Cobourg council begins 2019 budget process

By Cecilia Nasmith

This week's public meeting on the 2019 budget was Cobourg council's first step in coming up with a final version for approval in March or April.

Deputy Mayor Suzanne Seguin chaired the meeting, where councillors heard a number of submissions from citizens with requests or comments.

Edgar Carman represented the Trinity Housing of Cobourg Corporation, which is looking for support as it begins a second apartment building in addition to the 20-unit one constructed in the 1990s. Its 27 units will feature three with three bedrooms, the remainder consisting of four studio apartments and 20 with one bedroom.

In obtaining assistance from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for the $6.4-million project, the president of the THCC board said, support from other levels of government is required. Their request is a grant equivalent to the building's $233,826 development charges and up to $400,000 in a cash-flow loan – or, alternatively, reduced property taxes and an annual grant of 100% of the town's portion of the increase in municipal property taxes.

As chair of the Cobourg Highland Games Society, Carman argued that this annual event draws more than 1,000 competitors and vendors to fill the town's hotels and support the local economy. In return, they hope for a $9,000 grant to help with a Highland-dancing stage which has reached the end of its useful life and in-kind support of $3,984 to provide a shuttle bus to the event from Donegan Park to help relieve parking congestion.

Ted Williams urged a 2% reduction in the overall budget.

“We have an oversized library, an oversized Cobourg Community Centre and, some years ago, there was the suggestion we should have an oversized marina,” Williams said.

“Every department director wants the best for its community, I understand that. But those desires for great facilities have to be tempered by what people can pay these days.

“Either we say 'This is acceptable,' or we say, 'We can do better.'”

Elizabeth Healey didn't offer specific suggestions, but was eloquent in discussing the lack of affordable housing.

“There's very little available for rent in a reasonable bracket,” Healey said.

“I hope they are brainstorming and looking into ways of interesting people to come in and invest.”

Brian Lambert brought forth a detailed analysis that he contended was a cautionary tale. He presented figures that pointed out a 2017 surplus of revenue over expenses to the tune of $5.1-million but no indication of how it would be used. At the same time, he detected a budget over-spend every year since 2014 – at a rate of almost 8% last year – with spending outstripping revenue. He also decried the rate of tax increase versus the rising cost of living. For too many, he said, these taxes take up a significant portion of their income.

“The town's expenses, on the other hand, are increasing at a much higher rate, and that is not sustainable,” Lambert said.

“At some point, it will exceed the ability of residents to pay. There are towns in Ontario that have passed that point, North Bay being an example.”

Petra Hartwig could not be present, but council received her written request of installing water fountains and water-bottle-filling stations at strategic points in town. The cost varies depending on location and suppliers, Hartwig said, but her research indicated it could be $1,200 to $1,500 per fountain in addition to installation costs.

Miriam Mutton appeared to ask for improved exterior lighting and way-finding signage for the Venture 13 building on D'Arcy Street. A group she is affiliated with runs a successful monthly lecture series that has outgrown its previous location and moved to Venture 13. But those who come at night and are unfamiliar with the Northam Industrial Park where it is located have experienced some difficulty making their way.

Some requests were referred elsewhere, such as the one from Cliff Stroud and Lorrie Reynolds-Stroud who asked that Cobourg allow one free bag of garbage a week for residents. Garbage (and the bag tags residents must purchase in order to have it picked up) are the province of the County of Northumberland, Mayor John Henderson pointed out, and such a request must properly go to that upper-tier municipality.

Warren McCarthy's analysis of the costs and service delivery of the Cobourg Police Department is similarly out of council's hands, the mayor said.

Under the Police Services Act, a council can ask if they can bring back changes in their budget but cannot order such changes. It was suggested to McCarthy that his request should be brought to the attention of the Cobourg Police Services Board

Seguin listed additional meetings coming up, at which members of the public are welcome.

On Feb. 5, the planning and development, general government, and economic-development services address council on their departmental budgets.

On Feb. 20, the public-works and environmental services departments will present.

On Feb. 21, community services will have their chance.

On Feb. 28, protection services and the Cobourg Public Library will address councillors.

All these meeting begin at 4 p.m. except for a 2 p.m. start to the Feb. 20 meeting.

A March 7 committee-of-the-whole meeting will begin at 10 a.m. for a full review of operating and capital budgets, to be continued March 8 if necessary. This is when submissions for community grants will take place.

The aim is to have a final version to approve at either the March 18 or April 8 regular council meeting.