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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Councillor pay Increases back on the table – 10 September 2019
- Draft Budget available for comment – 16 December 2019
- Police Budget 2020 – 1 December 2019
- Council urged to act on Climate Emergency Declaration – 7 Jan 2020
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.