by Cecilia Naismith
Council ducks the issue of big raises – for now
The Cobourg Taxpayers' Association believes you get what you pay for.
Along those lines, association director Paul Pagnuelo made a presentation at Monday's committee-of-the-whole council meeting urging a significant increase in council remuneration, even beyond the raise recently recommended by the ad hoc committee council convened to study the matter.
The ad hoc committee based its recommendations on adhering to a median among the figures they found in a study of 19 comparable municipalities.
The $34,720 the mayor receives would have risen to $37,940 under the committee's recommendation, but to $48,100 under the association recommendation, closing the gap against the $48,400 the Port Hope mayor makes (Port Hope not being one of the communities the ad hoc committee consulted, Pagnuelo pointed out).
The association recommendation would come close to doubling some other current amounts:
The $4,945 the Police Services Board member makes would rise to $5,167 under the ad hoc committee recommendation and $10,966 under the association recommendation.
The $6,183 the Police Services Board chair makes would rise to $6,459 under the ad hoc committee recommendation and $13,709 under the association recommendation.
The $21,851 the deputy mayor makes would rise to $22,679 under the ad hoc committee recommendation and $43,290 under the association recommendation.
The $17,528 a councillor makes would rise to $18,128 under the ad hoc committee recommendation and $38,480 under the association recommendation.
The association also took into account some of the other challenges a councillor faces. Accordingly, they recommend office space at Victoria Hall for each councillor, plus cell phone and laptop – alternatively, those who prefer to work form home would be reimbursed for half their basic internet expenses and given help from town staffers to effect tax deductions for employment expenses.
“In addition, serious consideration should be given to hiring a full-time council constituency assistant to be shared by the deputy mayor and councillors,” Pagnuelo's report said.
“The assistant would be responsible for managing constituency inquiries, information, scheduling and other duties.”
The reasoning is simple, he figures – good compensation attracts good candidates, and quality decision making results in value for money. This is an important consideration, given council's responsibility for a multi-million dollar corporation with $48-million in total revenue (2016 figures) and almost 300 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees.
“You have got to pay people fairly,” Pagnuelo said.
“If you want top talent, you've got to pay for top talent.”
“The kind of talent that could make a difference in council,” Councillor Debra McCarthy said, noting that the enormous workload (at current compensation rates) is largely the reason she will not run for re-election.
Pagnuelo allowed that it would be hard to campaign for re-election with a raise that big on the horizon, but he encouraged councillors campaigning for re-election to refer complaints to him.
Though the original resolution in response to his presentation was to accept it for information purposes, councillors McCarthy and Brian Darling did not want to see it simply filed away. Through amendments they presented, the information will be brought up for consideration by their successor council within a year.
“This is where council shows leadership,” McCarthy stated - “leadership that we believe in what we do, that we work hard at what we do, and it isn't charity. It's working hard for the community and putting our best talents, our minds, our time, into making the best decisions for the community.”
“I do believe the work council does is worth a lot more,” Darling agreed.
“The reason I ran was to volunteer my services back to my community, and I realized the pay wasn't adequate for what was required.”
“I never entered municipal politics for the salary,” Councillor Suzanne Seguin stated.
“But the CTA is bringing this to us and, more importantly, educating the public on what we do. We have a great group sitting around this table.”
Darling pointed out that anyone running for re-election may not have a big raise to explain at this time, but will have the prospect of one within a year.
“People will have the chance to say, 'All right, I think you're worth it,' or, 'If you are voting for a big raise, you will not get my vote,'” he predicted.
News will come in new ways, Washburn warns
The daily newspaper so many people missed when it was closed may not be coming back, but the Local News Project aims to educate news consumers on what sources are still around.
The group behind the project includes representatives of current and former news outlets (from the old Northumberland Today to the paper, on-line and on-air outlets still around), as well as a contingent of Loyalist College students brought into the fold by Professor Robert Washburn.
Washburn reported on the group's recent public forum in Victoria Hall to Cobourg council's committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday, to bring council up-to-date on what happened at the meeting and the results of the on-line survey he has conducted.
The 150 people in attendance expressed the wish to be informed of all kinds of news, from cultural to political, and it was evident that their hunger for good, solid information continues strong.
The public forum has already borne fruit, Washburn said. The last paper newspaper Northumberland News has since expanded its news hole, for example, and Northumberland 89.7 is producing more news.
As for the survey, 50 responses were received, almost half of which were from people aged 65 and older. Those aged 50 to 64 accounted for 24% of responses, and those aged 35 to 49 accounted for 26%. Only 2% were aged 18 to 34. A total of 88% were from Cobourg or Port Hope.
One-third of them follow Northumberland News, and 20% said they get local news from social media. The remainder were evenly split among other outlets.
The vast majority indicated they seek out the news daily or at least regularly, Washburn reported.
Sadly, since so much of news comes on-line, only 30% of respondents said they are willing to pay for it. Still, when asked how important local news is, nobody said it is unimportant. A total of 94% replied that it is either important or very important.
The shining examples of surviving traditional communications media are still around, Washburn said, citing the quarterly Watershed magazine with its high-quality journalism and amazing production values.
However, he said, for the most part we have to be open to new models and new ways of doing things.
This is not the only community to lose a newspaper, Washburn added. In fact, more than 170 places across Canada are now known as news deserts because they have lost a newspaper and been left with none.
Washburn said he hope this response justifies the town's assistance in helping the Local News Project organize the public forum – which, by the way, was attended by only one person under that age of 20 (Graham Beer, the Cobourg Collegiate Student who runs his own news outlet). By way of addressing the next generation, Washburn has met with two classes at CCI, and has sessions booked at St. Mary Secondary School and East Northumberland Secondary School.
He has also become involved with a project of conducting fake-news workshops – 15 of them so far, the most recent at St. Mary.
“In terms of media literacy, that is the kind of thing we have to do,” he said.
“We appreciate your taking on this very important project, and trying to close the communications gap we currently have in news of all types – not just political news,” Mayor Gil Brocanier said.
Cobourg Police business-services agreement approved
The Business Services Unit operated by the Cobourg Police Service is profitable, and making the best use of this income is the subject of the Memorandum of Understanding with the town that council approved at Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting.
The police checks now required by so many prospective employers and by so many organizations for their volunteers have produced a new revenue stream that Coucillor Debra McCarthy told council is being applied to capital rather than operational expenses.
She introduced Cobourg Police Services Board vice-chair Dean Pepper to provide further details.
Pepper said there are also job-creation benefits, as non-uniformed officers are reserved for police work and civilians perform these functions.
“It's growing all the time,” he noted.
These funds offset costs that might otherwise have had to be covered by tax revenues, he said.
It is all a good-news story – for now. As for the future, he warned, things might change due to unforeseen circumstances. This function might be taken over by government, for example, or demand for the service might fall. For this reason, it's best that the town avoid becoming reliant on an uncertain source of income to cover operational costs, whereas capital costs are more easily managed.
Meanwhile, Pepper said, “we are planning to increase the business unit as far as new ideas, new products, and also to make it quite clear to council its benefit to the taxpayers of Cobourg.”
Councillor Forrest Rowden, a former council liaison to the Police Services Board, has seen a lot of this benefit over the past eight years.
“I don't think taxpayers have had to pay for a new car,” Rowden said.
Mayor Gil Brocanier estimated the annual income from this service at $75,000 – applied toward uniforms, cars, repairs to headquarters on King Street.
“That's something that can be adjusted year by year,” Brocanier said.
“But to apply it to operating costs and lose the revenue – you try telling the taxpayers they have a two-or-three per cent increase.
“This is a way to make it more manageable in case something does take place.”
New clock tower at Victoria Hall brings 21st-century technology
Cobourg council approved the replacement of Victoria Hall's clock tower clock mechanism at Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting.
The report from treasurer Ian Davey said that the current set-up consists of four clock faces and a central motor that operates a hammer and pull wire to activate the large original bell. At present, the clock motors are failing. This causes inaccurate times, different times on different clock faces, and constant maintenance of the striker and other components.
Deputy Mayor John Henderson thanked Victoria Hall Volunteers, who provided $15,000 toward the project - about half the budgeted cost.
“I know it was one of their projects,” Henderson said.
The company that had been servicing the clock tower is no longer in business, and the report identified two new companies that have the required level of expertise to replace the clock mechanism for which repairs are no longer considered a viable option. When all factors were evaluated, the report recommended contracting the job to The Verdin Company of Woodstock, Ont. Their quote includes delivery, installation and a three-year warranty.
While nothing will look different from the ground, Henderson said, there will be enormous improvement from a health-and-safety perspective since adjustments can be made from the ground. This means no worker going up the ladder with harnesses to do this job. As well as time, this will save money and other resources.
“I believe this puts us in the 21st century, even though we have a very heritage clock,” Henderson said.
Davey said the new modern mechanism should be good for the next 30 to 40 years.
Council gets ready for Ribfest
Among the preparations for the Northumberland Ribfest in August is a requirement that Cobourg council declare it an event of municipal significance.
At Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting, council acceded to the request from organizer Tom McLean of the Rotary Club of Cobourg.
McLean's letter said it would take place Aug. 17 through 19 in Victoria Park in a fenced area measuring about 100,000 sq. ft. This area will contain a refreshment tent, food vendors, entertainment and a market place. The licensed area will be contained inside the fenced portion, roughly from the bandshell north to Queen Street and east to the Lions Pavilion.
On Aug. 17, the refreshment tent will be open from noon to 11 p.m., and entertainment will run from 2 to 10 p.m.
On Aug. 18, the refreshment tent will be open from 11 a,m. to 11 p.m., and entertainment will run from noon to 10 p.m.
On Aug. 19, the refreshment tent will be open from noon to 7 p.m., and entertainment will run from noon to 7 p.m.
Accessibility activities to come later in May
Cobourg council has accepted the recommendation of the Accessibility Advisory Committee and proclaimed May 27 to June 2 National AccessAbility Week in the Town of Cobourg.
The move came at Monday's committee-of-the-whole meeting, where Councillor Debra McCarthy announced that the mayor will take part in awareness activities for the occasion.
Gil Brocanier said these include reading books about accessibility to children at the Cobourg Public Library and participating in a mock exercise where he must function while outfitted with devices that simulate a disability.
McCarthy also presented the committee's recommendation that Linmac Developments Inc. receive official recognition for the accessibility features in the new plaza they have constructed at Victoria Place (955 Elgin St. W.). These include more accessible parking spaces than are required and a wonderful accessible outdoor patio at the Home Plate Restaurant.
Councillor Forrest Rowden said Linmac has always been an outstanding supporter of accessibility features, as far back as their first project in Cobourg – the Fleming Building.
A Linmac representative will be invited to receive a certificate from the town. As council will not be in session during AccessAbility Week, McCarthy said, they will plan to make the presentation at the May 22 council meeting.