During the final night of a three-evening marathon budget session, Kingston City Council officially approved the 2023 Operating and Capital Budgets on Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023, which will result in a $124 tax increase for the average homeowner. The 2023 budgets weren’t passed without some significant amendments from councillors who approved new spending increases to fund things like additional firefighters and crossing guards in the city.
The first amendment to the budget saw councillors approve an increase of $740,000 to the 2023 Municipal Operating Budget for Public Works (Kingston Fire and Rescue), to facilitate the hiring of 12 new firefighters in 2023. Back in December, Council approved a new operational planning model for Kingston Fire and Rescue (KFR). During that meeting, it was noted the number of career firefighters in the west end has remained unchanged since 2003.
Staff had initially intended to add 12 new firefighters to the service between 2024 and 2027, eventually reaching a ratio of 35 firefighters per platoon, with the amendment aiming to accelerate those new hires.
“[A] report was presented to Council several months ago to increase the staffing of firefighters… This is something that’s been neglected… for the last twenty years. The west end population has grown by 33 per cent over that time, with no increase in firefighters… which has increased response times [for] residents in those areas,” noted Paul Chaves, Councillor for Loyalist-Cataraqui District, the mover of the motion to amend.
Chaves’ amendment drew a significant amount of debate from Council, as members looked for ways to minimize the overall impact on the CIty’s property tax rate. Mayor Bryan Paterson voiced some concern over the potential impact such an increase could have on the City’s other priorities, such as housing. “Obviously, fire service is very important… my concern is, we need homelessness supports. If we don’t invest in those, we’re going to have to close some of our shelters, because we won’t have funding for them.”
Council did end up approving a motion to allocate $340,000 for new firefighters from the City’s Working Fund Reserve, while the remaining $400,000 will be covered by a 0.16 per cent tax increase for local residents. “I think this gets us to where we need to be. It lowers the impact on our overall tax rate… we get the 12 [new firefighters]… and we can resolve this issue,” said Kingscourt-Rideau Councillor Brandon Tozzo, who moved the motion to amend Chaves’ amendment.
Chaves’ motion, as amended, passed by a vote of 11-2, with Mayor Paterson and Countryside District Councillor Gary Oosterhof opposed. After the amendment for additional firefighters, Councillors then debated a motion to amend the Capital Budget for Transportation and Public Works, to provide the City’s engineering department with an additional $3,000,000 for “road rehabilitation.” The motion, moved by Williamsville District Councillor, and current Deputy Mayor, Vincent Cinanni, called for an increase to be funded through the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund.
“I was thinking we could try to get ahead on our road maintenance to try to save costs later… Some of our roads are tired looking… [Currently], we’re just doing the bare minimum that we can do… This doesn’t increase taxes and it will eventually need to be done anyway,” said Cinanni. The motion to amend passed by unanimous approval from Council.
Meadowbrook-Strathcona Councillor Jeff McClaren then took the floor, as he tabled a motion to increase the Municipal Operating Budget for Transportation and Public Works by $75,000, in order to fund four additional crossing guard locations in the city. “One of the things that I did hear a lot of in my district is there [are] four schools, and two of them feel that the changes in behaviour [with] people driving their kids to school, necessities the need for more [crossing] guards,” McClaren remarked.
The additional funding for new crossing guards, which includes a tax increase of 0.03 per cent, passed by a vote of 11-2, with Councillors Ridge and Oosterhof opposed. It was Councillor Oosterhof who seemed to take issue with the ways other members were adding additional increases to the budget, instead of waiting for the upcoming strategic planning sessions to advocate for the needs of their constituents.
“I don’t know if this is the [right] time. We’re going to have strategic planning, [which is when] we can bring [forward] our concerns and what we would like to see in our districts… I’ve never seen this before, [where] we’re adding to the budget every time. Why wouldn’t we just wait for strategic planning?” asked the Councillor.
When it came time to debate the budgets as amended, Mayor Paterson reflected on the overall impact such spending increases will have on local taxpayers. “A number of times tonight we’ve talked about ‘this is only another dollar or another $10.’ But, it’s cumulative, that’s how you get to the number you get to. It’s not splitting hairs, there’s a principle piece here.”
While the Mayor seemed to express some concern with the increased spending in the 2023 budgets, he spoke positively about the deliberations process.“I very much appreciate the debate and discussion around the table… I think it’s important that Council [has] seen what has probably been one of the most extensive budget deliberations that I’ve seen, certainly in my time on Council.”
City Council ultimately approved the 2023 General and Operating Budgets by a vote of 12-1, with Mayor Paterson the lone vote against. For 2023, the City of Kingston will have a General Municipal Operating Budget of $422,926,437, and a Municipal Capital Budget of $106,858,349. Asked by Kingstonist why he voted against the 2023 budgets, Mayor Paterson said, “the budget passed with a property tax increase that is among the lowest of other cities across the province, but it wasn’t as low as it could have been. I thought it was important to make [a] statement because I think, this year, perhaps more than any other, people are really struggling financially.”
As for whether there were any items the Mayor would have liked to see cut from the approved budgets, Paterson pointed to the funding for 12 new firefighters. “I absolutely do think that we need to make more investments in fire services. But, I appreciated the plan that staff had [prepared], which was to bring those additional services in at a slower rate, to be able to hold the property tax increase lower.”
A total tax increase of 3.35 per cent includes a Council tax rate increase of 2.3 per cent, as well as special increases for the following initiatives:
- Green Standard Community Improvement program (0.16 per cent)
- Homelessness and supportive housing (0.7 per cent)
- 12 additional firefighters (0.16 per cent)
- four additional crossing guards (0.03 per cent)
With the budgets now approved, the average Kingston homeowner will see an additional $124 on their property tax bill for 2023. Wednesday’s meeting also saw councillors approve the 15-year capital expenditure forecast, a Capital Works Progress Listing as of November 30, 2022, and the Municipal Reserve Fund Schedules of continuity.