First Day of 2024 Budget Review

In previous years, council scheduled 2 or 3 days to review the budget but this year only one day was scheduled and no surprise, it was not enough. So there’s no decision yet on the 2024 budget although we did get some answers. The Police budget will be as submitted – 6.3%; there were few useful results from the budget survey with few respondents and no unexpected results.  Mayor Cleveland pushed the idea that staff are the experts so their recommendations should be accepted or we should be ready to accept a reduction in services. Unfortunately Lucas is having a hard time getting a prioritized list of which services might be reduced or eliminated.  It’s not clear Lucas wants to reduce services – it seems he just wants the public to accept the alternatives: a big tax increase or less services.  The hard part is “Which services?”

But let’s look at what was decided on day one of budget deliberations:

Police

Chief Paul Vandegraaf presented his budget with an emphasis on how the work load was increasing with more calls and more crime although this corresponded to a larger population.  The budget provides for the addition of 4 more “sworn officers” even though the Chief’s initial request was for 6.  It seems that at the Board meeting when the budget was approved, Councillor Adam Bureau asked if 2 would be enough – he said that this was to stimulate discussion.  However, in the end the board approved 4 and not 6.

At the Council Budget meeting, Mayor Lucas Cleveland said that the Chief knows best and pushed for 6 although to do that, the entire Police Budget would have to be NOT approved.  Lucas said that agreeing to 4 would be putting cost cutting ahead of safety. Councillor Bureau was offended by this. But other councillors wanted to accept the Police Board’s decision so the Police budget passed 5 to 2 with Councillor Randy Barber agreeing with the Mayor.  More details are provided on the Police budget here.

Taxpayer Survey Results

Kara Euale, Cobourg’s Communication Manager, presented the results of an online survey that collected some input from residents.  280 people completed the survey compared to 70 who completed last year’s survey.  That compares to Cobourg’s population of around 20,000.

Only 10% of the 280 had an income less than $80K so it is probably not really representative of Cobourg’s demographic.

The most important services were Emergency Services and Preparedness and Winter Road Maintenance and only 47.6% were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the value for tax dollars.  When asked what services require an Increase in funding and/or staff attention, the top answers were Municipal Law Enforcement, Transit (Conventional and WHEELS) and Waterfront (Harbour and Marina).  When asked “Do you believe a Fixed Route Service Pilot Project is a valuable service for the Town of Cobourg?”, 47.8% said yes. A majority (63.2%) want the Centennial Pool to continue in 2024 and 58.7% want it in 2025 at a cost of $1.6M.  When asked about an additional, dedicated tax levy for infrastructure upgrades, 41.1% said yes compared to only 28% in 2023.  Download Kara’s Presentation available in Resources.

Budget Summary

The new Finance Director provided an excellent summary of the budget although no copy was made available.  However, I managed to get screen grabs of key pages. Download here. This is subject to change if budget numbers are changed from the draft.

The meeting spent several hours listing items on the budget that need further discussion and ended up deciding on a second budget meeting to review these on Thursday, 18 January at 9:30 am.

Bonus News

In a separate meeting held immediately after the budget meeting, Council passed a motion and confirmatory by-Law to name which Standing committee each Councillor would be attending. (Compare this to previous “Coordinator” assignments). Mayor Cleveland remarked that everyone got their first choice so the motion had no debate.  For the result, go to the Councillor Assignments on this page.  The Schedule for all Council meetings can be found here.

Resources

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KalaM
4 months ago

The mayor and council have an obligation to ensure tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently taking into account the towns NEEDS versus the staffs WANTS. The budget process seems to be entered with the assumption there is an endless pot of money. The first budget review of 2024, some councilors voiced looking back to previous councils there were mistakes made. Now, what has changed to make them decide this budget will be any different knowing the same so-called experts are still presently working within the town. Just to approve a budget without scrutiny is very irresponsible and seems to imply they have no interest in taking accountability for their actions when dealing with taxpayers money.
IMO each department should start at zero dollars and each additional dollar needs to be justified as a need not a want especially when people are struggling financially. Showing a little restraint and compassion would certainly show caring and thoughtfulness of our elected officials.
Has the hiring of 14 new positions in 2023 been justified by this term of council? Are these positions still required as being cost effective?
Mayor Cleveland and Councilor Mutton suggested returning the budget for senior directors to find savings but was defeated. Why?
Councilor Mutton mentioned two more staff hired this year and it seems they have the same job description and all was silent in the chambers. Why? NO questions? NO Debate???
It has been mentioned on this blog we can’t wait another 3 years. People are becoming frustrated, angry and outraged with the thought of another unrealistic tax increase.
Any suggestions on how to get THEIR ATTENTION!!!!

Bryan
Reply to  KalaM
4 months ago

KataM,

You wrote, “IMO each department should start at zero dollars and each additional dollar needs to be justified as a need not a want”. In other words, zero based budgeting, a widely used best practice in the private sector.

You also suggested “taking into account the towns’ NEEDS versus the staffs’ WANTS. What a novel idea; that the needs of those who pay the bills should be given priority.

Excellent suggestions! Perhaps staff should take note.

Paul
Reply to  Bryan
4 months ago

I have been going thru the last five years of budgets line for line looking for significant change. One group, gladness in the. Uber in 2019 for $5,600. That may be the year they were pulled out of the police budget. For 2024 the total for bylaws after a draw pack of $142,000 for meters and fine is $774,597. I read somewhere where council was looking for a raise and it got corrals down. The council salary budget for 2020,21 and 2022 was $221359 with $60,000 benefits in1013 the salary jumped by $50,000 and benefits to 71,194 about 20%. For 2024 council wants the same salary but benefits jump to $106,820 or 50% if it gets approved. Has anyone heard of what benefits are changing for councillors? Since 2019 Fire is up almost $2 million or 64%. Transit sits at $1.5 million and is expected to bring in $168,000 for fairs. Tax payer are subsidizing transit by $1.2 million. They assume fair are $2 and if they are that means there was about 64,000 trips on transit. At a department cost of $1.5 million, each ride costs the taxpayer over $20. The CCC wages have continue to grow due to increases and maybe numbers of staff. It has grown to a deficit of $1.5million to the taxpayer. The total cost of the facility is $3 million. The cost to use the so called services at the CCC are a half what it costs to provide them.The senior centre costs $365,000 and brings in $101,700. This gives us an idea of areas that need to be scrutinized. There are many. It there seems to be no will at the council side other than a couple of them. One thing that should be said, one of the department show headcount which accounts for much of the cost. It n the private sector we always had an organization chart for each department. That anyone direct labour vs indirect. Sorry for the long comment but we need to talk about what we want and want to pay for.

Paul
Reply to  KalaM
4 months ago

Very well said and why there was no debate on the new hires with the same job description is indicative of a council that doesn’t care. We have to have elected people that are qualified and interested in making a difference. We have to make sure we keep this in mind prior to the next election.

Rob
4 months ago

Can I just say this, any suggestion that the Town of Cobourg should approve a multi-year budget should be a full stop, non-starter. Our elected representatives and Town staff (CAO) have not earned the trust nor have they demonstrated the necessary fiscal restraint to seek and be approved for this. I have seen nothing in their 13 1/2 months in office, that leaves me with any degree of confidence that this would be in the best interest of taxpayers. Frankly, we all know it isn’t in the best interest of taxpayers.

As Toronto sets itself up for a proposed 10.5% increase, blackmailing the Fed’s to pony up or it will be 16.5% to cover the costs of Chow’s socialist agenda, which includes ~$10m. to rename Dundas Ave…

Kevin
4 months ago

The community engagement results show how valuable a tool, or waste of effort, this method of collecting information is. Over 600 people visited but only 280 completed the survey. The vast majority do not have children despite the fact there are many children in Cobourg. The 280 people are not a representative sample of the population. At best they represent the visitors, to the Engage Cobourg page, who also decided to complete the survey. Why did 56% not complete the survey?

The pie chart (page 6) on demographics doesn’t match the information to the left. Why?

Most of the information has so few people answering with answers roughly evenly split between options it is impossible to draw accurate conclusions. There are 2 similar questions about Centennial Pool with the majority answering yes to both. Many children use the pool yet most people answering do not have children. Maybe other demographics also use the pool, like retired people.

The petition in favour of lifeguards was mentioned. Why? There are 241 signatures compared to the over 1000 signatures for the petition regarding Transition house.

People are concerned about Transition house, in part, because of the size of the new location. More people could mean more problems with crime. This could explain why the survey shows law enforcement needs to be increased. However, the question is very biased as it does not provide a decrease in funding option.

Yesterday I met someone looking for housing for migrant workers. A local factory cannot find local people willing to work. 310 Division could make an excellent location for these migrant workers. Close enough to walk to work. By renting at least some of the rooms to workers the Transition House rooms would be subsidized. It would also show the clientele of TH there are jobs available.

Sandpiper
4 months ago

I think Mayor Cleland should start Reducing Services with setting an example starting at the Top= Right at Town Hall and all the squandering Municipal departments Reduce the at home overhead first just like everyone else has to do Starting with that marvelous inhouse Coffee shop at V 13 that we pay for and who ever walks through uses Reduce the Housekeeping
Free staff Parking etc etc

Jade
4 months ago

I believe the police will need extra in uniform once this badly planned out purchase of Division st opens to any and all of the tenters. Excuse my language but it will be a shitshow having that open up. Low barrier means no rules .would hate to see a truly down on their luck parent with kids having to go there for shelter and witness the crap that will no doubt be happening. Even though police can only do so much with these characters, they will definitely be called more than they’re now. And no.. it’s not all the chiefs fault. He can only have the officers do what’s in the law to do. And to those that think the officers off on stress leave are thinking its a farce? Put yourself in their shoes . The sh**t and abuse they deal with every day all day ? Bet most people couldn’t handle 1 year in as a cop. And going OPP wouldn’t solve a thing either. Asking for more officers IS needed and I’m glad Chief is hiring. Just wait until spring and summer come. Think we have problems now ? Gawd.. this isn’t going to be good at all

Beachwalker
Reply to  Jade
4 months ago

Low barrier means couples and folk with pets gtt to stay. These options are not available at Transition House now.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Beachwalker
4 months ago

My understanding is that “low barrier” also implies that drugs are allowed.

Rod
Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 months ago

“Transition” purchase drug and insert into whats left of your mind and body

Jade
Reply to  Beachwalker
4 months ago

Low barrier means anything is allowed. Yes allowed couples with pets but also drugs alcohol and any other things they want to bring in and want to do. In a nut shell ? Tenters and addicts win.

cornbread
Reply to  Jade
4 months ago

Perhaps such a dangerous place should be made “OFF LIMITS” for our Emergency Medical teams.

Brendon
Reply to  Beachwalker
4 months ago

Low Barrier. Look at Transition house since moving from high barrier! Increase in crime and open drug use everywhere. Almost 3k signatures on their petition. Good resources and articles too. https://www.wakeupwhitby.com/faq

Kyle
Reply to  Jade
4 months ago

Cobourg is already paying some of the highest costs per capita in the Province for policing. The silver tongued Chief just a few months ago is telling the citizens that his statistics show their concerns about crime is in their imagination.
Now suddenly he needs to increase the police service size substantially and if you do not agree you are labeled that you do not want to fight crime. A old political move that has the Police Board and Town Councilors shaking in their boots. Based on the track record of the Cobourg Police in the last years all this money will just mean more officers off on PTSD or suspended and being paid to vacation. We will also be asked to spend millions on a new Police Station . All this for what?

Leslie M.
4 months ago

Mayor Cleveland expressed concerns over 310 Division, as he has a # of times. He did ask ‘…which members focus on security/safety, & which focus on budget tax increases’. As Mr. Draper notes above, Councillors were ‘upset’ — “feelings” needing to be clarified & insolent speculation about the Mayor’s question: “It would be nice if this council knew exactly what’s going on in your mind…”. 

In my opinion, the Mayor’s question exemplifies his foresight regarding County’s purchase of 310 & the inevitable security & safety issues.

He also asked staff to prioritize the 13 new hires in the budget. 2nd request: staff to come back with 5 or more options on the reduction of services & or positions, in hopes of “a more realistic budget in 2024 that would provide the ability to hold the tax levy to a 2% to 3% growth increase” for 2025 and 2026.

Not surprising, CAO Vaughan said that was “comparing apples to oranges to tomatoes.” Appears to me the Mayor is trying to balance apples & oranges — ensuring our safety/security & lower taxes.

small town Ontario
Reply to  Leslie M.
4 months ago

https://pub-cobourg.escribemeetings.com/Players/ISIStandAlonePlayer.aspx?Id=74a84012-3b02-42e5-961a-5e040ac37135

The above is a link to that meeting. The first hour is really interesting. The Police Chief and Police Board Chair presented and answered questions very well to a person like me who is not a member of that profession.
The police chief said in 2023 four officers were replaced. I expect, some retired, moved on, etc.
So, would the new hires replace these people? If that is the case they would not be increasing the number of officers. Not sure I completely understand.
The, IMO, (rude remark) by the Mayor (you can find on the link about 1:15), with Burchat’s response, also the other councillors expressed their displeasure with the Mayor. View and judge for yourself, but more importantly watch the first hour and a half very educational.

Leslie M.
Reply to  small town Ontario
4 months ago

Small Town, Thanks. Yes it was a well done presentation. I think the Mayor can come across as haughty. I do believe Bureau’s comment was insolent, (quoted above) digging at why the need for more police, as if probing the Mayor to “admit” there will be an increase in safety & security issues with 310. Yes there will be.

I do believe we need more boots on the ground. Living near the encampment, having children going to Gummow & family downtown — we need more police & bylaw action. You may be interested in Pete Fisher’s Editorial, it sums up. Cheers.

https://todaysnorthumberland.ca/2024/01/10/editorial-time-to-get-tough-on-crime-and-bring-our-town-back-or-it-will-be-lost-forever/

Kathleen
4 months ago

“In previous years, council scheduled 2 or 3 days to review the budget but this year only one day…”
Maybe because other than Miriam Mutton and a couple of other sporadic voices on Council, most did not challenge or ask any questions of staff. Maybe some thought they could just zip through the budget in a day if they remained mute.
Consider this folks when we ALL VOTE in the next election.

Marie
Reply to  Kathleen
4 months ago

Re.: “Consider this folks when we ALL VOTE in the next election.”

At the last election I recall John Draper’s outline of fiscally responsible candidates.
Check out how many of that list made it to council. Voters seemed to prefer other factors (including looks) over fiscal competence.

Without any action by fiscally oriented citizens (such as some readers of this blog) I don’t see why this would change next time we get to vote….

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Marie
4 months ago

Marie, fiscal competence and even looks are irrelevant. The most important attribute to be elected as Councillor is the first letter of their surname. Of the seven recently elected, there are four whose last name begins with “B”, one with “C” and one with “D”. Being at the top of the alphabetical ballot rather than competence is what matters!

Old Sailor
4 months ago

The Town or County should add to their budget responsibilities picking up drug injection cartridges & other paraphernalia the addicts drop on our lawns. Just bagged another batch this morning. Welcome to downtown Cobourg.

Rational
4 months ago

The tactic used by the Mayor/Council to sit on the sideline and state that Staff are the experts is simply a means to divert any responsibility for bad decisions and not having to take any responsibility AKA “I am only one vote” syndrome.

While the Mayor and Council Members may not be experts in finance, road maintenance, storm water etc., they are elected with the expectation of being able tp apply their background skills/experiences and business common sense to running a Town. I see their elected duty of care similar to that of a Board of Directors which is to: A.) Set Strategy (i.e. no staff increase this year, 2% tax rate increase, etc.), B.) Oversee Management ( i.e. oversight of staff departments heads, KPIs, etc.), and C.) Protect the Interests of Shareholders and Stakeholders (i.e. us the taxpayers/non taxpayers who elected them).

Cobourg residents are getting none of A, B, or C from the current Leadership. As there are close to 3 years prior to the next election, changes can’t wait and are needed now.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Rational
4 months ago

They get Pay cheques to represent the Tax Payers and that comes with Reasonable Reasonability
Negligence is not covered by their E & O insurance

Kyle
Reply to  Rational
4 months ago

Didn’t staff say at the time that revenue of the CCC would cover most of the operating costs?
I didn’t see any heads roll over that. $1,000,000 + a year lie.
They are bullet proof.

Cobourg taxpayer
4 months ago

The concept the Mayor is pushing, that staff are the experts so their recommendations should be accepted is highly debatable. How is the last mess with the SWM charges a good example of staff expertise? What about the inability to get revenue from the CCC? Or the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the YMCA, does no one remember why this failed a few years ago, town staff are unionized and Y staff are not. How is this going to work now? Suddenly the chief is saying crime has increased in Cobourg therefore more officers are needed yet previously he stated crime had not increased and really it was just in our minds. Let’s figure out how many officers are on sick leave and why that is. Town staff tells us that, miraculously, every year the marina and campground break even yet we all know financial statements are so muddled that nobody can figure them out. The worst is our tax rate is skyrocketing and life in Cobourg is deteriorating, despite the fact the town is on a mad hiring spree with no KPI s and now the mayor is telling us this is acceptable. I’m quite sure if any services were cut it would be unnoticeable the same as rampant hiring has been.

Kevin
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
4 months ago

The staff are experts at misleading tax payers. Either that or they are incompetent.

To save over $500,000 in the budget stop building sidewalks. The town argues for sidewalks because of the Transportation Master Plan (TMP). But the TMP is outdated and much in it is not being done. So why sidewalks? Because they are easy to build requiring less real work from town staff than other recommendations in the TPM?

The town survey does not represent the opinions of the town. Is there any control over who answers the questions? How many employees does the town have? Maybe they are the ones who answered the survey. It is not a random sampling of the population. If the survey is to be used in decision making then the petition against a low barrier shelter at 310 Division should also be used. Are we going to accept this obvious double standard.

With relatively high interest rates and inflation this is a time for government to control spending. It is not a time to let town staff tell us how much work they are going to do. In the last election we voted for some change but did we really get any? I recall reading Mayor Lucas was only interested in one term. Even if I’m wrong about this, it is all he may get. We need to change more than just the mayor.

cornbread
Reply to  Kevin
4 months ago

I believe the last time our Town looked at OPP Policing, the savings were well over $1 Million a year. With a volunteer Fire Dept. we could save another $1 Million plus a year I would suggest (If you compare our budget for fire protection versus the same for Port Hope) If this is what we have to do to get our finances in order…what is Council/Staff waiting for?

Paul
Reply to  cornbread
4 months ago

O am not sure but the decrease in cost was over two million dollars. I looked at my pamphlets from my tax bills for 2019 to 2023 and Cops, Fire and governance each are up 30 plus percent so they have take 6 % per year. That is on top of tax base growth due to news homes and business in town so the. Umber is higher. In the police budget they provided there was a line $525000 called other. What is other. We have 43 staff getting criminal checks and it costs us $2.6 and they have back $2.1 to the police slush fund ( ie the body cams that Port Hope police said after they heard it was a luxury they Would not afford) that brought their budget down to $7 plus from $9 plus million. So we have hired 43 people and they don’t bring in enough money to cover their wages?? Or is there more money??

Now one of the new hires is a Manager for this group and that will cost another $100,000. So why do we have 43 people that don’t bring us an as much as they cost?? I remember when there was 12 and they brought in about a $1 million so we were privy to. So is there more money or they covering w cost of W13? Bottom line from the police numbers provided, they have over $700,000 on WSIB to get back. If that is for 2023, that is more than 7 cops have been on WSIB. I find it hard to believe this is due to physical injury. So if they off due mental issues than they were bad hires and should not be police officers. It’s not fun to be a cop and you have to be able to do the job.

The Cop and fire budget is almost half of the of our budget and about 140 people. If we are going to save money we have to look at the top costs, including governance. Why are we hiring so many managers, as they are indirect labour. What is the ratio of direct to indirect? The new sustainability manager has to be an efficiency Guru as what is happing not sustainable. Five years. I our had a study done by an outside group as part of the downtown revitalization review and it came back that Cobourg had below average earnings for Ontario and had a higher than average number of seniors that spend less money. I think that says it all.

We can’t afford the municipal union wages and ways in Ontario. The average pay at the town is probably about $95,000 and average private sector worker in Ci ours is currently hovering around $50,000. There many retire folks in Cobourg that don’t make that much.

Paul
Reply to  Paul
4 months ago

One thing I forgot in this comment . If you look at 221 or 2022 tax pamphlets. The Coos shed the bylaws group and the bylaws was put in a separate category for $4 a month so the Cop budget that year was up by way more than the 6 percent. Now in this year the new hires included a bylaw officer so here we go!

Leslie M.
Reply to  Kevin
4 months ago

Kevin, you have precisely expressed my dismay: “Is there any control over who answers the questions?” “If the survey is to be used in decision making then the petition against a low barrier shelter at 310 Division should also be used”. This is a double standard. County staff are not requiring a signed affidavit or proof of residency during their sessions & online question submissions.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
4 months ago

The Increase in the Policing Budget will be even higher once the New Transition House
Fully Opens With its potential housing capacity of nearly 3 times that of what was initially quoted
to the residents .As the Mayor sits on the County I was hoping that he might have managed to wrangle a few extra dollars out of the region that we will be absorbing more needy from
and that may compensate for the loss of Neighbourhood property values or Tax reductions
( Watch for it )

As for the Engage survey’s and only 10 % of the population responding I can only suggest
that the Communications officer is not doing a very good job at it or are some of the results not being reported . I know most of the people that have commented on this Blog and the ones I talk to about the studies all feel they are flawed and do no provide an area where more accurate & extensive direct commenting can be provide Questions and answers are to guided to provide
the desired results .

Kevin
Reply to  Sandpiper
4 months ago

Sandpiper, the population of Cobourg is roughly 20,000. 280 is only 1.4%. Perhaps the 20,000 includes children, who cannot vote, and should not be answering the survey. Regardless, we do understand your valid point.

Dave
Reply to  Kevin
4 months ago

The population sign at 45 at the 401 states population Cobourg 18,500. This puzzles me as it was posted the first time I saw it 11 years ago. How long before that was it posted there? 11 or more long years have gone by with large hosing developments in east, west, downtown condos. 2021 Census stated 20,519. Cobourg seems to have grown a lot beyond the latest Census figures with all the new building not to mention addtional rental housing. The reported figure is now 3 years old but seems short even in 2021 in count. Ditto for Port Hope with another dusty, musty population sign. How much follow up is there for people not answering the census? I doubt the count.