Service Levels Review – Final Report

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:

  1. If implemented could save estimated amounts of money – often by comparing to other comparable municipalities
  2. 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

KPMG Reports

Print Article: 


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
17 November 2020 8:03 pm

Can we please stop with the surveys

Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 2:36 pm

Complacency – a killer of many things. Seldom is a problem not holding layers of responsibility. Rents, property taxes especially on important holdings such as downtown. Perhaps a tax review for these properties to lower rates as a business assist. Perhaps the businesses need to review their own policies especially if they have been charging very high prices to make up for running costs. The Town People – some brand new expensive homes have gone up and have excellent purchase rate. Hopefully, able to afford, these people will adopt Cobourg into their hearts and support their businesses if they are not doing so. Lastly the tourists and new people – they often come from larger cities. I recall dining in Toronto over the years. Some very first class dining for your dollar, the Imperial Room at the Royal York – you got value for a higher priced offering which deserved the price and downtown restaurants more affordable for a lovely meal – Csardas, The Hungarian Hut, George’s Sphgetti House among the less expensive but very good. Complacency and doing nothing as one commenter said in the prior blog all these problems with infrastructure and 10 years later it is all the same. Some other restaurants outside the down are just booming with business – guess they found the key but also perhaps their taxes are lower where they are also.

Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 12:14 pm

Guess I am outvoted on Tourism – but the tourism season is the only time I see the restaurant patios busy and full.

Paul Pagnuelo
Reply to  Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 1:00 pm

I tend to think that patios are busier in the summer because nobody I know enjoys sitting outside in sub-zero weather with an outdoor heater blasting away for a little warmth. Tourism has nothing to do with it.

I admit missing the survey.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Paul Pagnuelo
17 November 2020 1:12 pm

Oh – in knowing the habits of two large buildings full of people that reside here none of them dine downtown. They do like Mcdonalds, Pizza Pizza and Big Mouth Fish and Chips Paul.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 1:23 pm

Meant to ask – you seem a fairly cosmopolitan person Paul do you dine downtown and visit the patios in the summer or winter season? If so what is your take on the quality of dining there? If not why don’t you dine there?

Reply to  Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 3:15 pm

Liz – I can tell you from having enjoyed nearly all of the local restaurants in the area, the dinning experiences in both Cobourg and Port Hope are a pleasure (and much improved). Most utilize social media to promote food menus and signature cocktails as well as their unique spaces (which I love). The El, The Social, King Street Kitchen, Cucina, Shuckit, Thirsty Goose, Local No90, George and Orange and of course CJ’s, TJ’s and Arthurs…so many choices. BTW – King Street Kitchen will have the heated patio open until the end of November!

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Rob
17 November 2020 5:59 pm

Rob, glad to know you have tried and support local restaurants, how empty though some of them seem here.

As for the retail stores some are priced quite exclusively. I have bought in some – there appears to be a market here for the higher priced but are they being patronized by all the new home owners that have come to town as well as the old in the lovely mansion like homes I see in both Cobourg and Port Hope.

Not all people seek out the cheapest but hopefully those of a cut above look first in Cobourg before buying elsewhere. As a business boost though the town might think of review of real estate taxes for business in a town that is mainly driven by tourist attractions not industrial and commercial businesses.

Paul Pagnuelo
Reply to  Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 6:09 pm

The Woodlawn and Buttermilk Cafe were/ are two restaurants of my liking. The Italian restaurant at the waterfront is too noisy but the food is enjoyable. I also enjoy a family fish and chips from Dave Austin”s Big Mouth Bass.

The only fast food burger joint I enjoy is Big Boys. As I’m disabled, getting around is more difficult these days.

It would be wonderful if more quality restaurants and craft breweries would open downtown along with one or two entertainment spots.

Downtown needs to stay open past 7::00 pm if it is ever to be the success it is capable of becoming.

17 November 2020 10:34 am

KPMG gets $86,000 and can’t get more than 307 participants in the survey??? with a final comment that 307 respondents is hardly representative. No mention of going to OPP services…how come?
Another waste of taxpayer money and KPMG smiles all the way to the bank??

Reply to  cornbread
17 November 2020 11:25 am

The survey and subsequent report does not add any value to the conversation. Oscar admitted to knowing little about surveys (probably should have kept that to himself) because Towns normally do them on their own; however even through his expressed lack of knowledge he was able to ascertain that 300 participants “seems low.” Of course its low and it certainly isn’t an accurate cross section of the residents of Cobourg.

And to be clear, if anyone thinks the savings gained through cutting visitor marketing, transit, recreation or increasing parking and marina fees will translate to into lower property taxes, you are out of your mind! All levels of Government have an unquenchable thirst for revenue… all this will do is negatively impact the quality of life for you and/or others.

Reply to  cornbread
18 November 2020 6:10 am

Port Hope has a volunteer Fire Department…how come no thoughts on Cobourg going this method for great savings? How come?

17 November 2020 8:53 am

Marketing and tourism funding has not made any difference to our down town in over the last 10 yrs or more.
We are simple funding a few non functional business on the back s of the Tax payers .
In fact the downtown has become less a desirable place to shop even for the locals .
The parking is atrocious and the lots a disgrace compared to other communities like
Port Perry or Huntsville etc where the back of the stores and parking , pick up and delivery are just as nice and accessible as the street scape .
Tourists come for the Seasonal Beach, Marina & Trailer Pk and that’s it .
They are apparently full with out marketing and carry heavy maintenance costs for the benefit of outsiders . Now lets make them more profitable and self supporting .
The Down Town property owners and tenant operators will have to reinvent them selves
and cary unique & unusual products the tourists and buying public want and will come back to get . Like the streets of Old Niagara . Pet food , shoe stores and Pawn shops , tattoo parlors
just don’t cut it .

Liz Taylor
17 November 2020 6:11 am

Tourism – Cobourg has many visitors – where else will it gain investment? Kill the goose that laid the golden egg. It certainly isn’t an industrial mecca.
Transit – Cobourg is growing and the public transit provides a means of travel for those without cars.
Parking Charges – the downtown is almost dead so let’s increase the parking fees and kill it right off.
Parking Restrictions – Note there are many people who have access to parking who regularly and consistently park on the street. It is a restricted parking zone, especially in winter but these cars are neither tagged nor towed. It is a no park zone actually all year yet overnight parking persists with no action taken.
Not impressed – hmm, never saw the survey yet I read Northumberland News almost daily.

Ken Strauss
16 November 2020 7:06 pm

Increase Marina fees to provide higher reserves to fund future Capital expenses.

It is my understanding that Marina slips are not fully utilized but the trailer park is. Why is it recommended to increase marina fees yet an increase trailer park fees is not mentioned?

Old Sailor
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 November 2020 8:59 am

Ken, I don’t disagree with a Marina fee increase. But wouldn’t it make sense for the Marina manager or a senior town employee to finally conduct and make public a survey of slip rental fees and all marina services provided from Whitby to Belleville? Get in their cars and spend some time seeing what other facilities offer and charge? And find out what other marinas target for slips filled by seasonal boaters. I bet it is 90% to 95% not like Cobourg’s ridiculous 65% fill rate. Cobourg already has an unusually low boat owner retention rate / high turnover rate of boat owners. Owners moving their boats to other marinas. I recall the survey said only 36% of the current slip holders had been there 5 years or longer. That is a terrible record. The marina appears to be emptying out each year with Quebec charter fishing boats filling in some of the holes. Which means more and more fish guts rotting in garbage containers near the harbour. Town of Cobourg – get in your car and conduct a thorough survey. And report back.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Old Sailor
17 November 2020 7:43 pm

Of course! Any competent manager is as aware of their competitor’s prices, product advantages and disadvantages as they are for their own offerings. Cobourg’s managers are obsessed with revenue and never mention profitability. Having the trailer park 80% occupied by visitors paying twice as much is far more profitable than 100% occupancy with low rates.