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 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 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?”
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.
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.
- Citizen Budget Requests Part 2 – 19 Jan 2019 – Bryan Lambert’s comments on 2019 budget
- Presentation by Bryan Lambert – download Powerpoint slides, pdf format