At the budget meetings on January 25 and 26, staff presented to Council the details of the budget that they had come up with. The tax levy required for this budget would be 5.86% – this is after a growth amount of 1.5% due to an increased assessment. The total tax bill is also impacted by an increase of the County portion (6.0%) although the School board increase will be zero. You need to read the full presentation available in Resources below to see where the money will go but it was not only Councillors who were learning from the process, there were a good number of things that others can learn – many not really budget related. This report also reports on those other things.
First, the budget presentation format is different this year – in a comment at the open forum, citizen Bryan Lambert said that it was an improvement. The new format standard for all presenters ensures that they all highlight cost savings and staff hiring. So when presenting the budget, directors were focused on the number of people which is a key cost driver. However, sources of funding (tax, grants, reserves, debentures, Holdco etc) were rarely stated and statements of the balances of reserve accounts were not provided. It’s possible they may be included in full budget documentation scheduled to be made public January 27.
Most of the questions by Councillors asked about cost savings although Councillor Mutton was concerned with some proposed measures which reduced services (e.g. tree planting).
As of 1 January 2023, the Town has 262 employees (excluding Police) which include:
- 136 Permanent Full-Time
- 57 Permanent Part-Time
- Crossing Guards
- Volunteer Firefighters
- Community Services
- 9 Casual/Temporary/Seasonal
- 53 Summer Students (anticipated)
- 7 Council Members
Notable Items in the Draft Budget
- The draft tax levy increase requested is 5.86%. Recent staff increases contribute 1.1% and 5 new positions in 2023 add 0.6%.
- The draft Capital budget is $9.66M but does not include work to fix the harbour. The latest estimate for that is $22.9M. It has now been decided that funding for harbour rehabilitation must come at least partly from the Provincial and Federal Governments with the Town (hopefully) paying only 33% of the cost. The risk is that the breakwater deteriorates with time.
- Not counting the harbour, there are 44 capital projects which have a levy impact of $304K
- Several positions scheduled to be filled late 2022 or early 2023 have been pushed out to mid or late 2023.
- The operating budget for Public Works is significantly lower (only 0.1% increase) because of the implementation of stormwater fees.
- The bi-annual sidewalk construction program will be deferred for another year
- Council have been asked to choose one of two options for the West Beach boardwalk: Wood construction at 4 metres wide for $1M or Concrete at 3 metres wide at $175K.
- A study of a possible Parking garage on Covert Street will be done this year since the two large lots that are currently rented are “scheduled for development in the near future”. Cost is $75K.
- A study of the feasibility of electric busses will be done – $120K. This is required before applying for funding for such busses.
- Director Brian Geerts proposed some major cost savings: No lifeguards, close Centennial Pool, discontinue food at Legion Fields, discontinue tree planting and charge a user fee for tree requests – e.g. replacing boulevard trees. See page 135 of Divisional Presentation. It’s likely that not all of these will be approved.
- The Albert Street washrooms will have upgrades to improve security. See page 139 of Divisional Presentation.
Suggestions not included in the draft budget
- Why not include advertising on AGN web site? (Mayor Cleveland)
- We should leverage the AGN to get tourists – not just rely on the beach (Mayor Cleveland)
- The AGN could perhaps offer an appraising service (Councillor Barber)
- Could the Library save money by using non-union staff or volunteers? (Councillor Bureau).
- Mayor Cleveland said on several occasions that the position of manager of the Office of the CAO should be filled so that more admin help would be available and he could spend time lobbying at Queens Park and in Ottawa for grants.
Things we learned
- The Library says it’s worth $15M/year to the Town.
- Homeless people use the Library for their washrooms and as a warming and cooling centre. They also access the food in the refrigerator there.
- When the County moves its archive material to their new facility currently being built as an add-on to the new Golden Plough, the Town will continue with an archive at the Library.
- The AGN has a goal of 5000 visitors per year
- Mayor Cleveland thinks that all Councillors are underpaid – their pay is significantly less than average.
- Staff plan to improve the Town’s web site – it’s currently hard to navigate and many links are dead. Mayor Cleveland agrees.
- Treasurer Ian Davey plans to email tax bills where possible – perhaps starting this year. There would be a significant saving in postage.
- There is not yet a final agreement to lease the Memorial Arena as a Firefighters museum. Both sides are still working on it.
- The CCC is currently approx. 50% funded by taxes and both Councillor Darling and Mayor Cleveland spoke in favour of getting more major events there.
- There will be three food trucks at the beach this year
- The Sandcastle Festival will return
- Once again, in 2023, Planning is expecting to 1) get the Tannery District secondary plan to Council for approval and 2) complete the comprehensive Zoning Bylaw update. They also expect to start a review of the Official Plan.
The most active council contributors to the discussion were Mayor Lucas Cleveland and Councillor Miriam Mutton. Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty and Councillor Aaron Burchat did not say much. But as Mayor Cleveland said at the beginning, no decisions were made – the two days were information sessions.
The next step on the budget is to release the draft budget – see resources below to download (these documents were available to councillors during the presentation but not to the public until 27 Jan). Taxpayer input will then be sought via “Engage Cobourg” [Update: now available here] followed by a detailed Budget review by council on February 7 – and maybe Feb 9. Final approval will be 27 February.
- Operating and Capital Divisional Presentations
- Art Gallery Presentation
- Library Presentation
- Library Budget
- Municipal Taxes in Cobourg – Including an explanation of how taxes are calculated
- Police Budget – 14 Jan 2023 – Cobourg News Blog article
Detailed Budget Estimates
- 2023 Operating Budget Estimates
- 2023 Capital Budget Estimates – includes Capital to fix harbour
- 2023 Environmental (Sewer) Operating Estimates – it’s not known why this is reported separately
- 2023 Environmental (Sewer) Capital Estimates – it’s not known why this is reported separately