By Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland
Cobourg’s outdoor Centennial Pool has been added back into the budget. At least for this year.
Council approved a motion at Thursday’s budget review meeting to reinstate the operation of the pool for the 2023 season which runs from late June to Labour Day at a total cost of $124,600.
Included in that cost is $105,600 for lifeguards, $10,000 for property improvements, $4,000 for material repairs and $5,000 for a new boiler to help heat the pool, which has been in operation since 1967.
With staff challenged by council to find cost savings in the draft budget, Director of Community Services Brian Geerts recently proposed closing Centennial Pool for the 2023 season with it to be decommissioned in 2024. It was already flagged to be closed in 2025, he said during a Jan. 26 meeting.
Resident Meghan Thomas started a petition online that stated: “This pool is an important facility for swimming lessons, fitness, and recreation and allows Cobourg residents and visitors to make the most of being outdoors during the summer season. Outdoor physical activity is crucial to our well-being and allows those at risk of respiratory disease a low-risk option for exercise (as compared with exercising indoors). There is a lack of public outdoor pools in our region and this pool is used by many residents of the surrounding area.”
Thomas made a presentation to council Monday night and noted the petition had already been signed by more than 2,000 people since she started the Thursday prior. The petition currently has 2,711 signatures.
During Thursday’s meeting, Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty asked Director Geerts about the development charges study and a line item that has a significant amount of development charges allocated for aquatics between Cobourg and YMCA Northumberland. She wondered if some of those development charges could be used to offset the Centennial Pool expense from the levy.
Geerts said finance is not his specialty, “but the intent of that collection is for a future facility so even if it was possible to fund operating from it, it would be reducing our capacity to replace.”
Mayor Lucas Cleveland asked Geerts if those development charges could potentially be available for a rebuild or reconfiguration of the existing pool moving forward in future budgets.
Director of Finance Ian Davey responded to the question. “The basis of development charges and where the study starts is they look at the existing level of service that the existing community is receiving…if our population of 20,000 and we have one outdoor swimming pool, we can’t just repair or rejuvenate or renovate that one pool and still at the end of the day end up with one pool. That’s not giving us any further capacity for growth.”
An example, Davey said, would be looking at adding a second outdoor pool if the population were to reach 30,000 so the point of development charges is to pay for a second pool.
Earlier in the week during Tuesday’s budget meeting, while speaking on another topic, Davey noted any resident who makes a donation to a fundraising cause through the town is issued a tax receipt. Building off that information, Mayor Cleveland said council could use that approach with numerous items in the budget, using Centennial Pool as an example.
“With all those thousands of signatures, I’m sure that the investment that the community has with that pool perhaps this council can look at, say, subsidizing $80,000 towards those lifeguards with the stipulation that the volunteers move forward. Again, just something to discuss…and this is a great way of thinking outside the box so I commend Director Davey for bringing that suggestion forward (that residents would receive tax receipts for supporting fundraising efforts).”
On Thursday, Councillor Brian Darling took an opportunity to remind citizens that staff were doing their job trying to find a spot where they could save the town money and the pool needed a lot of work.
“In no way at any time did council say ‘yes this is going to disappear.’ It was removed from the budget for consideration. There was a lot of feedback from the community. My other councillors are well aware of the fact how important this is to the community, but at no time was it removed and because staff makes a suggestion, that’s all it is,” Darling said. “I don’t like to see when the community throws staff under the bus because they’re doing their job. These are hard decisions for staff to make, hard decisions for council to make and I think we should be fair to everybody out there. I think everybody’s well aware that the pool is really wanted and needed in the community. It was just one of those avenues we went down and we’ll find out after the vote.”
Mayor Cleveland said he agrees with those sentiments.
“I also encourage the community at large to approach this as we are, with the knowledge these are very difficult decisions. We are entering a very financially prudent time as a country, province and as a city and we all need to maintain a certain level of respect and decorum in the public.”
Later in the meeting, Cleveland was one of four members of council voting along with Adam Bureau, Miriam Mutton and Randy Barber in favour of a hefty pay raise that will take effect over two years for the mayor, deputy mayor and councillors, an idea that was only brought forward at the suggestion of one resident, Bryan Lambert, on Monday night.
During the earlier discussion of the pool, Cleveland stressed to members of the community that this may be the last year of Centennial Pool.
“So please enjoy it thoroughly, make sure you’re using it and let’s get those user numbers up so that when we enter budget time next year we have some good data.”
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Cobourg council unanimously supported a motion to approve the 2023 Capital Budget in the amount of $32,998,716 and the 2023 Operating Budget with the Municipal Levy of $28,154,601 which represents a 8.1% increase over the 2022 Operating Budget and a 6.6% net increase after allowing for New Assessment Growth of 1.5%.
The budget requires final approval at the next regular council meeting Feb. 27.