Town’s 2020 Budget Reviewed and Approved

Over the last two days (Jan 9 and 10, 2020), Cobourg Council reviewed the entire Budget for 2020.  The goal was to have a tax levy increase of 1.9% but it came in at 2.2%. It would be impossible to provide a short summary of all the decisions made so this report will be just about highlights of the Operating budget. Yesterday’s post covered Community grants and another post tomorrow will cover Public Works Capital Projects. Included in the debate was a motion to increase Councillors’ salaries as approved in a 9 September 2019 Council meeting but subject to approval in the budget. A good number of items were extensively debated with several items added and others removed. The Councillors took to heart that citizens had said that sustainability, affordable housing and social items like the opioid crisis were important enough that a higher tax levy would be acceptable. So that’s what happened.

Council Meeting - 9 Jan 2020
Council Meeting – 9 Jan 2020

The effort to keep taxes down was made harder by a last minute tax rebate for major commercial properties in Town (e.g. Walmart) who won their case against an MPAC assessment. The result was that the Town had to make an unexpected refund of $250K.

Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin chaired the meeting and repeated the theme for this year that the focus was on looking after current items before looking at new ones. During discussions, one factor that came up several times was that there would be an Organization review – it would be conducted by the as yet to be hired CAO so would not get started until maybe July.

Police, Fire, Library

These were the first to be reviewed and, compared to other departments, went through quickly. The Police budget had been effectively approved earlier so had little discussion. Councillor Aaron Burchat suggested hiring 4 new firemen this year instead of the one proposed but his motion was defeated. The Library had to cope with a reduction of funding of $80K by the Province but managed to find cost reductions without losing any staff.

Art Gallery (AGN)

The budget for the Art Gallery was $205K in 2019 and $225K was initially proposed for 2020. Councillor Emily Chorley proposed keeping the budget at $205K but Councillor Adam Bureau suggested $215K and allowing the AGN to have free use of meeting rooms. Adam’s motion was approved and the MOU with the AGN will be modified to allow them to use Vic Hall meeting rooms for 14 Board meetings per year.

The Community Grants were discussed next – see yesterday’s post.

In the lists below, not all amounts affect the tax bill since many are funded by Reserves, Holdco, Northam Industrial park, Federal Gas Tax Refund, known revenue sources, Grants or otherwise. However, a good amount does hit the taxpayer directly.

General Government – Highlights

  • Money for CAO recruitment will come from the savings of the CAO salary for 6 months
  • The Rogers Hometown Hockey event cost $10K instead of the $15K in the budget.
  • The Opioid “summit” in February required an addition of $10K
  • Councillor Beatty convinced others to add $6K for Green Wood Coalition to the Social and Family budget and that the amount for the affordable housing CIP should be increased from $125K to $165K

Parks and Recreation (Community Services) – Highlights

  • An additional $15k was provided for Port-a-potties for major events in Victoria park
  • Adam convinced everyone that $10K should be included for the Butterfly wings in Rotary park and Emily got $2K approved for “trash to treasure” garbage cans
  • Emily managed to up the tree planting budget from $50K to $70K – in 2019, the Town had a net loss of 75 trees.
  • The Wi-Fi at the marina will be upgraded for $25K
  • The Memorial Arena Utilities budget was reduced from $27K to $15K since there will be no ice-making there. With the Memorial Arena closed, there will be a net loss of one person.

Cobourg Community Centre Payroll

It was found to be difficult to hire a Marina Manager – instead it was decided to hire a Facilities manager. There is no Concert hall manager and the position of Recreation and Culture Manager has been vacant for some time. The savings were used to pay for a one-year contract position  (Antonio Sarmiento) but that contract “did not complete”. Emily therefore suggested a hiring freeze for the vacant Recreation and Culture Manager position pending the organization review and remove the amount (approx. $100K) from the budget. Director Dean Hustwick said that he was ready to call candidates in for interview and that his staff were overloaded and putting in extra hours. However a vote (recorded) was called and the motion to “freeze” was lost – 4-3. In favour were Emily Chorley, Suzanne Séguin and Adam Bureau. If this vote had gone the other way, the budget goal of 1.9% would have been met.

More Community Services Highlights

  • Although there is no net cost to taxpayers for Civic Awards, Mayor Henderson said that because of the absence of some people down south at the normal Spring date, this year’s event will be held in October.
  • There was a major discussion about the $16K cost to the Town for Garbage disposal at Town events. Adam wanted it charged back to event promoters but many of these are not-for-profit organizations so in the end the amount remained.
  • Another discussion centred on the Christmas Street Pole lights (“CurlyCues”). These will continue with a larger contribution from the DBIA.
  • The biggest event in Cobourg now is the Sandcastle Festival – not the Waterfront Festival. Both will now get a shuttle to remote parking lots at the mall and the CCC.
  • The Tourism budget requested $100K for Tourism promotion. A successful motion from Emily reduced that to $75K. This might mean eliminating the annual Cobourg Leisure Guide. Councillors felt that there are other more important things to spend money on.
  • Emily wanted to limit the summer ambassadors (summer students) to 4 instead of the 5 budgeted. Her motion was defeated.
  • Brian Darling asked that the $24K for water bottle filling stations be removed since there are already a number in Cobourg – although not in Victoria park – and that they would have to have water shut off in winter. After discussion the amount was reduced to $15K since the $24K was a worst case cost.
  • Brian Darling said that the Adult Fitness Park was not wanted, was a novelty item, would not be used by people seriously interested in fitness and was really a playground thing. Besides, everyone he spoke to did not like the idea. Mayor John Henderson and Emily Chorley suggested reducing the $25K amount but in the end, the amount was reduced to zero.
  • The Donegan Park Ball diamond has needed renovation for years but the $35K budget item was continually deferred. But now Council has agreed to include it in the 2020 budget.

ICSP, GDS and Contract Person

The draft budget included $85K for 2020 and 2021 to prepare an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) but at the meeting, Glenn McGlashon made the case that to do the full program requested by Council to respond to the “Climate Emergency”, he would instead need $126K in the 2020 budget and $131K in the 2021 budget. Council agreed and those amounts were added but came from Northam Industrial Park reserves and the Federal Tax Levy Reserve with no costs from the Tax Levy. Therefore an ICSP and Green Development Standard (GDS) will be prepared and a contract person hired for 18 months.

Harbour Improvements

Most of the suggested Capital items to fix or upgrade the Harbour and Marina were approved – this included preliminary engineering work for the East Pier, Harbour Improvements Phase1, Harbour Seawalls and Breakwaters plus Walkway Paver Stone Replacement and Harbour Electrical System Upgrade. Most of these will be financed by debentures (debt). It was felt that more info was needed for the Marina Security Access Gates and budget for them was moved to 2021.

Tourism and Box Office in Vic Hall Lobby

For the second year, it was proposed to put a heritage reception desk in the lobby of Victoria Hall at a cost of $50K but cutbacks meant it was moved to 2021. This would provide Tourism information and provide Victoria Hall Box office services. Brian and Suzanne were concerned about the possible impact of the planned organization review; John Henderson was concerned about the impact on weddings held in the hall and felt there were other options; Suzanne was concerned that it would spoil the Heritage look; Emily preferred to keep it in 2021 rather than move it to 2020. Adam wanted it moved to 2020. Director Hustwick said it would not spoil the Heritage look and that the Victoria Hall Volunteers were supportive. But in the end, it stayed in the 2021 forecasted budget.

Council Remuneration

The previous decision by Council included the need to have it approved along with the budget. Nicole Beatty spoke of how the current salaries were not equitable and do not encourage equity.

Emily agreed and spoke about the need to attract young people and others fully representative of the municipality. The role of councillors is expanding and becoming more accessible. The job is now 24/7.

Adam Bureau passionately spoke about the workload, that he was getting less than the minimum wage, was on call 24/7, that he puts in more than 40 hours per week, must spend time reading about things (e.g. sewers) that he never knew about before and that citizens tell him he deserves to be paid more.

Brian Darling spoke about how everyone knew the salary when they took the job and although he agreed with Adam, he could not accept an increase in the current term. He would be agreeable to such an increase applied to the next term.

A recorded vote was the same as at the September 9 meeting except for Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin  who changed her vote so the motion failed. Their salary will not be changing again.

Transit Trial

An added suggested motion by Aaron Burchat would have provided free Transit for a year to see if that boosted ridership. No one else liked the idea so Aaron withdrew the motion.

Final Budget Numbers

These are subject to Final Approval on 3 February 2020 but are unlikely to change much.

The increase in the tax levy is 3.2%  or a 2.2% net increase after allowing for new assessment growth of 1%.

That means that IF (a big if) your MPAC assessment has the same percentage increase as the average for the Town, the Town’s portion of your property tax will be 2.2% higher.


Note – Jan 11: Since this article was originally posted, there have been a couple of changes: 1) the Art Gallery numbers were clarified to show what the AGN would get instead of what it would cost the taxpayer and 2) the Climate Change project costs were corrected to show that the new numbers were “instead of” and not “additional to” the $85K per year.

Update – 13 Jan 2020

Because of a subsequent decision to increase the salaries of non-union employees and attempt to find non-levy sources to pay for this, the increase in the tax levy may now be 2.7%. Details here.

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17 January 2020 12:28 pm

Also approved is the raise that was previously outlined for the non-union staff that were already making excellent money – in fact they will be making more as they don’t pay union dues but get the benefits and pay anyway.

Canuck Patriot
Reply to  Observer
17 January 2020 12:52 pm

An average of $4,500 per employee. Councillor Darling is the one who blindsided the Deputy Mayor and sabotaged the budget process by tabling the motion after budget deliberations had ended. Taxpayers can thank him for adding 50 basis points to this year’s tax increase.

Reply to  Canuck Patriot
18 January 2020 4:08 pm

Any of the hidden costs of not being able to retain staff due to lower wages should save more in the long run. Its very costly to constantly hire and train staff so they can leave for another municipality.

Reply to  Informed
18 January 2020 7:56 pm

Staff at all levels participate in training so I am unsure of your argument here. Cobourg needs to accept that other job and life-style opportunities are within commuting distance and have more than one mechanism to adapt to change. It is still unclear to me how the revised motion which was passed at the Council meeting will lead to better public service. For example, to me it appears that public service is becoming increasingly complex (more knowledge and skills needed) and requiring more interdepartmental cooperation. Was there performance criteria tied to management salary reflecting this aspect of the jobs?

Reply to  MiriamM
18 January 2020 8:16 pm

It means that qualified individuals in other communties with apply and compete for vacancies here because they wont have to take a pay cut to come here.

11 January 2020 12:29 pm

Interesting to see that our council has voted so much money to the climate change craze over the next 2 years. Did they not read the latest Draper Report comments. Coburg has one of the highest tax rates in Ontario. Dean gets his way again! As for 4 new firemen…that councillor needs a check-up…and free transit for a year…another councillor needs help. Get rid of the dirty busses and you solve the climate change contribution…they drive around most of the day empty…get smaller electric busses. Privatize the Art Gallery.

Reply to  cornbread
11 January 2020 12:59 pm

In my opinion, to suggest that a “counsellor needs a check-up” for supporting 4 additional fire fighters for Cobourg, is an irresponsible and uninformed comment. Cobourg is growing, along with housing developments and first responders are necessary for safety. Also, fire fighters, in addition to fighting burning structures, participate on emergency/911 calls and accidents among other things.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Rational
11 January 2020 1:54 pm

Indeed, Rational, Cobourg is growing. According to, Cobourg’s population grew by 921 from 2011 to 2016 or an increase of 4.97% in five years. This is a compound annual growth rate of about 0.97%. Suggesting that Cobourg should add four fire fighters this year on the basis of growth is an irresponsible and uninformed comment.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
11 January 2020 4:29 pm

Mr. Strauss. The statistics used by you are 3 years old. Also a single statistic is not a valid argument.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Rational
11 January 2020 5:39 pm

I used the population numbers from the 2011 and 2016 census which is the latest available information. Obviously the 2021 census numbers are not yet available! The same numbers are on the town’s website. Are you suggesting that the town is wrong? Perhaps fire department retirements change things but your your suggestion that population growth alone justifies 4 new firepersons is ridiculous.

Please clarify what you mean by “Also a single statistic is not a valid argument.”.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
11 January 2020 5:48 pm

I am not suggesting population growth alone justifies adding 4 firefighters – actually the opposite. Please read the posting Mr. Strauss. If your statistics are 3 years old then they are not a valid argument as you have presented. Common sense is required Mr. Strauss. Given the dating of your information leads me to hold the opinion that your comments are invalid in this specific situation.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Rational
11 January 2020 6:45 pm

I’m confused. I understood that your initial comment (“Cobourg is growing”) was your rationale for needing more firepersons. The latest available population data shows that we are growing at slightly less than 1% per year. Why, then, do we need a significant increase in firepersons?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
12 January 2020 12:36 pm

No additional staffing in 25 years and1600 plus calls a year now. Lets dig a little deeper please.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Informed
12 January 2020 1:00 pm

Yes, more information and analysis is required. I believe that a significant portion of the 1600 calls is due to both EMS and firepersons attending most assistance calls even when EMS staff are probably better qualified to assist and also cost less. I’ve seen some stats that show the number of actual fires has decreased over the last 25 years so there should be no need for additional firepersons. I’m sure that the fire chief could provide valuable input.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
12 January 2020 1:12 pm

Puzzling why he didnt

Reply to  Informed
12 January 2020 2:55 pm

Some other questions that come to mind …. Who has the gear and know-how, like the extrication equipment needed, to attend to traffic accidents especially on the increasingly busy 401 and rail lines carrying freight of all kinds passing through town? What is the current agreement to help out in other municipal jurisdictions and how much more time is being required elsewhere? What other obligations and/or challenges does the FD have that may be different from those 25 years ago? Someone told me that having a properly outfitted and staffed FD is like being properly insured. You hope that you never have to need it.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
12 January 2020 12:42 pm

Why not look at the population growth since 1995. This is the last time additional fireman were added to the ranks. To bad the fire chief didnt speak up.

Reply to  Rational
12 January 2020 12:59 pm

Too bad Councilor Darling couldnt have offered some insight. Im not saying he had to agree but after 25 plus years working at the firehall it would have been nice to hear some insight either way. Its been way too long to use the conflict of interest reasoning .

B Jackson
Reply to  cornbread
12 January 2020 12:13 am

“Interesting to see that our council has voted so much money to the climate change craze over the next 2 years. Did they not read the latest Draper Report comments. Coburg has one of the highest tax rates in Ontario”

UN Agenda 21 is being implemented whether we like it or not!
It does not matter that many people do not support this agenda or that many people have no awareness. Its a done deal as you can see, so far that is.
Please be informed about UN agenda 21, do research online, and decide for yourselves.
Keep an eye on what is happening, as it happens, in the next few years.
Spread this around. Inform others. Knowledge is power.

11 January 2020 9:22 am

Perhaps Adam Bureau should try long haul trucking – live in the truck – out for a minimum of 2 weeks – that is 24/7

Reply to  Observer
11 January 2020 4:31 pm

Poor Adam. Maybe he should step down? I feel that anyone taking on the job, as councillor, should not be doing it for the money, but rather for the betterment of our lovely little community.
BTW, the ‘trades’ are looking for people. Most pay very well! Just a suggestion Adam. No harm intended. You will have to work, though!

And another thing, maybe all councillors should look at what is involved, before you put up your hand?

What’s the old saying…..”if you find a job you love, then the money doesn’t matter”.

11 January 2020 8:25 am

Glad to see the tree budget increased. It is shameful that Cobourg had a net tree loss last year.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Greenthumb
11 January 2020 2:05 pm

Yes, Greenthumb, trees are a critical aspect of sustainability and fighting our climate change emergency. Council has not declared a housing emergency and affordable housing is not even a town responsibility. It is shameful that Cobourg is spending more on affordable housing than on tree replacement.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
12 January 2020 12:56 pm

The new good paying jobs are not in Cobourg. Toronto 416 & 905 is where the new jobs are…build the affordable housing there, not in Cobourg where the prospects of a good paying job are scarce.

Reply to  cornbread
12 January 2020 1:26 pm

Huh? Not following the logic.
I’m thinking those getting those new good paying jobs (wherever they are) can afford regular (whatever that means) pricing on housing. Those with lower paying jobs are the ones that need a hand with affordable hosing.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Frenchy
12 January 2020 2:41 pm

Huh? Not following the logic.
If the “good paying jobs” are elsewhere how can the people without “good paying jobs” (Cobourg residents for example) afford to fund affordable housing?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
12 January 2020 4:25 pm

I was looking at it from the perspective of the person needing that affordable housing and only having a mediocre paying job.