Council set to wrap up budget meetings on Wednesday night

Kingston City Councillors participate in the first of three nights of budget meetings on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Screen captured image.

After two busy evenings inside Council Chambers, the 2023 City of Kingston budget process will wrap up on Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023, as the Committee of the Whole gets set to deliberate and vote on the 2023 Operating and Capital Budgets, excluding municipally-owned utilities. During the first of three budget meetings on Monday night, councillors started by approving the 2023-2024 Operating and Capital Budgets for Utilities Kingston.

A 79-page report on municipally-owned utilities, distributed ahead of Monday’s meeting, outlined a number of recommendations for the two-year term with regard to wastewater, water supply, natural gas, and appliance rental operating budgets, as well as the two-year capital budgets for those utilities. Councillors were also asked to approve a two-year Capital Budget for Utilities Kingston, in the amount of $99,170,100.

In terms of rate changes, the report recommended a 3 per cent increase on water in 2023, with a further increase to 3.5 per cent in 2024. The same increases were also recommended for wastewater rates, which is expected to result in a $25 increase in residential water and wastewater for 2023, followed by a $42 per cent increase for the same services in 2024. 

“We do understand that it is a difficult time coming out of COVID and with increases in cost… We did try to bring in our rate increases as low as we could, in terms of recovering the costs that we need to operate utilities,” said David Fell, President and CEO of Utilities Kingston. 

The rate changes seemed to be the biggest area of concern for councillors, with members addressing the impact such increases will have on Kingston residents. “I think it’s important that we acknowledge that these rate increases are going to be necessary but difficult for a lot of people, a lot of families,” noted Lakeside District Councillor Wendy Stephen. 

While the rate increases may pose a challenge to Utilities Kingston customers, Fell did note one potential area of support for low-income individuals. “All of our utilities do put funds into a low-income assistance fund, that can be accessed for people [experiencing] hardship.”

After approving the budgets and rate changes for municipal utilities, which all passed by unanimous vote, Council then heard of presentations from the following external agencies: 

  • Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO)
  • Tourism Kingston
  • Cataraqui Regional Conservation Authority (CRCA)
  • Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health
  • Kingston Access Services
  • Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL)
  • Kingston Police Services Board
  • Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA)

The above agencies had already submitted their annual operating plans to City Council, with transfers to the organizations reflected in the 2023 General Municipal Operating Budget. Monday’s meeting provided an opportunity for councillors to hear more from the agencies and pose questions about how their municipal funding will be spent.

Up first were KEDCO CEO Donna Gillespie and Board Chair Anne Vivian-Scott, whose budget represented a 1.3 per cent increase in investment from the City of Kingston, or an additional $19,265 compared to 2022 figures. In total, the City of Kingston is being asked to invest more than $1.5 million into KEDCO, to support the agency’s ongoing work to strengthen economic development in Kingston.

Megan Knott, executive director of Tourism Kingston addresses City Council. Screen captured image.

Following the presentation from Gillespie and Vivian-Scott, Megan Knott, Executive Director of Tourism Kingston, took to the floor to address councillors regarding her agency’s modest request of a 0.6 per cent increase in transfers from the City, for a total of $1.5 million in municipal funding. Knott noted that the two main sources of funding for Tourism Kingston are money from the municipality, as well as revenue generated through a Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT). 

After Knott, Katrina Furlanetto presented CRCA’s 2023 budget to councillors, which included an increased funding request of 4.7 per cent. While the CRCA covers 11 total municipalities in its mandate, the City of Kingston is being asked to contribute $1.8 million as part of the association’s operating budget for 2023.

KFL&A Public Health was next on the agenda, as Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health, presented a request for $4.3 million from the City of Kingston for the 2023 operating year, representing an increase of two per cent over 2022 funding. Kingston Access Services, represented by Executive Director Trevor Fray, meanwhile, requested $3.3 million from the municipality to finance its 2023 budget, which represents a 3.7 per cent increase from 2022.

The external agency with the single-largest requested increase over 2022 funding is the KFPL Board, which asked for a five per cent increase, for a total municipal investment of $7.29 million in 2023. As per an agreement between the City of Kingston and the County of Frontenac, established in 1998, the City is expected to fund 87 per cent of KFPL’s yearly operating costs.

The Kingston Police Services board then submitted a request for just under $50 million in funding from the City, resulting in a four per cent increase compared to the municipality’s contributions in 2022. The final external agency to submit its 2023 budget to Council was the Downtown Kingston BIA, which requested a four per cent increase, for a total of $1.4 million in support from the municipality.

After the presentations from external agencies wrapped up, Council then entered into a recess, with the budget meetings resuming on Tuesday evening.

City department heads take the floor during night two

During the second budget meeting on Tuesday night, councillors shifted their focus to the 2023 Operating and Capital Budgets, excluding municipal utilities. In total, Councillors are being asked to support a $426,809,207 General Municipal Operating Budget, as well as a $114,718,442 Capital Budget. Included in the operating budget is a 2.3 per cent property tax increase for local taxpayers.

Councillors are also being asked to approve a 0.16 per cent increase for green standard community improvement incentives, as well as a 0.7 per cent increase to support the City’s efforts to combat homelessness. The total tax increase of 3.16 per cent for 2023 represents an increase of $116 to Kingston homeowners, with an average residential market assessment of $328,100.

Before deliberations could take place, councillors first heard presentations from City of Kingston department heads. First to take the floor on Tuesday was Desirée Kennedy, the City’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Treasurer, who explained the function of this year’s budget. “The operating budget does maintain service levels, it does consider some growth-related service demands, and… it reflects some of the challenges with inflation.”

Due to assessment growth of 1.1 per cent in 2023, providing $2.9 million to the operating budget, Kennedy noted the City was able to keep the property tax increase as low as possible. “If we didn’t have that [assessment growth], the 2.3 [per cent increase] would be 3.4 per cent,” she stated.

A graphic showing how Kingston’s tax rate increases compare to other municipalities. Screen captured image.

In terms of how the City of Kingston tax rate increases for 2023 compared to other municipalities, Kingston’s increase of 2.46 per cent (not including the 0.7 per cent increase for homelessness), is below the 4.6 per cent average of comparator municipalities. “Staff do monitor what other municipalities are doing… we are one of [if not] the lowest across other municipalities,” Kennedy said.

Along with the budgets for 2023, City Councillors were also presented with a three-year forecast, which shows tax increases of five per cent in 2024, 3.7 per cent in 2025, and 3.6 per cent in 2026. Kennedy noted these are “internal” projections at this time, with firm numbers for 2024 expected in November.

“We are not presenting you with a five per cent tax rate increase for 2024. This is an internal document, an internal tool, that the departments use to give us a bit of a long-term projection of what’s coming down the road,” she explained.

After Kennedy addressed the budgets as a whole, City of Kingston department heads presented councillors with their individual budgets for 2023. Brad Joyce, the City’s Commissioner of Transportation and Public Works, brought forward a budget of $83.7 million for the year, an increase of 0.6 per cent over 2022. The Commissioner also addressed some of his department’s capital projects for 2023, which include 5 km of active transportation along Bayrdige Drive, 13 new pedestrian crossings in the city, as well as 30 new Community Safety Zones near Kingston-area schools.

Up next was Commissioner Paige Agnew, who presented the $31.5 million Community Services budget, which includes an increase of $1.9 million over 2022, or 6.55 per cent. Included in Agnew’s budget is $14.4 million on housing for 2023, which represents a 12 per cent increase in spending over last year.

A further breakdown is housing spending shows $26.8 million on existing projects — such as an affordable housing project currently being built at 1316 Princess Street — as well as $12.3 million earmarked for capital projects, including $10 million on new affordable housing projects. It should be noted the capital projects are dependent on provincial funding.

After Agnew’s presentation, Council concluded its activities for the night, with proceedings set to resume on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. inside Council Chambers. Wednesday night’s meeting will include the final department head presentations, after which councillors will deliberate and then vote on the 2023 Operating and Capital Budgets.

As always, the public meetings can be viewed (live or afterward) on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel, and all agendas and accompanying documents can be read on the City of Kingston website.

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