In this “in-between” time when there is not much news, I think we can afford the time to look at what the Council and staff have proposed as a budget for the coming year. Unlike the wish lists that were submitted earlier, the draft Operating and Capital budgets that were put online on December 22 seem intended to be realistic. Also unlike the wish lists, complete details have been provided (well almost). Omitted are personnel details although it would have been good if “head counts” were included so we can see if more or fewer people are employed. But sufficient detail is provided that sensible comments on the budget can be made – for example you can comment using the Survey or Forum on “Engage Cobourg” – see links below – or by emailing one or more Councillors (again see links below).
The key number is the proposed tax increase which is 1.9%. Total increase to be paid by taxes is 2.5% but new assessment growth pays for some of this and results in the net 1.9% number. Although the goal set by Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin was 0 to 1%, the Police didn’t help with their net 3.3% increase. The good news is that revenue (other than taxes) rose by 8.8% to $692,930 which helped bring the submitted budgets down to $19,525,168, a 2.5% increase on 2020’s budget.
Operating Budget highlights
“Protection – Other” is up 9.9% (+$356K), Public Works is up 5.3% (+$236K) but Culture and Community is 12.7% lower (-$225K) and Parks and Recreation is only up 0.2% in a $3.9M budget. Together with the budgets of smaller departments, the total operating budget is then 3.1% higher. But because of how Capital is managed and with current low interest rates, the cost of Capital is 9.8% less (-$94K) and this brings the net operating cost increase to 2.5%.
So let’s look briefly at the major departments. Note that there’s no point in reviewing the Police Budget since it has already been approved by the Police Board. The Police Budget is a total of $6,473,290 or 3.3% more than the 2020 budget.
Protection – Other (excluding Police)
Most of the increase is for the Fire Department (+$324K) and $253K of that is for payroll and benefits including an increase in overtime from $40K in the 2020 budget to $92K. An explanatory note says: “Anticipated contractual obligations plus 3 additional probationary firefighters start date July 2, 2021”.
ByLaw enforcement also goes up by $34K to $86K primarily because of more staff.
Up 5.3% ($236K). The most obvious contributor to the increase is Transit which increases by 16.4% (+$189K). Only $40K of this is for the Micro-Transit Trial. Costs are determined primarily by the hours of operation of both conventional and Wheels services.
There were also some ridership numbers in the Transit budget.
|Conventional Ridership||98,795||52,000 Estimate|
(Extended Service after 7:45 pm)
|144 May – Dec (8 months)||72 Jan – April (3.5 months)|
The Transit expenses requested for 2021 are $1.26M offset by revenue of $316K. $205K of the revenue is the provincial subsidy. Only $103K will come from fares – down from $117K in the 2020 budget.
Other Works expenses mostly balanced out – increases were mostly mitigated by decreases.
Affordable Housing Assistance
Not a Major Department but this is a new line item for 2021.
The 2021 draft budget includes $250K to be allocated via the recently approved Community Improvement Plan (CIP). Of this, $125K is slated to come from Holdco.
Culture and Community
In 2020, the total budget for this department was $2M in costs and $248K in revenue but in 2021, the draft budget is net $1.56M – down 22.9% – and that’s with a 95.6% drop in revenue to $11K. In 2021, the largest cost in this department is the Library at $950K – up 1.8% from 2020. In the 2020 budget, the second largest cost was the Concert Hall at $376K but with revenues of $181K. Other than administration, the third biggest cost is the Art Gallery – $125K in 2020 and $170K in 2021. But in 2021 the plan is to keep the Concert Hall closed for 2021 and have fewer special events. Still planned for 2021 are Canada Day Celebrations, a Virtual Sandcastle Festival, Christmas Magic lights, Santa Parade and more – seemingly especially in the second half of the year.
Parks and Recreation
The total Parks and Recreation Budget is $6.4M and this includes the Marina and the Trailer Park (now called the Campground!). These are both a zero cost to the Town and in fact in 2021 the Trailer Park is planned to provide a net contribution to the Town of $146K. The biggest cost item is the Administration and Operating budget of $2,2M (net) which is up by 3.2% ($73K) for 2021. Another big part of the Parks and Recreation Budget is the Community Centre budget of $1.2M which is expected to have $467K less revenue in 2021. To compensate, expenses were reduced by $453K. Of this reduction, $274K is savings on payroll and $150K is a transfer from Northam which was not done in 2020. In addition other areas have reduced expenses. For example, the Seniors activity centre is expected to have 14.7% (-$15K) less revenue and 19.2% (-$45K) less expenses for a net reduction of 22.7% (-$30K). Overall, the Parks and Recreation budget for 2021 is up only 0.2%.
Another Notable item
One of the ways Capital items are funded is a direct charge to the levy (taxes). In 2020 this was budgeted at $321K but in 2021 it’s shown as $209K. This reduces the required levy by $112K or 0.6%. Without it, the levy increase would be 2.5% instead of 1.9%. Keeping the amount at around $321K would have reduced the Town’s debt by that amount with the trade-off of higher taxes.
The next step in the process is a line by line review of the budget by Council on January 21. Based on previous experience, I would expect a lively meeting with some Councillors wanting items added and others wanting reductions. Maybe the final budget will yet meet the goal of 0 to 1% increase.
Watch for the next article in this series which will summarize the draft capital Budget.
Meanwhile be sure to let Councillors know what you think.
- Engage Cobourg – provide feedback on budget. Includes links to draft budgets. Note – the survey has been open for a while – well before this draft budget was released.
- Council Information page including email addresses and cell-phone numbers for Councillors.