By Cecilia Nasmith
Last Cobourg council meeting was a time of reflection
It was an evening of “lasts” for Cobourg council Monday, with three members retiring, the deputy mayor acclaimed as mayor, and the remaining councillors running for another time.
And no further council meetings until the election.
Mayor Gil Brocanier said it would be his pleasure to sign one final proclamation – the one approved after a presentation from Highland Shores Children's Aid Society to declare October as Child Abuse Prevention Month and November as Adoption Awareness Month.
Brocanier's retirement comes after 21 years of service on council, which he said he is leaving with no regrets.
No matter where he is, the mayor said, he is approached by people who want to tell him how much they love the town. This, he said, is the silent majority. And of course, there is a vocal minority. His advice to the next municipal council is to ignore them.
“There are chronic malcontents who will never find anything positive to say,” he said.
“If you are so discontented, why don't you just move.”
Brocanier also offered his assessment that the Cobourg Taxpayers Association has little to offer in terms of substantive, constructive ideas.
“Maybe that is why, when I talk to people around town, I can't find anyone who feels the CTA represents them.”
Brocanier called his time on council a wonderful ride.
“I so appreciate that the citizens of Cobourg have given me such great support in allowing me to support them,” he said.
Hoping for re-election, Councillor Brian Darling said he was proud of the work of the last term and the collegial nature of the group, even when they didn't always agree.
Councillor Aaron Burchat is also running – but for his first election. Burchat was brought in to replace Councillor Theresa Rickerby, who resigned during the second year of her term.
“I would like to thank the rest of council for giving me this opportunity to share this experience,” he said.
Councillor Suzanne Seguin is also hoping for her first election, having been brought in somewhat later to replace Councillor Larry Sherwin when he moved out of town. With past service as mayor of Prescott, Seguin is running to replace John Henderson as deputy mayor.
“We haven't always agreed, but we have always been respectful, and I think that's the key to making Cobourg a better place,” she said.
“It makes us all better if we ask the hard questions and listen to the answers.
“Hopefully I will be here again but, if not, I thank you for the experience and I thank you for the privilege of serving my new home town, Cobourg.”
Retiring Councillor Debra McCarthy thanked her fellow councillors, town staff and the many town volunteers who helped her in her work on behalf of her constituents.
With Brocanier's 21 years and his own 25, not to mention McCarthy's four, retiring Councillor Forrest Rowden estimated that's more than a half-century of experience represented.
“I hear nothing but good news about things we have accomplished over the last few years,” Rowden said.
“You have been one of the greatest mayors I have actually worked with, and I have worked with a few,” he said to Brocanier.
Though he is acclaimed as Cobourgn's next mayor and not, as such, running for re-election, Henderson urges all qualified electors to cast a ballot.
“If you want people to represent you, you have to vote = it's that simple,” Henderson stated.
The first meeting of the newly elected council will be Dec. 3 at Victoria Hall at 7 p.m., he added.
“I can only say I have thoroughly enjoyed this council,” Henderson said.
“I look forward to the leadership of being mayor-elect, I admit to having a lot to learn, and I have big shoes to fill.”
Cobourg visitors do spend their money here
It is a misconception that people who come to Cobourg just to use the beach or dock at the marina do not spend money in town.
“Contrary to popular opinion, the beach and community events do increase pedestrian traffic to the downtown business district – there's no question about it,” tourism co-ordinator Bryan Mercer stated at council Monday.
“Visitors are dining and shopping, and they are extending their stays.”
Mercer shared statistics that affirm this assertion in a report on metrics that emerged from the 2018 Experience Cobourg campaign.
Among the avenues of information that went into the report were the 506 surveys conducted among this summer's visitors. Not surprisingly, the GTA was the major origin of these visitors, though they found some from Japan, Ireland, Barbados, the Philippines, Germany and Australia.
Also not surprising is the fact that 86.4% arrived by personal vehicle, but Mercer said it was good news that 7.7% came by boat.
“That shows the popularity of the marina and the knowledge people have of it,” he explained.
As to why they came, 50.7% came for the beach, 28.2% for events, 26.8% to visit friends or family and 26.2% made an unplanned visit.
Almost half participated in a cultural activity or event while visiting, and 19% stayed more than one night.
Some 49% of visitors shopped, and 12.2% of them spent more than $100. As well, 59.7% ate at a local establishment.
While 98.1% said they would recommend a visit to Cobourg, Mercer said, “I want to find those other people who don't, and I want to know why they wouldn't.”
Mercer explained two unorthodox means they employed in gathering information. One was cell-phone tracking, with four devices installed at key locations (the beach canteen, the campground, the downtown and Victoria Hall) to detect someone carrying a cell phone. The device could not hack into the phone, he said, but it could trace where the person went from there.
Using only information from that source, he said, 266,271 people were tracked, and they found Aug. 4 was the busiest single day (with 10,771 visitors tracked). The busiest location was the beach, and the busiest times were 2 to 3 p.m. on any weekend afternoon.
The laser counter saw two laser beams shining out from two King Street locations. Basically, anyone breaking the beam was counted. The data showed 1.4-million people circulating in the downtown over the summer.
Tracking traffic to their Experience Cobourg website, Mercer had further good news – 41% came to the site directly, as opposed to migrating there from another site. And while the average time a surfer visits a site is 30 to 45 seconds, visitors to Experience Cobourg stayed an average of two minutes and 11 seconds.
“They are actually reading the content. They are going to the events calendar. They are spending time on it,” he said.
Mayor Gil Brocanier was delighted with the report.
“There are those out there who say we don't need tourism, but this counters that argument,” Brocanier stated.
“Tourism is very, very important to us.”
“You just concurred with what I have been telling people all along,” Councillor Forrest Rowden agreed.
Cobourg is piloting special seniors' challenge project
Though they may no longer work, one imperative need for seniors is to stay engaged, Community Training and Developmet Centre representative Madelaine Currelly told Cobourg council Monday night.
To that end, her agency is in the beta-testing phase of a new project called the Networked Communities Challenge For Seniors.
Currelly recalled that her agency had been part of the Age-Friendly Community Study for the county two years ago.
“That indicated very clearly that seniors in this community wish to participate. They want to make sure their skills, abilities and knowledge are used and are effective,” she said.
“They also indicated they are not aware of many local organizations, services or groups they could join.”
They applied to the province for funds to establish a way to insure seniors are engaged in their communities and to find things they themselves could not find. As provincial data say that 70% of seniors are now actively on-line, they decided to go with a platform they could access on their cell phones. The result is a free app.
Visit the Play Store for Android devices or the App Store for iPhones, download the Challenj app, search for the Networked Communities Challenge, and follow the instructions.
The first step is an assessment to find out where the user's interests lie. It's a simple survey, but it will shape exactly what challenges are delivered to the user.
They have compiled 120 challenges, Currelly said, with input from local organizations and groups. The user will receive a daily task over a given period of time, suggesting contacts and projects to be pursued.
It's a pilot project for the Cobourg-Port Hope area, she said, but it can be replicated in any community. They have committed to the province to sign up 500 users.
Councillor Debra McCarthy said she had signed up and found it interesting. Though she considers herself fairly tuned in to the community, she was still surprised and intrigued by some of the challenges.
“In enticing seniors to be active, you are also giving them the opportunity to go outside their normal routine and that, in turn, leads to quality of life,” McCarthy commented.
“Social isolation, we know, is a very serious issue, and one that the province is very concerned about,” Currelly agreed.
“As we age, we tend to isolate ourselves more and more, and that can bring on a myriad of health issues, depression being one of them obviously.
“To invite seniors to be socially active and to support that social activity is a very important component of a community that's aging.”
Councillor Suzanne Seguin asked Currelly what her definition of “senior” might be.
“I think people define themselves,” she replied.
“I think there are 90-year-olds who don't like being called a senior, and there are 50-year-olds who are delighted to get the discount at Shoppers.
“I see it as being a positive part of life, and I don't want to define it as an age category. I think it's very personal – it really depends on the individual.”
Cobourg Police Service shares three-year business plan
Cobourg Police Chief Kai Liu brought council up to date Monday on the force's latest three-year business plan that will take effect in 2019.
This involved listing the four areas of focus – safe and secure community, supportive and healthy workplace, service quality and value, and community engagement and partnership – along with actions planned to achieve optimal results in each one.
Information that helped shape the plan was gleaned with the assistance of an independent third-party professional firm through surveys of community organizations and businesses, as well as more than 270 local residents of all ages. There was also an internal survey within the force to help set priorities.
The province requires each police service to prepare an updated business plan at least every three years, Liu told council.
It also provides an opportunity to share statistics. He was particularly proud of a clearance rate that rose to 90% from 84% over the last four years.
Of survey respondents, 93% agreed Cobourg is a safe town to live in, he added.
“That's a huge compliment to the men and women who collectively work to keep our town safe.”
Seventy-five per cent of respondents are satisfied with the services provided, he continued, and 90% expressed confidence in their police force.
Asked to identify their chief concerns, Liu listed the top five issues mentioned as drugs, mental-health issues, drinking and driving, residential break-ins, and speeding and aggressive driving.
Asked about the absence of news on the force's corporate-services division (which provides the criminal background checks now required by so many businesses and community agencies for their employees and volunteers), Liu pointed out that this sector is viewed and operated on a business basis, as opposed to as another arm of the police force.
It is now headquartered apart from the police station, with an office in the new Venture 13 complex. In recent years, its gross revenue has grown from $310,000 to more than $2-million.
“It's on track to exceed $3-million this year,” he said.
Cobourg Cultural Master Plan process will be launched in November
Cobourg's Cultural Master Plan may be at an early stage of its development, but manager of recreation and culture Christopher Elliott still took a few minutes at Monday's council meeting to offer an update.
There will be five overarching objectives, Elliott said – to assess the health of the town's cultural sector, to examine the town's current involvement with the cultural sector, to deepen the engagement of residents with all forms of culture, to identify service gaps and improve over-all cultural service provision and strategies, and to identify specifically the town's future role in the cultural sector.
He also hoped to convey certain key messages – that Cobourg is a great place to make a living, for example, and an even greater place to make a life.
“The plan will support the town's cultural identity, engage citizens and continue to improve the quality of life now and into the future,” Elliott said.
While it's easy to reach those with a pre-existing interest in the cultural community, he said, “we want to reach out beyond the converted.”
A public launch event will be planned for November, leading up to an initial media release and web page. Input will be gathered through surveys, open houses, key stakeholder interviews and focus-group meetings.
Elliott had begun his presentation with a quote from a man named Richard Florida - “Places that work at attracting people prosper. Those that fail, don't.”
It really struck a chord with Councillor Deb McCarthy.
“If the artists move in, the community prospers – that has been proven time and time again,” McCarthy said.
Cobourg will plan cannabis strategy
With cannabis legalization looming, Cobourg council is looking ahead to how it might affect the town.
At Monday's meeting, they voted to accept a technical briefing from the province called Moving Forward with Cannabis Retailing and a report from the municipal clerk regarding an update on the legalization for information purposes.
The motion included a direction to staff to implement a strategy to engage and initiate a non-statutory public-meeting and engagement process with local residents and businesses spotlighting current regulations surrounding the legalization, implementation of cannabis retail establishments and effects on the community.
With the municipal election looming, staff were instructed to report to the next municipal council on the engagement process and provide a recommendation for council decision.
Cobourg insurance bill revealed
Cobourg council voted Monday to accept the recommendation from its insurance broker McDougall Insurance Brokers Ltd. to renew the comprehensive insurance program it holds with the Frank Cowan Company for the year beginning Oct. 1.
The bill of $544,054 includes all applicable taxes.
Inflation notwithstanding, Councillor Forrest Rowden was floored at the tab.
“Looking back as far as 25 years ago, some of these insurance bills were in the neighbourhood of $50,000. Now it's 10 times that amount,” Rowden said.
Mayor Gil Brocanier reminded Rowden that most of his experience as a municipal councillor was in neighbouring Hamilton Township, a rural and less-populated area.
“That may have been true of Hamilton Township – I don't know if the Town of Cobourg was ever that low,” Brocanier said.
Cobourg contemplates a mission to China
Prior to his retirement, Mayor Gil Brocanier will be taking a trip to China.
Brocanier made the announcement at Monday's council meeting, saying the contingent would include Deputy Mayor John Henderson and manufacturing-attraction officer T.J. Flynn. The trip will run Oct. 10 through 18.
This is an iniative of the William Academy, a Toronto-based private school that purchased the former Cobourg District Collegiate Institute West building. Their plan is to twin Cobourg with a city near Beijing, and possibly set up an ice-hockey training centre.
The entire trip is financed by William Academy, Brocanier said, with no cost to the taxpayer.
And in case there is an economic-development opportunity to the trip, he added, Flynn will be along.
Cobourg Police Chief to be honoured in Ottawa
Cobourg Police Chief Kai Liu is in for some special recognition for leadership in policing, Councillor Debra McCarthy said at Monday's council meeting.
The honour is coming from the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs board of directors, and Chief Liu is receiving their Order of Merit. The investiture ceremony will take place in Ottawa, with the Governor General presiding.
“It's a remarkable award, given by the police chiefs across the country,” McCarthy said.
Cobourg loses valuable volunteer
Cobourg councillors paid tribute to a special volunteer at Monday's council meeting.
Duane Schermerhorn died suddenly Friday night, after taking ill while working on the Charles Pachter exhibition at the Art Gallery of Northumberland.
“He was one of the most prolific, hard-working members of the Art Gallery of Northumberland, and was eagerly awaiting the Cultural Master Plan,” Councillor Debra McCarthy said.
“Duane knew the fire drill. Duane put up exhibitions. Duane was the continuity, and he will be sorely missed.”
Schermerhorn was a well-known web designer in Cobourg, and his volunteer activities included service on the Northumberland Arts Council. He also created his own artistic pieces that occasionally found their way into AGN exhibitions.
Councillor Suzanne Seguin allowed that she hadn't known Schermerhorn as well as McCarthy.
“But every single time I went into that gallery, he was there working on the website, working on the computers, working on programming, working on inventory, and working on the Charles Pachter exhibit,” Seguin listed.
“He died doing what he loved, giving back to this community. I know (gallery executive director) Olinda Casimiro was very emotional about losing this tremendous volunteer,” she said.