Town Publishes Budget Survey

If it’s like previous surveys, only a few hundred will participate although you’d think more would care about their tax increase. I don’t recall any budget surveys in previous years but then the proposed 8.06% hike is the biggest for some time.  The key question asked is about which services are important and there are only three specific budget items mentioned: the Centennial pool, the trial of fixed route Transit and the idea of a 1% infrastructure levy. It’s not a big survey but it might help Council understand what people are thinking. It starts with personal questions on age, income and how long you’ve lived in Cobourg then asks which services are important. One key service not included is the Police – presumably because their budget is separate and can only be approved or not as a whole.

Most questions are sensible although one is not:

Programs and Services: Of the following programs and services, which do you believe are in need of additional funding or staff attention? (This is number 3 in list below)

The only options available for this question are to increase funding or keep as it is – there is no option to decrease!

After the 8 personal questions, here are the key questions (my numbering):

  1. Programs and Services: Below is a list of programs and services provided by the Town. How important do you think the following services/programs are to the community? [See list below].
  2. Based on programs and services provided by the Town of Cobourg, how satisfied are you with the overall value you receive for your tax dollars?
  3. Programs and Services: Of the following programs and services, which do you believe are in need of additional funding or staff attention? [See list below].
  4. Transit: Staff have presented a Limited Fixed Route Service Pilot Project as an option for a one-year trial. The fixed route would operate from Monday to Friday, with approximately 16 stops/1 hour and would visit high pedestrian generating locations. Additional Operating Budget required to fund the Fixed Route Service: $175,000. Do you believe a Fixed Route Service Pilot Project is a valuable service for the Town of Cobourg?
  5. Centennial Pool: Staff have recommended continuing the operation of the Centennial Pool for the 2024 summer season. Operating budget required: $139,529. Do you believe this is a valuable service for the Town of Cobourg?
  6. Centennial Pool: The Centennial Pool is currently operating well beyond its expected lifespan and will require significant reconstruction work if it is to be kept operational. Staff have put a placeholder of $1.6 million into the 2025 Capital budget for renovations. In addition, the pool would require approximately $138,000 for annual operation. Note: Renovations would be conducted off-season as to not impact peak season usage. Do you believe this is a valuable service for the Town of Cobourg?
  7. Asset Management: Communities across Ontario, including the Town of Cobourg face the ongoing task of replacing aging infrastructure. Would you be willing to pay an additional, dedicated tax levy if you knew these funds would only be drawn upon for infrastructure upgrades? Note: The idea of the dedicated tax levy is to protect your annual tax rate from larger than average increases when these major projects arise.

Questions 1 and 3 (per above numbering) listed the following services:

  • Animal Control
  • Emergency Services and Preparedness
  • Municipal Law Enforcement
  • Roads (Paving, bridges and culverts, traffic signals, pavement markings etc.)
  • Winter Road Maintenance
  • Transit – Conventional and WHEELS (Specialized/Paratransit)
  • Sanitary Collection System
  • Environmental Services – Wastewater Treatment
  • Stormwater Management Facilities and Collection System
  • Parks Maintenance – parks, trails and Victoria Beach
  • Parks – Trees and urban forestry
  • Recreation and the Cobourg Community Centre
  • Library Services
  • Community Events and Tourism
  • Culture and the Concert Hall at Victoria Hall
  • Heritage Preservation
  • Planning – Residential, Commercial and Industrial Development
  • Planning – Environmental and Sustainability
  • Economic Development and the Venture 13 Innovation Centre
  • Streetlights
  • Community Grants and Services
  • Waterfront – Harbour and Marina
  • Waterfront – Campground

The survey opened on time on December 15 and will close January 5 at 12:00 pm. Go here for Survey. From this link, you can also access documents providing budget details.

Presumably Council will take responses into account when they review the budget at their meeting on January 9.

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Sandpiper
4 months ago

I would like to Know the details of the Counties recent sale of the Recovery and Recycle Plant
How much was in fact Lost since it inception .
And who exactly is behind the Purchase of the Real-estate not the operators We have poured Millions of our Tax $$$ Dollars into this property / project over the Last few years .
Surely Someone at the County Has to be accountable
to the Citizens How do we get the Facts .????

Then I think we need to know Just what’s going on In Coleborne at that Agri Building we Poured
a few more Million into That has never provided a Return or Benefit to again The Tax paying Citizens of Northumberland
Its also been loosing Money hand over fist for the last 10 years .

Rob
5 months ago

Tax hike rundown for Northumberland County (northumberlandnews.com)
The County has sealed the fate for all of us after passing a 3 year budget. A County guilty of mismanaging a simple annual budget just handed itself the keys to our finances for the next 3 years. Forget about a modest rate increase in 2025 or 2026 as the hikes are nearly 9% in every year!

The policies of this blog and my own proper upbringing prevent me from saying what I think, but if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention. Cobourg and others will attempt the same crooked approach…no headcount reductions, no hiring freeze, no program efficiencies or cuts for the next 3 years – there is no motivation to do any of these things!! Just take more money.

Kevin
5 months ago

Some of the comments mention the statistical validity of this survey. The intended population being sampled is Cobourg tax payers, maybe. Without control on who answers the survey we do not actually know who is answering it. To be statistically valid a survey must sample the population. This survey does not do that because anybody can register and and the people answering are not a randomly selected representation of the population. This is high school level statistics.

The employee(s) who created the survey either know it has no statistical validity or they don’t. If they don’t it is likely they have not taken a statistics course. If they do understand statistics then why create the survey? I suspect the intent of the survey is to support the town employees budget recommendations. Employees are being paid to create propaganda material to support more money for the town employees.

More importantly, why hasn’t council done something about this? Can’t council issue an order to stop this waste? Why not? If a statistically valid survey were to be completed it would likely cost more but at least the results would be worth considering. In its current form it is just a make work project for the town. Personally, I would much rather have no survey with the time instead used to provide the basic services. We may not completely agree on which services are essential but some are so basic like sewers, roads, policing, etc. there is no point asking if we think they are important. Just provide them in the most cost efficient way possible.

Rational
Reply to  Kevin
5 months ago

This article was just published in Todays Northumberland on the Budget Survey. In reading it, I believe it supports your comment about propaganda. To a reader it makes the Survey appear as meaningful in the decision process – which it is not given the questions asked and no means to provide input on reducing expenditures, programs or alternative ideas such as initiating an OPP Proposal.

https://todaysnorthumberland.ca/2023/12/18/engage-cobourg-launches-2024-budget-survey/

Kathleen
5 months ago

Why is it always the taxpayers that must sacrifice? Has anybody looked at the Town’s Organizational Chart for only 20 thousand people for Heaven’s sake!! And half the time they hire Consultants cause they say they can’t do the job themselves. They should start doing what every Company and Organization does in hard times. When was the last time Cobourg staff had a real hiring freeze and zero raises?

Sandpiper
5 months ago

I just went through this survey once more
We have a lot of Dead wood here in Town with No Promise of Economic Viability .
V 13 , CCC, and Buss system all need to be self supporting and Income Producing Figure it out.

The CCC was always promoted to be a Zero Cost to the residents Why isn’t it
Marina and Yacht Clubs should be the same Lets go to Uber Buss sys and service both Cobourg & Port Hope communities Those Residents with legitimate Handy caps & needs
could get a break Prove it . No one rides for Free

The question of Sanitary and Waste water are they not both going through the Same treatment facilities ??

Storm water Usually paid for or through a cost sharing process from the Developers and those sharing the system when its installed ie : Tribute homes or New Amhurst all projects are required to develop and Pay for . What we need are the Storm ponds and Stream beds cleaned out right down to the lake . Like the old days

The Pool may have exceeded its life expectancy but the so have I
It does not mean a tear down and build again I would like to see those estimates and who gave them .
What about a lot of these redundant old outdated Heritage Buildings we spend a fortune on that have all exceeded their Life span . Stop spending .

I don’t think we should be paying for everyone else’s pleasures and pass times
in these Poor Economic times .
Unless we start paying Taxes for Golf Club memberships too .

Sandpiper
Reply to  Sandpiper
5 months ago

A few Town employees looking at this DRAPER Blog I can see

Sandpiper
5 months ago

The way the Town officials are running this Budget Process as most here have inferenced
is Inadequate and Self-serving to say the least . You are all correct in the assumption that there is No effort
from any one or department to achieve Cost Cutting or reductions of Over head s .
Lets not forget the first point of Business when this Mayor was elected was to give everyone a raise .
I have stated before if you can’t afford it Borrow or share with your neighbour
There have been no discussions of this nature by this Council with Port Hope or Hamilton Twsp .
Why ??? Do what Big Business does if you can’t afford it Get rid of the Dead wood and None Income producing Depts and buy smaller more affordable busses .

ben
5 months ago

This survey is flawed for two reasons: the first is that there is not a place for public input and secondly we are not asked if the service being funded should be defunded or cut back. It only asks for an opinion about no further funding not whether it should exist.

Seth
5 months ago

Creating fair and useful surveys is not an easy task. Data gathering is a science and often surveys don’t collect useful information.

The in-person town hall and Q&A sessions are great ways to collect meaningful data. The open dialog allows for participants to speak about matters that are meaningful to them and it allows the organizer to listen and gather data.

IMHO, I don’t think that we have gotten surveys or the town halls right.

I hope in the new year that more town halls are scheduled. Also it would be great if groups (Cobourg Taxpayers Association) held information sessions to walk people through the budget to gain a better understanding about line items. They already do a great job in discussing important topics on their website.

John L. Hill
5 months ago

These “surveys” are not genuine samplings of public opinion. They are simply a device for the vocal few to express their opinions. Whoever drafts the questions and reports the responses never includes a line reporting on the statistical significance of the results. Anyone who has taken an introductory course in Statistics will realize that the town’s publication of percentages favoring a particular option is public relations and not a true sampling of what our community wants.

cornbread
5 months ago

The survey misses the biggest budget item that of Protection. No guts to tackle a survey on Police & Fire Dept. Transit in Cobourg is a money pit and everyone knows it…Cheap transit for probably 5%. How about a question that asks “What services should require Less Funding?” That’s one for the CAO.

Dave
Reply to  cornbread
5 months ago

cornbread, above John provided this note on police – protection services. “One key service not included is the Police – presumably because their budget is separate and can only be approved or not as a whole.”

cornbread
Reply to  Dave
5 months ago

Then let the town Not Approve their budget, and request a quote from the OPP. It has to start somewhere. Has Council not got the guts to start the ball rolling?

Bryan
Reply to  cornbread
5 months ago

Cornbread,

The cops budget push/shove would indeed start with Council refusing to approve the CPSB budget. This assumes that the cops have not done the responsible thing and submitted a realistic budget.

If Council rejects the cops budget, the cops have the option to resubmit it with or without changes. Council could then approve it or not.

If not, it goes to arbitration. An expensive process and based on history in other jurisdictions, not likely to be successful for the Town.

Takes guts, determination and a solid financial case to win.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if the Town has what it takes.

Other options, as several have suggested are:
contract with the OPP
merge with PH cops
county cops (OPP or merged Cobourg-PH cops)

Last edited 5 months ago by Bryan
Gerry
5 months ago

(For those who hate surveys)
In the past, when I opened government surveys, I found them confusing. This survey is relatively easy to answer.

Last edited 5 months ago by Gerry
Kevin
5 months ago

Another new tax, for infrastructure replacement or a distraction to real problems? A new tax will require more paper work, more cost. More employees? It is all about increasing government. The current tax levy covers infrastructure replacement. Will it go down? Did our property taxes go down to offset the SWM fee that used to be paid for by the general tax levy? Keep things simple, do not add separate taxes. Manage the infrastructure and services with the current tax system or find people who can.

Dave
5 months ago

I filled out the survey tonight – they asked for input. You simply fill out what you feel is important but aside from that there are some services that are necessary for a town but unpopular to some according to prior blogs. As we elected these people or at least 40% of the residents of the town did I hope they will use their judgement and not just do what unelected townspeople who may never even have voted decide.

Mrs. Anonymous
5 months ago

Get rid of the DIE position. (It’s redundant).

Do not hire the sustainability coordinator. (Useless, no measurable performance possible)

Municipal outdoor pools are good value for citizens. Fix it. Kids can learn to swim in municipal outdoor pools economically (compared to indoor pools). In my hometown, a wealthy businessman actually funded their new pool and water park. It’s glorious.

Do not enable the campers at Brookside/infrastructure ontario in any way other than what the municipality is legally required.

I have no interest in filling out a survey which is typically designed to garner the desired response from whoever is designing the study.

Doug Weldon
Reply to  Mrs. Anonymous
5 months ago

Please use only everyday short forms don’t use marginal or made up short forms. That often makes an article not understandable. DIE Driving in Egypt?

Cobourg taxpayer
5 months ago

Once again I’ve done my civic duty and filled out another survey, even though I know that neither council or town staff will make any budget changes as a result. We pay too much tax in Cobourg and get little in return. Of particular note is increasing tax and no corresponding increase in service or even quality of service. I don’t understand why staff refuses to discuss spending tax money in a sustainable way. If council hired a CAO based on this requirement maybe we’d see an improvement. Or how about “the town of Cobourg has x amount of money, let’s sit down and see how this should be spent” not this mindset that the tax payers are a bottomless pit of money that can afford to keep paying more, and more and more.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
5 months ago

Another typical Cobourg survey that forces answers that favour expansion. For example, there are a number of questions about whether various services — bus, Beach, Marina, V13, etc. — meet my needs. Possible answers are “Spend much more”, “Spend some more” and “Spend a little more”. What about “Drastically reduce” or “Eliminate”?

There are no questions about money pits such as Art Gallery of Northumberland. Even obvious problem areas such as law enforcement have the same choices as the other services. The obvious “Just do your job” is not a choice.

There are questions about a separate levy to maintain infrastructure in order to avoid property tax increases. Why is it hard to understand that whether taxes are called “property tax”, “stormwater management fee” or “infrastructure levy” the money is paid by the taxpayers.

The questions relating to personal information are puzzling. Why is my income level relevant to how our tax dollars should be spent? About 35% of Cobourg’s residents are over 65. Why is “retired” not a choice for employment status?

This survey is yet another example of incompetent staff “proving” that a huge tax increase is wanted by most residents!

Bryan
Reply to  Ken Strauss
5 months ago

Ken S,
It’s the old shell game.
Move it over a bit and rename it. The resident will never catch on.
And they certainly aren’t smart enough to add all of the pieces together to get the total tax they have to pay.

One commenter asked a very relevant question: why are the CAO and directors afraid to manage?
To that add: why is Council afraid to provide effective oversight?

Doug
Reply to  Ken Strauss
5 months ago

As a kid we had a great outdoor swimming pool. I’ve never used the Cobourg pool and because we have a cottage we seldom go to Cobourg Beach but I am tax supportive for those services.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Ken Strauss
5 months ago

You Forgot to eliminate The Vast staff at Venture 13
Completely unjustifiable expense and Non Producing
We attended there invitational back in Oct. And they are Claiming Credit for
Projects that had no that No hand in bringing to town or assisting to Cut the Planning Depts Red Tape in fact it may be the opposite Job Preservation .
That space could be put to far better use .Like back in the 70s when Fleming College had their campus there created jobs and a rental income .

Kathleen
Reply to  Sandpiper
5 months ago

The Police like it and use it. It’s not their problem if it’s losing money and Taxpayers can’t afford it.

Bryan
Reply to  Kathleen
5 months ago

Kathleen,

The cops use most of the 2nd floor for their crimcheck business and they paid for it. their business is NOT part of V13, it just happens to occupy most of the 2nd floor of the V13 building.
V13 could be closed down and the space used for other Town purposes or rented commercially without affecting the cops.

Frenchy
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

“The cops use most of the 2nd floor for their crimcheck business and they paid for it.”

They didn’t pay for it, they just loaned us the money for the reno’s and are getting paid back with FREE RENT, for who knows how long.
We were sold a bill of goods at the start of this V13 thing. I think it was Ken that mentioned that Port Hope eventually woke up and pulled the plug on their “Idea Hub”. When will we smarten up?

Bryan
Reply to  Frenchy
5 months ago

Frenchy,

Comment by Bryan re 2024 Draft Budget:
At least Port Hope was smart enough to say enough is enough and end their 6 year money pit (Idea Hub) which also produced no jobs and no new business.”

Ken S has also made similar comments.

I agree with you re V13. “We were sold a bill of goods at the start of this V13 thing”

As to the cops and “free rent”. The cops paid over $600K to renovate their space in the V13 building. They contributed a further $1M+ towards the general V13 renovation. “Free rent” in exchange for this has been bandied about but I am not aware of any “official” agreement or MOU.

Other Town business units engaged in providing services to the public for a fee (marina, campground, CCC, Concert Hall, parking, planning dept, dredge) don’t pay “rent” to the Town for the use of Town assets.

Why should the cops?

Note that $2M+ in crimcheck profit offsets the cops capital expenses ($300K+) (cars, guns, tazers, body cams etc) and over $1.7M is used to offset police operating expenses.

Interesting to note that only the cops summary budget is provided. The cops detail OPS budget is NOT included as it has been in prior years.

More hidden stuff. decreased disclosure and transparency.

Sam Westcott
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

I am confused all this talk about the cops paid for this?
The cops don’t have any money!!!
The Tax payers fund the cops!!!! and everything else in Cobourg or am I in cognitive decline. Where do the cops get their money from and why do they need the space. That building on King Street is much, much larger than the Port Hope Police have off Toronto Road.
Confused in Cobourg.

Doug Weldon
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
5 months ago

Do we pay more taxes than other comparable communities?

Kathleen
Reply to  Doug Weldon
5 months ago

A good comparable is Collingwood. Same populous. Comparable taxes. Upscale downtown. Town Transit system. Uber. OPP run. No downtown/neighbourhood encampment.

Last edited 5 months ago by Kathleen
Rob
Reply to  Kathleen
5 months ago

Collingwood Today Dec. 5, 2023:
“As of this most recent draft, the tax increase for 2024 now sits at 3.73 per cent following council removing two new staff hire requests from the budget…”

Nearly twice what Cobourg is looking for and they did not introduce a SWM fee.

Collingwood’s increase last year was less than 3%

Cobourg does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. The 2024 budget increase should be 3% or less and all departments must take a significant haircut, including a hiring freeze, to achieve it.

Cleveland talks about his private industry experience – Prove it! Let’s see your business savvy when the well is dry!

Bryan
Reply to  Rob
5 months ago

Rob,

I agree with your frustration on this issue. Cobourg is no longer a silver spoon community. But we haven’t forgotten the old ways: champagne taste, except now we have a beer budget. Something that staff has not come to terms with.

As for the mayor, he has one vote, as does each Council member.

The budget belongs to Staff, not Council. It is the CAO’s responsibility to reign in staff’s spending ways. Experience to date indicates that the CAO and the directors are afraid to manage. Afraid to make the hard decisions:
Staff cuts, wage freezes, no new hires, close V13…

Capital spending continues at an alarming rate, to be paid for by development fees (mostly). Yet there has not been any analysis (like the County did earlier this year) to determine the impact of Bill 23 on Cobourg’s DCs and how many additional millions will have to be raised through property taxes to cover the shortfall.

Rob
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

I agree Bryan – but it is called politics for a reason and this is where members of Council work those relationships. Council sets the stage and develops the fiscal policy for the budget, maintains the financial integrity of the business and determines spending related policies/programs, including which services are provided or discontinued and associated headcount adjustments.

They are not doing the hard work that is required.

Sam Westcott
Reply to  Rob
5 months ago

100 per cent agree. Sell the CCC which costs $1,600,000 per annum Net.

cornbread
Reply to  Sam Westcott
5 months ago

Only fools built it…and only a fool would buy it!

Sam Westcott
Reply to  cornbread
5 months ago

I agree about who built the CCC and it cost around $30,000,000. funded one third each by Town, the Province and the Feds.
I am not suggesting that someone would pay that amount but you never know.
Even so if it was sold for $20,000,000 that would mean that the Town would take a hit one time of $3,000,000 maybe if the province and the Feds lost the same mount assuming their $10M each were not loans. In other words if CCC doesn’t have to repay the $20M they kicked in, the Town could sell the CCC for $10M and come out whole apart from the losses since 2011 which Cobourg Taxpayers have already paid.
Sell the CCC on condition of it providing most of its present services (if not all) to business minded entrepreneurs’ who will run it as private enterprise who probably will be paying $500,000 – $1,000,000 in property taxes, water bills/runoff bills etc.

We stop the $1,600,000 losses gain up to a million in taxes etc. Sounds like a win win to me.
Think about it!

Sam Westcott
Reply to  Kathleen
5 months ago

Lots of Tourist and related events and more revenue. Simple as that.