County Annual Report – 2020

Northumberland County has just released their annual report (for 2020) and they show expenditures of $107M and revenues of $119M of which taxes are $58.8M.  For all this money, few residents would be able to list what it’s spent on so a report is good.  Cobourg Councillors are directly elected by taxpayers which means that there is a strong democratic connection.  But County Councillors consist of the Mayors of each of the constituent municipalities – in the case of Cobourg, that’s Mayor John Henderson – so it’s an indirect representation.  There are no separate County elections.  Most will probably know the County looks after garbage and some major roads and recently there’s been a focus on affordable housing – but what else do they do?  The report is long and glossy and available via the links below but let me summarize.

What does the County Do?
By Department – especially note activities in bold italics

Communications
Director, Communications Kate Campbell

  • Communicates with the public and the media, produces associated photography and videography, writes grant applications

Community and Social Services
Director, Community & Social Services Lisa Horne

  • Affordable housing
  • Wellness activities including managing initiatives to reduce homelessness
  • Family and children support programs
  • Food 4 All, a centralized food distribution warehouse
  • Coordinates social assistance services

Corporate Services
Director, Corporate Services Lisa Ainsworth

  • Accessibility policies
  • County Clerk
  • County Forest – 5,500 acres
  • Cultural heritage – Operates the Northumberland County Archives and Museum
  • Emergency Planning
  • Human Resources

Economic Development, Land Use Planning & Tourism
Director, Economic Development, Planning & Strategic Initiatives Dan Borowec

  • Business Support programs including the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC)
  • Economic development
  • Land Use Planning (for some municipalities but not Cobourg)
  • Tourism Marketing

Finance & Treasury
Director, Finance/ Treasurer Glenn Dees

  • Court Services
  • Financial Management

Information Technology
Director, Information Technology Tony Paulic

  • Looks after all computers used by County Staff

Long Term Care: Golden Plough Lodge
Administrator, Golden Plough Lodge William Detlor

  • Operates the Golden Plough

Northumberland Paramedics
Chief, Northumberland Paramedics Susan Brown

  • Provides County Paramedic Services

Transportation, Waste & Facilities
Director, Transportation, Waste & Facilities Mobushar Pannu

  • Manages County Buildings including County Housing Corporation facilities
  • Oversees and supports large-scale capital construction projects such as Golden Plough rebuild and new Campbellford Bridge
  • Maintains County roads, bridges, culverts, traffic signals, street lighting, trails and drainage systems
  • Provides summer and winter maintenance, roadside safety maintenance, traffic control, surface treatment program for County and member municipal roads, and fleet management for all County departments
  • Waste management  including collection, processing and disposal of waste and recyclables) and management of recycling plant (the Material Recovery Facility) and landfills.

Revenue and spending are not reported by Department but by Service which would seem counter to the County’s commitment to accountability.  Are managers/Directors not publicly held accountable for their budgets? If so, it’s not reported in the annual report.  To be clear, the financial report does break down the spending by “segment” but it’s not connected to a department and a responsible manager.

Let’s look at Expenses by Service:

Expenses by Service
Expenses by Service

 

Another surprise (to me at least) is that less than 50% of revenue comes from taxes.  So where does the money come from?  Here is the breakdown:

Revenues by Type
Revenues by Type

 

You can also get an understanding of the County budget from previous articles – see links below.

The good news is that the County does issue a report – but a look at the numbers leaves unanswered questions – for example: Why is there a surplus of $11.8M in 2020? and an accumulated surplus of $205.6M? There may be a good reason (reserves?) but it’s not explained – at least not in plain english. Do we get some money back since the surplus is $6M more than the budgeted amount of $5.8M? Does our representative have answers to these questions?

Links

County Documents/Links

Previous Cobourg News Blog Articles

Information on Cobourg Internet re County Council

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37 Comments
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Gerinator
26 July 2021 11:25 am

I’m not aware that the previous Mayor provided any regular public briefings on the rationale for the financial results of the County. So I’m anticipating that there probably isn’t a process/protocol established for Mayor Henderson to provide responses to some of the excellent questions cited in your reporting John and questions from some of the responders below. Perhaps Mayor Henderson would take a proactive role by actively collecting these (and other) questions, take some time during a COW meeting to provide responses. After all tax payers are paying .50 cents on the dollar, and Cobourg taxpayers probably pay a significant portion of that. Excellent summaries and text book responses from Bryan – thanks.

Pete M
Reply to  Gerinator
27 July 2021 4:24 pm

Northumberland County is an upper tier government body.
Inquiries and responses need to be directed to the County and responses need to come from the County
I direct you to the County web page on how the public can attend County Council Meetings and Committee Meetings.

https://www.northumberland.ca/en/county-government/speaking-before-council.aspx

The general publics’ focus is more on the Town of Cobourg Governance . But as can been seen in the financial reports the County has a greater impact on residents in the services delivered and how they are delivered.

Residents need to be become better informed in matters of the County

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Pete M
27 July 2021 8:47 pm

Residents need to be become better informed in matters of the County

Or perhaps our County representative, Mayor Henderson, needs to do a better job of informing both Cobourg Council and Cobourg residents on what the County does and why?

Pete M
Reply to  Ken Strauss
28 July 2021 8:18 am

Sounds like a cop out to me Ken.
With all the information thats available in the County web site…you still need someone to tell you whats happening and why.
As to the” why” I ll do my own research answer for myself. Dont need mayor henderson’s spin.

Heres a link to the county news letter u can sign up for

https://subscription.northumberland.ca/subscribe

The real issue is that the county council is unelected as council members

Get elected as mayor and your automatically appointed to council.

How often do you hear the candidates for mayor talk about what they would do at the county level if elected

Gerinator
Reply to  Pete M
30 July 2021 1:29 pm

Your enterprise is to be lauded but it isn’t a cop out to expect our Government leaders (at any level) to explain themselves; explain how they (in concert with others) are affecting the lives of the citizenry. Further your query at the end of the above statement is a good one – why don’t they. Appears that the Mayoralty candidates that sit on County Council view this position as some sort of honorarium.

Sandpiper
26 July 2021 10:38 am

I for one have tried for years to find out where all these small business and startup loans go
Short of hand outs what is the percentage of Bad debt vs. repaid to the County & the Tax payers
Show me ??
As far as the County run affordable housing operations go they have been loosing that battle for years as well . Not to mention a lack of review of those occupying these units
many should not be there and yes there are those that are deserving .

cornbread
25 July 2021 2:03 pm

This county with a huge surplus has been tax robbing us for years. We have close to the highest tax rates in Ontario. Kathleen has it right…and our smug mayors just smile at us.

Ahewson
Reply to  cornbread
25 July 2021 2:51 pm

I’d like to see the statistics to back up your claim, please.

cornbread
Reply to  Ahewson
25 July 2021 9:46 pm

Check out Ontario municipal tax rate comparison..Coburg is over 1.45%…In the top sector.

Bryan
Reply to  cornbread
25 July 2021 3:03 pm

Cornbread:
The County’s Annual Report 2020 is fluffy, as are most reports of this type. As JD notes in his article, the material is not explained in plain English.
For a much more comprehensive look at the County’s 2020 financial performance, look at the 2020 audited financial statements.

https://www.northumberland.ca/en/county-government/resources/Documents/Northumberland-County—2020-Financial-Statements-Final-v3.pdf

These are not written in everyday English either, but do present significantly more detail and commentary. A reasonable understanding of accounting “lingo” is also needed.

The surplus (profit) of $11,791,275 is about $6M higher than budget and $7.5M higher than 2019. Note that the financial statements are based on “accrual” accounting and not cash flow. A surplus (profit) is necessary to fund the capital additions/major repairs (roads, trucks, buildings)

For 2020, the County budgeted $29.9M in capital spending, thereby requiring a larger surplus to fund this. The actual 2020 capital spending was $15.1M which is in line with 2019’s capital spending of $14.1M The reason for the $15M capital underspend is not provided in the 2020 annual report. It is a fair question to be put to the County’s executive (CAO & CFO)

https://www.northumberland.ca/en/county-government/resources/Documents/Northumberland-County—2020-Financial-Statements-Final-v3.pdf

Financial statement note 11 (pg 18/41) outlines in detail the makeup of the County’s accumulated surplus of $205,598,952, including 15 specific reserves.
As with ALL reserves, they are NOT bank accounts. They do not represent “cash” They are not assets. They represent funding allocations and are more akin to liability or equity accounts

One reserve of interest is the Corporate Services reserve which increased $7M In 2020. Why, is a reasonable question.

Kathleen
Reply to  Bryan
25 July 2021 6:16 pm

Thanks Bryan. Not sure I understand all of that but I do know that there is a discrepancy between running a surplus budget vs. a deficit budget. All I know is I’d like to keep as much of my life earnings to myself to invest.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Kathleen
25 July 2021 7:37 pm

Kathleen, some would say that you’re being selfish. Consider that well over half (58%) of the country’s expenditures are for social services, health services and social housing.

Last edited 2 months ago by Ken Strauss
Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
25 July 2021 8:03 pm

Kathleen:
I very much understand your desire to retain your earnings.
They are after-all, yours.
There are community and social needs that have to be met however. A balance must be struck….a deal made. The best deals are when all parties to the deal are unhappy. You clearly feel that things are tilted the wrong way. Others feel the tilt should be increased.

An organization cannot continually run a deficit. To do so is not sustainable and the organization fails. Again, it is a matter of balance. Too little and the organization fails. Too much and the members feel abused and taken advantage of. The “cure” is active participation and engagement by individual community members. Abuse occurs when the residents stop keeping watch and speaking up

Last edited 2 months ago by Bryan
Keith Oliver
Reply to  Bryan
25 July 2021 9:25 pm

Bryan

Further to your concerns, and that of others, about debit in the public sector. All seem to forget that debit often in the billions, and reported as a percentage of the value of assets or income, is a common feature of any business enterprise in our capitalist, free market economy … so why not government?

The simple truth is that poverty, either of wealth and the ability to control ones destiny, or of opportunity, are an incredibly expensive drain on the economy. Every effort by governments to eliminate such a handicap should be encouraged.

Something like a guaranteed annual income may seem like a challenge to Kathleen and her investment plans, but it is a wise decision not only to reduce growing inequities in our democracy but to reduce the cost of future responsible and representative government.

Bryan
Reply to  Keith Oliver
25 July 2021 11:20 pm

Keith: I believe that the concerns expressed were about excess surplus, not debt.
As you noted, debt is a “common feature of business enterprises”. It is also a common, some would say excessive, feature of government. Debt, responsibly used and managed, is a valuable tool available to help the organization reach its objectives.

I am not aware of any reputable studies that support your claim regarding guaranteed income. In a capitalist free market economic system, the market is efficient and the benefit of a guaranteed income would be short lived.
For example, the minimum wage was increased and for several months (perhaps as many as12) the recipients were better off. However, the market adjusted. Prices increased to absorb the additional income and the recipients were no better off than they were before the increase.

cornbread
Reply to  Keith Oliver
26 July 2021 9:11 am

Guaranteed annual income in pure socialism…put this into practice and watch the run our own southern border by those crossing illegally into the US right now.

ben burd
Reply to  cornbread
26 July 2021 9:51 am

Cornbread, please define this term in actual human and governmental behaviour “ pure socialism”. I believe you have no idea of what “socialism” is. But just repeat the mantra and get the support of your “Trumper” friends and the disdain of those who understand how Democratic Socialism works!

Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben burd
26 July 2021 11:06 am

Whether “Pure Socialism” or “Impure Socialism”, a guaranteed income is another incentive to suck from the public teat.

cornbread
Reply to  ben burd
26 July 2021 11:30 am

Canada brings in about 60,000 migrant agriculture workers every year. Perhaps some of our poorly qualified Canadians should step up to the plate for these jobs instead of living on the streets or govt. provided accommodation.

Kathleen
Reply to  Bryan
25 July 2021 9:35 pm

You seem to have more faith than I do in the powers that be to invest and spend citizens money wisely. Don’t you read John’s blog? LOL….

Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
25 July 2021 11:25 pm

Kathleen:
I believe that the “powers that be” will “do the right things” if they are watched and actively “guided”
I wrote “The “cure” is active participation and engagement by individual community members. Abuse occurs when the residents stop keeping watch and speaking up

Kathleen
25 July 2021 8:31 am

Makes you wonder why they had to raise the price of garbage tags and take away our one free annual dump tag.

Dubious
Reply to  Kathleen
25 July 2021 8:50 am

Ask Mayor Henderson? He is our representative at County Council so he approved the increase.

Bill
Reply to  Kathleen
26 July 2021 6:27 am

Why are there houses downtown Cobourg having garbage bags sitting on the curbs with no green tags? Why are garbage bags piled up beside house for months at a time and no-one does anything about it? Is this not the responsibility of the garbage people to keep our town clean of garbage? There must be another way to not see all this mess when you walk downtown.

Matt
Reply to  Bill
26 July 2021 12:14 pm

The owner can be fined for garbage left at the curb in front of their building on non-collection days if it’s reported to the county. Whether that ever happens is anyone’s guess.

In some cases, in my opinion, what you’re seeing is an indication of a serious flaw in the county’s affordable housing strategy. There are buildings downtown where the county is subsidizing multiple, (in some cases double-digit numbers-of), individual units, without those buildings having even basic garbage facilities, forcing tenants to simply leave their individual bags at the curb.

Many of these buildings are inadequately serviced for the number of units they’ve been chopped into…but the county doesn’t care about that. They can say that x number of affordable housing units have been “created,” and wash their hands of the problem without the slightest regard for the conditions for the people actually living in them or the surrounding neighbourhood.

Rather than investing in the county’s future and actually spending money to build new affordable housing, we subsidize slumlords.

Michael Sprayson
Reply to  Matt
27 July 2021 9:08 am

I’ve been a landlord for 15 years. I want to break down a little of what you’re saying here and sometimes that comes across as offensive to some people. If you are offended easily – stop reading. First – yes, building owners do get fined. It happens more often than you think. It also happens when landlords have done what they should do to provide adequate facilities. I can’t, however, attend my properties to make sure my tenants have appropriately secured or put out their garbage. I don’t believe I should have to either – I’m renting to adults. So, here’s the problem when I don’t attend – If I have a dumpster, they don’t automatically lock. It has been my experience that most tenants living in this bracket will choose not to lock the dumpster. That takes time and sometimes considerable effort. And, it costs them nothing to leave it open. So, when that dumpster is left open, the townspeople somehow know and the dumpster is filled to the brim in no time at all. This leaves no room for tenants (or other townspeople), so the garbage is left on the ground. That’s a mess very quickly. I live in a busy area in Cobourg. I have watched people drive up to multiple residential units, clearly not living there and leave their untagged garbage at the curb. Now – who’s responsibility is this? This is what happens when these kinds of units are in high traffic, high visible areas. This does nothing for the aesthetic of the town so I’m not sure why this is a decision that keeps being made. There are better places for this kind of housing. It is my opinion that the county is doing a much better job with obtainable housing than the town.… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Michael Sprayson
Bryan
Reply to  Michael Sprayson
27 July 2021 9:53 am

Michael,

Thank you for setting out the other side of the story.
I really like your term ” obtainable housing”. Some may see it as semantics, but I believe it is a much better term.
I rent by choice and have done so for 30+ years in. We are long term renters, typically 10+ years per location. We have seen (or heard about) many of the problems you have listed. Our current building is entirely seniors. All of the units are well kept by their residents, as is the building in general. There is not a superintendent on site.
Your outline of the dumpster problems is spot on. I have seen non-residents putting their yard waste, old mattresses etc in our dumpster. When challenged, they ignore you, finish disposing of their junk, tell you to F off and mind your own business.

I believe that, as a landlord, you try (do) to provide a much needed service (product) in a responsible professional manner. I also believe that many of Cobourg’s landlords are like you and that there are some bad ones, just as there are bad tenants

cornbread
Reply to  Michael Sprayson
27 July 2021 2:34 pm

Too bad we have quite a few “Low Lifers” in Northumberland who are not responsible for their own garbage…just look at Theatre Road once and a while and see the garbage thrown on the road every week. Too bad No Cameras in place to catch the cheats.

Matt
Reply to  Michael Sprayson
27 July 2021 3:39 pm

I sympathize and don’t doubt for a second what you’re describing. Your experiences with renting to tenants on subsidies don’t sound very good, to say the least.

So, why do you do it? In a town with this low a rental vacancy rate, I would expect you’d have your choice of stable, responsible, working applicants for any unit.

Bryan
Reply to  Matt
27 July 2021 9:59 am

Matt.
Part of the problem is the lack of enforcement. The Town is not proactive in enforcing its building by-laws and the building code.
If you are aware of these problems, complain to the Town. light a fire under their ass until they get the problem fixed. Be part of an engaged active citizenry. Complain until you get the services you (and all of us) pay for and are entitled to.

Kathleen
Reply to  Bryan
27 July 2021 10:14 am

Your struggle is real. Maybe some of the County’s surplus could be used to assist landlords like yourself?
However, the things you speak of like the hoarding, and general slovenly habits of some of your tenants, are not just indicitive of people who reside in low income houses. Mental illness and depression are real in all walks of life.

Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
27 July 2021 11:03 am

Kathleen,
My struggles?? Perhaps you are referring to Michael.
Your comment regarding the County’s surplus strongly suggest to me that you don’t have a good understanding of “surplus”

Kathleen
Reply to  Bryan
27 July 2021 12:49 pm

Sorry Bryan. My comment was for Michael – not you.
Btw – Surplus = $$ left over.
Per John’s article, “$11.8M in 2020? and an accumulated surplus…”

Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
27 July 2021 2:41 pm

Kathleen:
You wrote: “…Btw – Surplus = $$ left over…” If the financial data was presented on a cash flow basis, I would agree with you. However it is not. It is presented on an accrual basis which is quite different. The surplus is the remainder from operations only and is needed to fund the capital expense of the Town/County. The cost of a new snowplow is a capital expense, not an operational one. It is funded from the surplus.

As I noted in a prior comment “..
Financial statement note 11 (pg 18/41) outlines in detail the makeup of the County’s accumulated surplus of $205,598,952, including 15 specific reserves.
As with ALL reserves, they are NOT bank accounts. They do not represent “cash” They are not assets. They represent funding allocations and are more akin to liability or equity accounts….”

Please see the County’s accumulated surplus detail at the site below:

https://www.northumberland.ca/en/county-government/resources/Documents/Northumberland-County—2020-Financial-Statements-Final-v3.pdf

I understand your confusion and frustration with this. Accounting terminology is somewhat arcane, counterintuitive and not plain English.

It is good that you are thinking about these issues. Stay with it.

Last edited 2 months ago by Bryan
Michael Sprayson
Reply to  Kathleen
27 July 2021 11:04 am

Kathleen – You are 100% correct. I agree with you. The point I’m making though is how can the people who require subsidies for housing be able to purchase and accumulate the pure amount of items? And then begin again because they leave everything behind. Where is the money coming from? The system and organizations that try to help are being abused. All of these things are purchased and I will get a rent cheque from the Salvation Army or other organizations. This is happening on a regular basis. I spend a lot of time wondering – where does the money for the stuff keep coming from? My kids don’t have anywhere near that much stuff, and certainly, neither do I.

Mental health is a completely different topic of conversation. Happy to have that one with you too, because handling it better in this area would resolve many of the issues we see every day.

Kathleen
Reply to  Michael Sprayson
27 July 2021 1:18 pm

Makes you wonder….

Billyzee
Reply to  Kathleen
29 July 2021 7:08 pm

Why don’t we just raise the property taxes and have free garbage pickup for all of Cobourg then there will be no discussion or garbage?