In March of this year, the Province provided $86K to fund a review of delivery of services which would hopefully find ways to reduce costs and therefore Municipal taxes. Given the short time frame, Council agreed to sole source this to KPMG. Part of the project was a survey of the public and on 28 August, KPMG reported on what 307 participants thought – see link below. Then on 26 October, Oscar Poloni reported his initial findings. In the end, taxpayers will want to know “can taxes be reduced?” or given the pandemic, “what services can be reduced or modified to keep taxes under control?” The KPMG report is detailed and in its 119 pages contains a lot of useful information and options. His report was presented to Council at a special Committee of the Whole meeting this afternoon and a motion was passed that asked the CAO to “prepare an implementation report to be presented to Council on January 25, 2021 based on the opportunities as outlined”. CAO Tracey Vaughan agreed that the time frame was reasonable although she might end up asking for an extension.
Mayor John Henderson commented that the report was particularly clear and easy to understand. Other Councillors echoed his sentiments – if you read the full report (available in the link below) you would likely agree that it’s one of the best and most useful reports yet delivered to Council by a consultant.
At a previous Council Meeting, Oscar was asked about the breakdown of survey responses by demographics. So at today’s meeting he provided more details on responses by age, income level and how long people had resided in Cobourg. See link below to Oscar’s presentation.
Councillor Nicole Beatty asked if 307 was a good response; Oscar said he did not have much experience with surveys (usually Towns do them) but it seemed low.
The report lists two types of actions:
- If implemented could save estimated amounts of money – often by comparing to other comparable municipalities
- If implemented would improve operating efficiencies and/or provide customer service enhancements with cost savings not estimated.
The report gives details on why there would be savings and how to get there but to give an idea of scope, here is an abbreviated summary of the actions with cost savings estimated.
Community Services: The Town’s current level of investment in recreation, cultural and tourism development activities currently exceeds the level of investment made by other communities with similar population and household levels. There are potential savings of $1.8M per year if services are reduced to be comparable with Towns who do NOT promote Tourism (e.g. Owen Sound) or $810K/year if reduced to be comparable to towns that do promote Tourism (e.g. Wasaga Beach). To achieve these goals, layoffs would be required.
Transit The Town currently provides just over $750,000 in taxation support for transit services, which is significantly higher than municipalities promoting Tourism ($500,000). Oscar commented that it is “oversized” and that a “transit Optimization study is recommended. Utilization of the Town’s transit system is approximately half of larger centres. Potential savings would be $250K per year.
Joint Animal Control Service Board. If Cobourg operated the animal control function on its own, it could save $40K per year.
Economic Development. If the Town managed this itself instead of outsourcing to the County, it could save $45K per year. Oscar had input suggesting the Town had seen no noticeable benefit from the County’s work.
Planning Services. User fees currently charged are less than those charged by comparable municipalities. Increasing cost recovery from 27% to 50% would bring in an extra $124K per year.
Other improvements with no specific estimated cost savings:
- Increase Marina fees to provide higher reserves to fund future Capital expenses.
- Charge a storm water management fee – this is a trend amongst municipalities although mostly in much larger ones.
- Review parking charges (that is, increase them), more use of Pay and Display and increased enforcement
- Implement annual user fee increases in line with inflation
- Improve processes for administrative and client service functions, including finance, human resources, recreation, building permits, planning applications and work order management.
- Implement a centralized procurement function
- Establish a formal Key Performance Indicator program
- Create an Enterprise Risk Management Plan
KPMG’s executive summary noted that although
… a significant majority of online survey respondents agree that they enjoy a good quality of life and that Cobourg is a good place to live, respondents were less positive with respect to the affordability of municipal taxes and user fees, the Town’s ability to demonstrate value for money and their confidence in how the Town makes decisions.
From our perspective, the fundamental question arising from the Review is the extent to which the Town wishes to continue with the current level of investment in recreational and cultural programs that, while contributing towards the quality of life for Cobourg residents as well as its position as a tourism destination (with associated economic development benefits), incrementally increase operating costs and,by extension, taxation levels.
In the end, as Oscar noted, it’s up to Council to decide what to do although they are looking for a recommendation from the CAO. It’s hard to see how a survey of 307 is truly representative.
Previous reports to Council
- Can the Cost of Services be reduced – 26 October 2020
- County and Town Citizen Surveys – link to KPMG survey results – 28 August 2020
- More Funding for an efficiency Review – 15 March 2020
- KPMG Final Service Delivery Review Report
- KPMG presentation to Council on 16 November 2020 – includes more details on breakdown of survey.