A lot of ground was covered in the two days of budget meetings – but at around 6:00 pm on the second day, Council came in under their target as reported earlier. The first day included presentations by the Police even though the only thing Council could do was to reject the entire budget. It was pre-approved by the Police board in closed session and only open to the public once it was approved. But at the budget meeting, the Police presentation was all about how the Police make a contribution to the Town both financially and with partnerships. More on this below. The Fire Department Chief and Deputy Chief, the Library CEO, the AGN Executive Director and Town staff Directors were all asked to explain their budget requests.
- Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf said that the Corporate Services business of the Police is currently the leading national wholesaler of online Criminal Record Checks (CRCs) with over 50 clients across Canada and 37 employees (3 full time and 34 part time). They create value and wealth that stays 100% local. Between 2004 and 2020, Corporate services contributed $7.5M to the Town – that is they paid for Capital items that the Town would otherwise have to pay for per Provincial legislation. They also work closely with Venture 13, Cornerstone and Rebound. Further, the Police service saves money by using Auxiliary Police (volunteers) for some activities.
Although the Capital request was zero, the Police operational budget came to $6,473,290 or 3.3% more than the 2020 budget.
- The Fire Department wanted to hire three new firefighters this year. They said that 4 firefighters per shift is normal and could be mandated by their next union agreement but currently they only have three. So more firefighters are needed. After a lengthy debate, some of it in closed session, Council agreed to just one new firefighter in 2021 with some talk that one extra might be approved in each of the next two years. Another issue that was debated extensively was the need for $800K in Capital spread over 2 years to replace the Pumper/Rescue Truck. A motion was finally made to move that out a year although I did not see an actual vote for that.
- The Library budget was frozen at the same level as 2020. This will result in fewer staff hours and therefore fewer hours that the Library would provide service – currently order and pickup service.
- Councillors were concerned that the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) had too little fundraising and too little support from other municipalities and the County. The AGN originally asked for $185K but staff reduced this to $175K. Council felt that even this was too high and voted 4-3 to approve a motion by Brian Darling to reduce this to $150K. In commenting on usage, AGN Executive Director Olinda Casimiro said that 650 people had visited during the 2020 shutdown when people had to visit by appointment. She pointed to some support from the County (but not cash) and said that the AGN had limited resources for fund-raising.
- Upcoming studies/reviews by consultants include a User fee study, an Organization review, an IT Strategic Plan and an Economic Development Strategic Plan. The RFP for the Organization review should go out in mid-February.
- A new Director was planned to be hired to replace Dean Hustwick at Community Services. This was scheduled for April 1 but Council postponed it to September 1 pending the Organization review.
- The major reason for a cost increase in the Public Works Department is the increase in the Transit subsidy due to low usage and free fares for much of the time. This subject has been covered in other articles. The $40K cost of the On-Demand Trial was approved.
- A plan to install Electric Vehicle chargers for $8K was removed even though it was covered by a grant because it was premature and the cost of electricity used would not be recovered.
- The $250k allocated to the Affordable Housing CIP was approved – it was noted that $35,287 is already committed for 2021 for the Trinity Housing project.
- Staff proposed to convert the contract for the Accessibility Coordinator to full-time. But after a closed session, Council voted to extend the current contract for 6 months from October 2021 to March 2022.
- An additional $25K was approved for more tree planting as recommended by the Parks and Recreation Advisory committee.
- Councillor Brian Darling said that the Furnace Street Arenas are just costing money – and, what happened to the Ad Hoc committee that was supposed to be formed to address this issue? The budget was approved but a promise was made to follow up on the committee.
- CAO Tracey Vaughan promised to review relationships with groups like the Concert band and establish MOU’s to define responsibilities etc. For example, should they be integrated with the Town’s budget or be part of the Community Grant process? She also promised to review the Grant process and improve transparency.
- Three Pay and Display machines will be installed – Third Street south of Albert; King Street east of Division – north and south sides. Cost $21,600 for 3.
- No new Bus Shelters will be provided pending the On-Demand Trial.
- There was considerable debate about the Adult Playground (or “Fitness Park” as proposed by Keith Oliver). The grant of $25K has already been received and Staff suggested a reduced set of equipment equivalent to that installed in Port Hope. The total cost would then be $35K. Councillor Nicole Beatty asked “where is fundraising?” and Councillor Brian Darling pointed to future maintenance costs. But in the end, Council voted 5-2 to approve the extra $10K. No location was specified – it may not be at the beach as originally suggested.
Although Council voted to approve the budget, final approval will be later in February.
Reports on Budget Meetings
- Cobourg Council Meet Budget Targets – 22 January 2021
- Budget Meeting – Beach and events – 23 January 2021
- Community Grants for 2021 – 21 January 2021
Addendum – 1 Feb 2021
At the regular Council meeting on February 1, Council officially approved the budget as described above with only minor changes which did not change the tax levy.
The following motion was passed:
WHEREAS the Committee of the Whole has considered the 2021 Town of Cobourg Operating and Capital Budget recommendations as presented at the Committee of the Whole Budget Meeting held on January 21, 2021;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council approve the 2021 Capital Budget in the amount of $8,139,600.
AND FURTHER THAT Council approve the 2021 Operating Budget with the Municipal Levy of $24,793,569 which represents a 0.4% increase over the 2020 Operating Budget and a (0.2)% net decrease after allowing for New Assessment Growth of 0.6%.
That is, if the valuation of your home changed by the same percentage as the average increase, you will pay less taxes to the Town this year. So the average taxpayer will pay less this year on the Town’s portion of your tax bill.