There are two reasons to be disappointed with Tuesday’s budget session. First, most departments asked for a whole lot more money than the Deputy Mayor’s target of an increase of just 0 to 1% and secondly, most of the presentations were about what had been achieved instead of how they were keeping their budget under control. That is, they talked about why their department is important and presumably deserves a whole lot of money. Numbers were provided to Council that detailed what the money would be spent on but only a few numbers were included in presentations that could be downloaded by the public. I guess it’s unrealistic to expect draft budgets to be made available online since they are more like wish lists.
The first session covered one third of the total with two more meetings, scheduled next Tuesday and Thursday. The meetings are chaired by Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin.
These Departments were covered:
- Art Gallery of Northumberland
- Cobourg Public Library
- Economic Development
- Venture 13
- Planning and Development Services
- General Government Services
Both Operational and Capital budgets were covered but there was very little Capital required by this group.
Despite the limitations (& disappointment), to an observer there was value in the snippets of information that came out – some of which were budget related but some not.
- The requested AGN budget for 2021 is $285K with the Town asked to provide $185K. Although the presentation was light on budget information, Suzanne Séguin said that this is a $60K increase from 2020. And despite being called the Northumberland Art Gallery, the County is still not contributing.
- The Library wanted a 1.8% increase which is mostly due to a CUPE agreed salary increase. To reduce the increase would mean fewer library hours and fewer hours for part-time employees.
- The main reason for a requested increase of 9.6% in the one person Economic Development Department is an extra $15K required for a Strategic Plan. Together with an Organization review, CAO Tracey Vaughan said that this would help decide on whether an Economic Development Director should be hired.
- When discussing the Venture 13 budget, Councillor Brian Darling wanted to know when the Police would stop getting “free rent” at the building. It seems that because they spent quite a bit on building improvements, they earned themselves the right to “free rent”. The problem is that this has not been documented and it’s not defined how long this would continue. Tracey said that this issue was on her to-do list.
- Glenn McGlashon said that for the past year, he has been operating the Planning department with two vacancies despite a heavy work load. Therefore his 2021 budget would require a 12.4% increase to fill those vacancies. Separately (it seemed), he suggested a budget of $250K for subsidies for affordable housing using the recently approved Community Improvement Plan (CIP).
- In response to a question, Treasurer Ian Davey said that currently MPAC is predicting a growth factor for Cobourg for 2021 of less than 1 %. If it’s 1%, this means that the Town’s budget can increase by 1% and the levy (tax increase) would be 0%. That is, growth would provide the extra budget dollars. MPAC will provide a firm figure in time for the final draft budget on December 22.
- When discussing payroll costs, Ian Davey mentioned that benefits for full time employees are at approx. 30% but that level is expected to go up. (That is, the benefits cost approx. 30% of salaries).
- Several presenters mentioned the Service Delivery review but it did not affect their budgets since they are waiting for Tracey’s Implementation plan due in January. Because the review said Cobourg’s user fees were low, a study will be done to determine what they should be.
The final draft budget will be released to the public for comment on December 22. Meanwhile there are two more sessions for the other five departments.
The Town has a survey that accepts input on the budget; it’s open until December 14. Go here.
- Fewer Community Grant Requests – 7 December 2020.
- First Council meeting re 2021 Budget – 23 November 2020