By Jeff Gard/Today’s Northumberland
Cobourg council approved $35,352 worth of community grants at Thursday’s budget review meeting.
That includes $24,152 of in-kind support and $11,200 in cash contributions under the Municipal Community Grant Program as part of the 2023 operating budget.
As part of the motion, council directs town staff to review the Community Grant Policy, including options to cease the program, streamline the application process for more efficient decision making or offer special rental and parking rates for non-profit organizations. A report is to be brought back to council in June.
Mayor Lucas Cleveland made a motion at the outset “that council cancel all community grants as of right now.”
Councillor Adam Bureau disagreed with the mayor, reminding council that the community groups went through the application process, which town staff took the time to review, as well as made presentations to council.
“I think it would be unfair of this council to cancel the community grants at this time,” Bureau said. “I agree if we want to look at the policy in the future throughout the year – I’m 100 per cent open to any discussions on that – but I think for this year I would like to keep this the way it is and make an amendment to your motion to approve as amended this morning.”
Councillor Brian Darling said that while he previously made his disagreement with the cash grants known, “I have to agree with Councillor Bureau that the ball’s rolling at this time and the motion that was on the floor, if it stays, was to have it looked at by staff and come back with a whole new perspective next year.
Cleveland’s motion to cancel the community grants immediately was defeated.
Council opted to address each proposed grant recipient individually first rather than just approving them all collectively. Councillor Darling asked if it could be clearly specified whether each is a cash or in-kind grant.
Many of the grant requests were approved without comment while others were discussed in more detail.
The Cobourg Highland Games was to receive $5,000 for special event funding and in-kind support. Asked about the split, Beatty said she would be happy to do $2,500 cash and $2,500 in lieu.
“The organizer can figure out how they’re going to attribute it to their budget because they’re not receiving the full amount anyway,” she said.
Councillor Darling thought it would be in-kind as they were requesting leniency for parking.
“If it’s broke into two, that’s fine, but I had anticipated it as the in-kind for parking,” he said.
Beatty offered to change the motion to $5,000 for in-kind support the Highland Games would receive. That motion passed.
There was an original motion that the Cobourg Museum Foundation receive a cash contribution of $2,000 for operating funding, but that was adjusted to $4,000 in in-kind support.
Councillor Miriam Mutton questioned the support the foundation was seeking, noting it was a two-line item looking for both cash as well as tax relief in-kind.
Beatty said she believed the $2,000 was for the Museum’s summer student and they were also seeking property tax relief. It’s an example of an MOU with the town.
“I’ve always struggled with an in-kind request for tax relief,” Beatty said.
Director of Finance Ian Davey offered some background information, noting since the Cobourg Museum Foundation moved to its location, the Town of Cobourg has paid the property taxes on that property.
“That’s where this grant comes from,” Davey said. “We don’t give them $4,000 to pay the property taxes, we just pay the property taxes for them, if you will. That is because that property was assessed as commercial property, just because that’s the default tax assessment category is commercial when a property’s not residential or industrial. That has been the situation since day one so just to make council aware, to change that would mean then they would be coming up with approximately $4,000 to pay their taxes off.”
Beatty said she would amend the motion to increase the amount to $4,000, but in-kind support rather than the $2,000 cash contribution for a summer student.
“I feel it’s their responsibility to figure out how to cover those costs unfortunately,” she said.
Mutton wondered if there could be a tweak to that number since 2023 tax assessments haven’t been sent out yet. Davey said the $4,000 is an estimate based on previous tax assessments.
“We don’t send them a bill for $23.52 if it happens to be a little bit over and we don’t send them a cheque either if it’s not quite $4,000,” Davey said.
Cleveland asked if the motion could just state the foundation would receive a contribution for the tax levy portion as an in-kind grant, but Davey said there needs to be a number so it can included in the tax-rate system.
Davey said the amount was just over $3,900 last year so the estimate of $4,000 makes sense to ensure the cost is covered.
Council approved the $4,000 in-kind contribution to the Cobourg Museum Foundation.
When the motion for Les Amis to receive $1,000 in in-kind support came up, Darling reiterated his stance from Tuesday’s meeting.
“Some of these in-kind are for the use of Victoria Hall,” he said, reminding that taxpayers already subsidize the Concert Hall to the amount of approximately $240,000. “When an in-kind is requested for the use of the Concert Hall, to me they’re double-dipping. They’re already getting a break on the rents and everything else picked up by the taxpayer and in this case they’re asking for a little bit more. I just don’t think that’s fair to the taxpayer that there’s double-dipping that goes on so that’s why I’m voting against this. Not that I’m not in support of these groups, it’s just it’s a time to be fiscal.”
The motion to support Les Amis passed.
For the Ontario Community Emergency Assistance Program’s request of a $1,000 cash contribution for operating funding, Mutton asked for a reminder of how the organization is involved in the community.
“My understanding from their presentation as well as their website is they do provide search and rescue command posts and I believe where their support comes from is they show up at a lot of events and things like that and some gap-filling, not with the formal EMS, and they are a non-profit organization,” Beatty remarked.
Mutton wondered who the organization takes instruction from in the event of an emergency. Cleveland said the answer is Cobourg Police, he was informed by municipal clerk Brent Larmer.
“I think it’s important to note these are all volunteers,” Beatty added.
The motion to grant the Ontario Community Emergency Assistance Program $1,000 cash was carried.
Saint Vincent de Paul also asked for a $1,000 cash contribution for operating funding. Mutton said it’s an extensive organization and wanted to clarify its ask was for work in the Cobourg community. Cleveland said yes.
Beatty made a motion to approve $5,432 of in-kind support for the Victoria Hall Volunteers. The amount was originally reduced to $4,000 before Councillor Aaron Burchat advocated for the group to receive its full requested amount. That motion passed.
Darling made a motion that the Cobourg Lawn Bowling Club receive in-kind support of $6,720, as requested for parking passes.
Mutton asked what part of the day is the heaviest use for the club in terms of requiring parking passes.
“My understanding from the presentation was that they don’t use the 40 passes all at the same time, that it’s a convenience,” she said.
Mayor Cleveland said he preferred to move forward, that council was looking to approve a grant and while he understood the councillor’s concern, when the passes were going to be used wasn’t the concern of council.
“I’m a systems thinker so when I have a colleague who basically votes against almost everything else and then supports something that is probably one of the most expensive items on the agenda (for community grants), I’m curious,” Mutton said.
Darling responded “most of my voting against has been for cash grants. I have voted in favour of the in-kind for whatever amount they were. The in-kind there is no cash given out. In this case with the parking, it’s a process the town has used for years and years and years since parking was implemented. As far as the times, it depends on their tournaments. If they have evening bowling, they use them in the evening. If they have an all-day Saturday, they use them through the day.”
Council approved the motion to provide the lawn bowling club with in-kind support.
Other approved grants during the session were: Canadian Abilities Foundation – $1,000 cash grant; Cobourg and District Historical Society – $2,000 in-kind support; Cobourg Ecology Garden – $1,800 for operating funding; Horizons of Friendship – $1,000 cash contribution for community project funding; La Jeunesse Choirs – $1,000 for in-kind support; Northumberland Oral Health Coalition – $400 cash contribution for community project funding; Northumberland Orchestra & Choir Society – $1,000 cash contribution for community project funding; Sounds of the Next Generation – $1,000 for in-kind support; Victorian Operetta Society – $1,000 for in-kind support and Cobourg Toastmasters – $1,000 in-kind support.
St. Peter’s Anglican Church was originally approved for a $5,000 cash contribution for community project funding, bringing the total to $40,352.
Deputy Mayor Beatty introduced a motion to reconsider, that council deny the request from St. Peter’s as it was for capital work as part of repairs to the tower.
“The community grant policy does not support capital projects so unfortunately St. Peter’s request does not meet the policy.”
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.