Kingston City Council’s 2024 municipal budget deliberations process is now underway. On Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, Council members met for the first night of budget talks and received reports from the City’s various external agencies.
The meeting began with an introduction by Mayor Bryan Paterson, who presented the budget to councillors with support from City staff. The mayor described the experience of drafting the 2024 budget as “one of the most difficult budget processes that I have seen in my time in Council.” While Paterson has held the Office of the Mayor since 2014, he was first elected to Council in 2010.
The proposed 2024 Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets mark the first budgets prepared under the ‘strong mayor’ powers which were handed down to Mayor Paterson last year. Under the new powers, the mayor is the one who directs staff to prepare the budget; he then presents the document to councillors for their approval.
On Monday night, Paterson reflected on the collaboration between himself and City staff that made this year’s budget possible.
“This has been very much a collaborative process with staff. This is a budget that has been pulled together by the excellent administrative team that we have here… Everyone’s been involved in putting this budget together,” he said.
The 2024 Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets — which include $477 million in operating costs and $131 million in capital expenses — will see property tax rates in the city climb by 3.5 per cent compared to last year. According to Paterson, the increase is consistent with directions set in the City’s Strategic Plan.
The mayor noted, “That was, in my view, a collective decision from Council when we met last year and put together our Strategic Plan. We had agreed that 3.5 per cent or lower was the target… Although I certainly made that commitment as mayor, I also felt that was a commitment we were making as a council.”
Paterson added that the increase of 3.5 per cent is one of “the lowest among all large cities across Ontario.” According to a staff report that was distributed in advance of Monday’s meeting, the only “larger municipality” in Ontario with a 2024 property tax increase below 3.5 per cent is the City of Ottawa, which saw a 2.5 per cent increase for 2024.
After the mayor addressed Council, representatives also heard from Desirée Kennedy, Chief Financial Officer and City Treasurer, who outlined a number of challenges that influenced the 2024 budget, including inflation, post-pandemic recovery, and recruitment difficulties.
“We’re pretty proud of this budget… It definitely was a tough one,” Kennedy said.
The treasurer added that the 3.5 per cent tax increase includes a 1.0 per cent incremental capital levy: “It’s 2.5 per cent for operating and a 1.0 per cent increase going to our capital reserve funds.”
Councillors hear from external agencies
The bulk of Monday’s meeting focused on presentations from external agencies and boards, which, combined, are set to receive $74 million through the 2024 Municipal Operating Budget, representing a budgetary increase of 5.2 per cent over 2023. On Monday night, councillors heard from 14 separate agencies, including the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), Tourism Kingston, and the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, who outlined their budgetary requirements for 2024.
Representatives from KEDCO began the evening’s presentations. The agency has requested a 2.5 per cent increase in municipal funding ($37,531), representing a total municipal contribution of $1.4 million. According to KEDCO board chair Anne Vivian-Scott, the agency’s 2024 operating budget will allow it to “support local businesses,” while continuing to work on the Integrated Economic Development Strategy.
Donna Gillespie, CEO of KEDCO, added that municipal contributions account for 43 per cent of the organization’s budget, which also includes additional financial support from upper levels of government. For 2024, KEDCO’s proposed operating budget includes $1.35 million in funding from the federal government and an additional $427,000 from the province of Ontario.
Meanwhile, Tourism Kingston has requested an additional 4.0 per cent in funding for its 2024 operating budget, representing an increase of approximately $60,000, bringing the total municipal commitment up to $1.59 million for the year.
The biggest request for increased funding heard Monday night came from Kingston Police, as the Police Services Board (PSB) has asked the City for an additional $2.7 million in funding, 6.1 per cent more than the organization received in 2023. According to Chief of Police Scott Fraser, the additional funding from the City would include a $400,000 contribution from the municipal working fund reserve, to cover costs associated with policing post-secondary student gatherings.
Fraser explained, “All of that money is in relation to mass gatherings and policing those types of events, [which was] not in our budget prior [but is] in our budget now.”
Scarlet Eyles, Director of Finance for the PSB, added that the City will be recommending an additional $50,000 be added to the Kingston Police operating budget to “offset one-half the cost of an officer to patrol the downtown core,” thereby reducing the total net budget requested by PSB to 47.0 million, or a 5.99 per cent increase.
In comparing the budget requests of Kingston Police to other police forces in the province, Fraser noted a 7.83 per cent average budgetary increase across the board, with some municipalities such as Peterborough seeing their police budget increase by more than 15 per cent.
When it came time for questions from councillors, Sydenham representative Conny Glenn asked why only $400,000 was being requested to cover parties in the university district. Eyles replied that the budget already includes a $100,000 contribution from Queen’s University to offset a portion of the related costs.
Additional external agency budget requests are as follows:
- Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (5.4 per cent increase)
- Kingston Access Services (5.8 per cent increase)
- Kingston Frontenac Public Library Board (2.9 per cent increase)
- KFL&A Public Health (2.5 per cent increase)
- Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (4.0 per cent increase)
Included in the City’s transfers to agencies and boards for 2024 is 6.4 million worth of transfers to capital reserve funds, to cover projects for Kingston Police Services, Kingston Frontenac Public Library, and Kingston Access Services.
Budget talks resume Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers. Council will receive reports from City departments before the 2024 Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets are deliberated and voted on. During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors will have an opportunity to propose various amendments to the budget, if they so choose. Tuesday’s meeting will also include a report on how the 2024 budget process was impacted by Mayor Paterson’s ‘Strong Mayor’ powers, as well as a review of the 2024 budget engagement results.
If necessary, budget deliberations may be carried over to Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, if Council is unable to approve the budgets in a timely manner at the meeting this evening (which can be streamed live or watched afterward on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.
Kingstonist will provide further coverage of the budget meetings as they continue.