both fair and reasonable to expect a response to fair and reasonable questions. None was offered, by any level.
2. Much earlier in my life I served in the Army and as a private I was paid $88 A MONTH. My young wife and I qualified for welfare based upon my pay. By electing to serve in uniform I was committing myself to the defense of my country and in that role prepared to fight and if necessary die in that defense. So yes, I was prepared to work for less than minimum wage.

Bryan, revisiting your response re:the listeners’ on EngageCobourg not answering a basic question on reserve balance for Pier repairs I am struck that you deflect responsibility from the Council and solely blame staff for marina issues. What exactly do those Councillors do with their 40 plus hours a week you say they work? How can you justify ignorance on their part to the level of decay of the pier? The fact that it required a marina user delegation to persuade Councillors to actually visit one of the important assets of the Town is not a complement to their management involvement or ability. You contradict yourself by lavishing praise on this new Councils’ openness and commitment to communicate with taxpayers and then, when they show they will not, you say I have to file a formal complaint to get a simple number. None of the above justifies a salary increase. And I challenge you to support your statement of the Councillors working 40 hours a week…any empirical evidence, time sheets, etc., beyond your opinion, will do. Lastly, as I have now established that some people will work for less than minimum wage (I’m guessing you were not in the military as… Read more »