Council has second thoughts

Cobourg’s Council meetings come in pairs.  First comes the Committee of the Whole (CoW) where items are generally first raised and debated; then at the regular Council meeting comes a confirmation including any necessary by-Laws. At Monday’s regular Council meeting, Councillors revised two significant decisions from the previous CoW: 1) when deliberating the budget, what the target should be for the base levy increase and 2) whether to resume in-person Council meetings.  Other motions from the CoW passed as expected.  Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin said that since the target was based on the inflation rate and that this was now higher (July was 3.7%), the new target became 5.25%.  However, the high target was approved with no debate other than an objection by Suzanne.  Also, upon reflection, Councillors were not so sure that insisting that all councillors be at Council Chambers meetings would be the right thing to do.

Budget Target

The wording of the target increase motion was that it should be the inflation rate (in June it was 3.1%) plus 1.55% because of new growth (see Resources below).  But Suzanne pointed out that in July inflation was 3.7%.  Add the 1.55% and the total increase in budget targeted becomes 5.25%.  As she said, this is a “quite an increase … and a lot to ask seniors and businesses to pay”.  Because the inflation rate fluctuates through the year, Suzanne suggested that using an average rate would be better.  The motion to approve the high budget target was approved 6 to 1 (Suzanne voted against).

In-Person Council Meetings

The motion approved at the CoW was for “option1” (see Resources below) which meant Councillors would be attending in person at Council Chambers or would be absent.  Using Zoom for Councillors would not be allowed. Councillor Burchat had objected.

But Councillors had time to reflect on this decision and changed their mind:

  • Councillor Emily Chorley wanted flexibility – she implied she would usually be there in person but might sometimes find it necessary to attend via Zoom
  • Councillor Aaron Burchat said that there might be some cases where a person had Covid-19 symptoms and in the interval before a test would be negative, access to Victoria Hall would be denied.  Attending via Zoom should still be allowed.
  • Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin agreed that Option 2 was a better choice.
  • Councillor Brian Darling was “on the fence” – he could see merit in both Options.
  • Councillor Bureau suggested that attending via Zoom could be allowed only if a Councillor failed a screening test.  But CAO Tracey Vaughan cautioned that we need to be “careful revealing personal Medical information”.

Councillor Burchat made a Motion to “allow for the continuation of Electronic Participation by Council Members in combination with the resumption of physical attendance of Members in Council Chambers”.  This motion passed but Suzanne then moved that a final decision be deferred until the CoW on September 13.  Her motion also passed.

So the current Council Zoom meetings will continue at least until then and next year’s tax increase is likely to be hefty. Why this should be when the Town’s reserves went up by an unexpected $9.6M in 2020 has not been discussed by Council.

Resources

Motion for Budget increase target. Wording is important.

WHEREAS at the Committee of the Whole Meeting on August 23, 2021, Council considered a Memo from the Director of Corporate Services regarding the 2022 Operating and Capital Budget – Municipal Levy Target;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct Municipal Staff and the Cobourg Police Services Board to target a base levy increase [my emphasis] for the 2022 operating budget equal to the twelve (12) month change in the Consumer Price Index which currently is 3.1% as of June 30, 2021 plus an additional 1.55% for Assessment Growth based on the New Assessment Forecast Report as provided by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation as of June 30, 2021

Motion at CoW for In-Person Council Meetings

THAT Council receive the Staff report from the Municipal Clerk/Manager of Legislative Services for information purposes; and

FURTHER THAT Council consider returning to in-person Council Meetings in Cobourg Municipal Council Chambers in one of the following new formats:

1. That all of Council Members be physically present in Council Chambers for all Municipal Council Meetings including the Municipal Clerk and Deputy Clerk and Chief Administrative Officer in an alternative set-up to adhere to public health protocols and all other Staff, Members of the Public and Delegates/Presenters shall participate electronically through a Zoom Video Conference.

OR

2. That Members of Council may participate in person in Council Chambers and allowing some Council members to participate by Zoom Video Conferencing, and all other Staff, Members of the Public and Delegates/Presenters shall participate electronically.

AND FURTHER THAT Council authorize all Council Advisory Committees to participate through electronic participation utilizing Zoom Video Conferencing for the remainder of the Municipal Council Term or until Council provides further direction to return to in-person meetings.

Previous reports on these items

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Gordon Gilchrist
9 September 2021 8:19 am

Speaking of second thoughts:
Council put off until September, further consideration about admitting imported and local drug users to the Medical Center across from the high school and around the corner from a junior school. Have parents been consulted over the summer? Have residents been consulted? Does anybody on Council care enough about the drug situation to bring forward a public debate? Has the KPR School Board been consulted? Where does this issue stand now that September has arrived?

Sandpiper
4 September 2021 8:24 am

Obviously we carry to much debt , that needs to be serviced I am not referring just to this example like the
ie : the CCC the charges for use don’t need to go up or threaten the users that it will if it were to be privatized , But it could be marketed and operated
round the clock as though it were privatized and had to turn a profit .
This does not mean we need more employees and bigger pay roll debt , we simply need employees that know that this business operation needs to be profitable
or it could mean their jobs replaced by employees that have worked in private industry . Not Pay cheque mentality
Some of our industrial lands in the east end the town sold it at the same price per acre that it was priced at 15 yrs ago >??? Trust me serviced industrial land is scarce Port hope industrial land sells for 2 1/ 2 times that and the sold out
Our Marketing and economic developments departments are and have been a failure for many yrs now and its time for change . Not higher Taxes
to service the failures of management

ben
2 September 2021 6:58 am

When this proposal came to the CoW last week I wondered just what is going on as the increase, as pointed out by many on this Board was higher than other budgets produced by the DM. But more interestingly, as the DM was opposed to the motion and wanted to amend the motion to lower the raise, it shows us a coordinator who has either failed to impress upon those in her portfolio of her desires of a lower increase or wants to ride this issue into next year’s election campaign and prove herself to be the real ‘taxfighter’ on the slate. It has been revealed in the latest financial statements that overall Revenues were up and expenses down and we have reserves of over nine million dollars. So why the need to slavishly follow the CPI. As pointed out the employees of the Town, and the majority of the costs of the Town is overhead, will not be getting a 5% raise; so why the demand for such a raise in the levy? Also why does the Staff, and presumably the DM want to set a budget target in the first place using the CPI, as opposed to using the previous actuals plus expected needs as the base for a raise? But back the DM’s peculiar behaviour around this subject. Moving a motion, to get it onto the debate floor, and then voting against it is not unusual but usually occurs at the end of a lengthy debate. So the question is if such a motion as this one, is on the Agenda, who put it on the Agenda if the coordinator is so opposed to it? What discussion did the coordinator have with the Agenda assembly process within her portfolio and did she try to hold it back… Read more »

Last edited 26 days ago by Ben
Suzanne Seguin
Reply to  ben
2 September 2021 12:35 pm

Ben, As a former member of Council, you understand the process of staff writing reports that come to Council for consideration. Finance staff produces the draft budgets each year after discussion with various departments and senior management, not the DM. I have always preferred a zero-based budget to ask only what is really needed in any given year, but this is the process that continues to be used in Cobourg. October 22 is the target date for release of the full draft operating and capital budgets to Council and the public. I have asked for a meeting with the CAO and Treasurer after the draft budgets are released to offer input. The 2022 Operating and Capital Budget – Municipal Levy Target report and recommendation is from Ian Davey, Treasurer / Director of Corporate Services. Unfortunately, this report did not come to General Government for discussion prior to being added to the COW agenda. Members of Council do not set the COW or Council agendas. For the past three budget cycles, I have suggested very modest levy increases as Deputy Mayor and Budget Chief and Council has worked very hard to keep any increases to the levy low during budget deliberations. A municipal levy target should be a Council decision. The majority of Council approved the recommendation put forward by Director Davey to target an increase of the municipal levy using the CPI as a basis for an increase which is now at 3.7% + a 1.55% increase in new assessment. In my opinion a target of 5.25% is too high, but I only have one vote and the vote was carried. On November 8 there will be a public meeting for Council to receive public submissions on the budget. On November 9 and 10, in an open and transparent process,… Read more »

Last edited 26 days ago by Suzanne Seguin
ben
Reply to  Suzanne Seguin
2 September 2021 6:18 pm

“Ben, As a former member of Council, you understand the process of staff writing reports that come to Council for consideration. Finance staff produces the draft budgets each year after discussion with various departments and senior management, not the DM.”

Suzanne you are absolutely right, as a former Councillor I do understand the process of Staff writing reports that come to Council, but it stretches the mind to think that the Staff that you are supposed to interact with as a coordinator, with a record of bringing in low tax increases did not understand that you as DM do not want to see a large increase (and a CPI based raise is large).

I also find it hard to believe, in your regular conversations or formal meetings with the Staff in your portfolio you have never had discussions about keeping the tax increases low. Or if a large increase was in the offing surely Mr Davey would have given you a heads up.

I also find it strange that you did not know the report was not coming to Council, surely it indicates a lack of communication between you and the portfolio. Well perhaps things have changed but all my colleagues knew what was going on, I made a point of regular formal meetings in my portfolio as well as informal convos, that made me aware of most things especially the major ones.

Last edited 25 days ago by Ben
Michael Sprayson
1 September 2021 1:57 pm

All of our current councillors ran on a platform of supporting affordable housing and transparency. If budget negotiations begin at this level, how can they profess to care about the affordability of living here? Every councillor except for the deputy mayor (thank you, Suzanne) approved this increase. Here are two excerpts directly from campaign material: From Nicole Beatty’s campaign brochure: “…implement a Housing First strategy with a goal to achieve affordable housing for all” “Encourage responsible revenue diversification to relieve pressure on taxpayers” From Brian Darling’s campaign brochure: “Keep tax increases as low as possible” What’s going on? Instead of creating more realistic for-the-time boundaries in which to begin thinking about staff and town spending, almost everyone is willing to start this high? Why are we leading with fear of the possibility of service reduction? What is that concern even based on? Affordable housing and approving this kind of levy increase are not compatible. I hear a community outcry for housing they can obtain. Are you expecting developers and landlords to absorb the extra costs? What would be the possible incentive? It takes years to build here, the red tape is incredibly expensive and now it seems that taxes are going up considerably. I keep seeing many local headlines about Cobourg moving towards more affordable housing but the body of those stories don’t usually have the facts or accountability to actually support them. The CIP took money from downtown business improvement and economic development. Both issues, I think Cobourg needs to pay attention to just as much as housing. And then, council awarded a large portion of it to a Toronto builder when there was a local church that already has established units and was looking to double those units (which ALL would have been affordable, rather that just a… Read more »

Bryan
Reply to  Michael Sprayson
1 September 2021 4:36 pm

Totally agree Michael.
For a budget target, why start high? If the money is on the table, do you really expect that it won’t be spent.
Looking back over the past 10 years, I can’t find an example where staff did NOT OVERSPEND the budget. So much for fiscal restraint. This is why Council has oversight authority.

Better to start with a lower target and approve more if additional spending is warranted. It’s much harder to take the funds back after being given initial approval, even if its just a preliminary target.

Elmo
1 September 2021 9:37 am

The tax levy proposed and its rationale suggest that those councillors who voted in favour have other employment prospects on the horizon after the next municipal election.

cornbread
1 September 2021 9:22 am

Wages for town workers including police and fire dept. are not going up by 5.25% and this section of the budget is HUGE…So why does the total budget have to be increased by 5.25%?
Looks like another “money grab” by the local politicians…seems to me every family in Cobourg is “tightening their belt” these days…time for Council & Town to do the same!

Bryan
Reply to  cornbread
1 September 2021 10:14 am

Cornbread:

You wrote: “….why does the total budget have to be increased by 5.25%?….”

It hasn’t.
This is a suggested target put forth by staff, not Council. The DM strongly opposed this and argued for a smaller increase. Other members of Council didn’t see it that way and for various reasons, including fear of service reductions, voted to approve the staff proposed target.

Note that this is just a target.
Further, it is Staff’s budget, not Council’s
When staff presents its budget to Council several things could happen.
Council could:

  • accepts staff’s proposed budget with a few modest changes
  • reject the budget
  • approve the budget after making significant changes

History favours the first option, but these are “strange” times
It is also the last budget before the municipal election next October.
How many Council members will run again?
Will they (individually)

  • adopt a “don’t rock the boat” approach?
  • Spend wildly?
  • Take a hard line?

Time will tell.

Cobourg residents have a huge stake in this in terms of the possibility of a significant property tax increase, as well as who will represent the residents in the next Town Council.

Now is the time for Cobourgers to make your needs known.
WHAT DO YOU NEED
Actively engage Town Council.
Use email, social media, letters to the editor, phone and face to face discussion.
Attend Council meetings and provide feedback…..pro and con
Encourage others to get involved
Consider running for Council

cornbread
Reply to  Bryan
1 September 2021 10:47 am

When Council approves the budget, with changes or no changes, it becomes their budget as well.

James Mitchell
1 September 2021 8:14 am

Perhaps some one can help me as I am not that familiar with a municipal levy. When talking about increase of the levy is that a increase to our property tax? Happy for any help to understand where the increase in budget will come from.

Bryan
Reply to  James Mitchell
1 September 2021 9:11 am

JM:
In general yes, but there are several factors:

  • The levy sets the amount to be raised from property taxes.
  • The MPAC assessment is the tax base used in the calculation of these taxes. The Province controls the MPAC assessment values. In the past few years, property values have been increasing so one would expect that the assessment value would also increase. It does, but there is a 4 year lag. MPAC evaluates property values every 4 years. Any increase (or decrease) is amortized over the following 4 years. “New” property value due to renovations, additions, new builds and demolition are change the MPAC valuation almost immediately.
  • The mil rate ratio can also change (not often, but sometimes). For example, Cobourg’s 2020 residential mil rate is 0.008245, the rate for multi-residential is 0.019649 and the industrial rate is 0.0179057. To promote rental housing, the Town could lower the multi-residential mil rate and make up the difference by increasing the residential or industrial mil rates or both. In some municipalities, the multi-residential and residential mil rates are the same.

Cobourg tax rates: https://www.cobourg.ca/en/town-hall/resources/Finance/2020-Tax-Insert.pdf

MPAC Property Assessment: https://www.mpac.ca/en/OurServices/AboutMyPropertytm

Last edited 27 days ago by Bryan
Old Sailor
31 August 2021 6:58 pm

Does anyone know if all Town employees, contractors and Council have to be double vaccinated by a certain date? And if not the penalty for non compliance?

Informed
Reply to  Old Sailor
31 August 2021 10:50 pm

Relevance?

Rob
Reply to  Old Sailor
1 September 2021 9:53 am

How does this have anything to do with any of us?

Dubious
Reply to  Rob
1 September 2021 10:09 am

It matters because I Iive in Cobourg and local case counts matter!

Rob
Reply to  Dubious
1 September 2021 11:21 am

Dubious – there are 4 local cases. Vaccinations are not mandatory in all areas of employment, vaccination status disclosure is not condition of employment and therefore there should not be a “penalty” – it may mean more regular individual testing and/or working from home/accommodation.

I believe people should get vaccinated but I also believe in having a choice…. but this is all off topic.

Rob
Reply to  Dubious
1 September 2021 4:46 pm

*yawn* Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t apply to employment and there is no penalty to employees…

JimT
Reply to  Dubious
3 September 2021 9:32 am

A few lines of summary of, or comment on, what you are suggesting we read would be a big help, rather than just a link to go to.