By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Cobourg council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy standing committee had its first meeting Tuesday, with approval of the 2024 draft budget high on its priority list.
In the end, that discussion will have to be continued at a catch-up committee meeting planned for 9:30 a.m. Thursday, January 18.
The draft presented had a levy increase in excess of 8%, which did occasion much examination and debate.
One widely accepted reason for the inability to come in with a budget at the hoped-for target of 5% is the action of past councils that held down tax increases, when they perhaps should have produced budgets that looked to the future a little more proactively. Treasurer Adam Giddings provided a chart that shows a 1.6% increase (in a year when inflation was 1.94%), a 1.9% increase in 2020 (when inflation was 0.7%), a 0.2% drop in 2021 (when inflation was 3.43%), a 2.9% increase in 2022 (when inflation was 6.8%) and a 6.6% increase last year (when inflation was 4.12%).
Mayor Lucas Cleveland put a motion on the floor that staff come back with five or more options on the reduction of services and/or positions, and the impact of these cuts in hopes of “a more realistic budget in 2024 that would provide the ability to hold the tax levy to a 2% to 3% growth increase” for 2025 and 2026.
Also, similar to the practice with Northumberland County tax levies, the motion called for a 1% dedicated infrastructure levy be added to this and future budgets in a bid to strengthen declining reserves which he said “could use a little love, to say the least.”
The motion did not pass, and most of the afternoon session involved councillors going through the budget to pick out items for further discussion. Councillors did not even complete this review when the previously agreed-upon adjournment time rolled around and a special council meeting to confirm the new standing-committee structure of council had been called.
Cleveland asked for a few minutes to put another motion on the floor. This one targeted the 13 new hires in the budget, directing staff to prioritize the entire list in terms of each one’s importance to council’s approved Strategic Plan.
Though Chief Administrative Officer Tracey Vaughan likened that to “comparing apples to oranges to tomatoes,” she did commit to a senior staff meeting to put together information for council that might be helpful in this regard.
This motion was carried.
Cleveland then put forth part of his previous motion, bringing back that 1% dedicated infrastructure levy for consideration. The motion died when no one seconded.
The committee meeting and its budget deliberations will continue on the Jan. 18 date that was set. This was deemed preferable to deferring unfinished business to the next regularly scheduled committee meeting on Feb. 6, because the hope was to have an approved draft ready for council to pass at its Jan. 31 meeting.