2024 municipal budget talks continued on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, as councillors met for the second night of deliberations at Kingston City Hall. Having heard from the mayor, City financial staff, and external agencies on the first night of deliberations on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, councillors at Tuesday’s meeting heard presentations from City of Kingston departments before formally approving the 2024 Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets.
Due to the ‘strong mayor’ powers assigned to Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson last year, this year’s budget deliberations looked quite different from those in the past. In previous years, councillors would deliberate and formally approve the Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets. Under the new rules, the mayor directs staff to prepare the budget; he then presents the document to councillors, who can choose to amend the budget if necessary.
As previously reported, for 2024, Paterson and City staff have recommended a $477 million Municipal Operating Budget to cover gross operating expenditures, excluding utilities, alongside $131 million to cover capital expenses. In total, the 2024 budget is expected to result in a 3.5 per cent increase in the municipal property tax rate, with 1.0 reserved for capital purposes.
While Council does have the ability to amend the budget during the deliberations process, the mayor has the power to veto any amendments. If he chooses to exercise his veto powers, councillors then have the ability to override the mayoral vetoes by a 2/3 majority vote.
Before deliberations got underway, Council spent most of Tuesday’s meeting hearing presentations from various City departments, which account for $163.29 million of the 2024 total taxation levy requirement. The 2024 operating budgets for City departments are as follows:
- Infrastructure, Transportation, and Emergency Services: $89.1 million (an increase of $4.84 million over the 2023 Operating Budget, or 5.7 per cent)
- Growth and Development Services: $4.8 million (an increase of $167,000, or 3.6 per cent)
- Community Services: $43.58 million (an increase of $1.53 million, or 3.6 per cent)
- Corporate Services: $16.12 million (an increase of $1.12 million, or 7.5 per cent)
- Finance and Administration: $9.71 million (an increase of $560,000, or 6.1 per cent)
The 2024 gross operating expenditures, excluding utilities, total $477 million, an increase of $23.9 million (5.3 per cent) over the 2023 approved budget. According to a report from staff, the 2024 Operating Budget is offset by non-tax revenues of $187 million, as well as $18 million worth of payments in lieu of taxes (PILs) from upper levels of government, requiring $272 million to be raised through taxation.
The 2024 budget also includes funding for a number of capital projects, including a $30 million investment in roads, bridges, and stormwater, as well as $10.2 million to replace six Kingston Transit buses with electric vehicles.
After examining the budgets for City departments, councillors then moved into the deliberations portion of the meeting, in which they were able to put forward motions to amend the document. First up was Trillium District Councillor Jimmy Hassan, who proposed an amendment to the Capital Budget for the office of the City’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) — under Finance and Administration — by adding $1.0 million from the Working Fund Reserve “for the continued support of family physician recruitment.”
According to a presentation from CAO Lanie Hurdle, delivered earlier Tuesday night, the City’s Family Physician Recruitment Incentive Program has been able to attract 13 new family doctors since 2022, thanks in part to a $2 million commitment from the previous Council, while two additional physicians are expected to be added by mid-2024.
Hassan noted, “This is something [that] is not hidden or new… The issue has not been resolved,” he said, referencing reports that thousands of Kingstonians are currently in search of a full-time family doctor.
Hassan added, “I know… it’s not our jurisdiction, but I don’t look [at] it that way. As a Council, as the local government of the City, I think it is our obligation to not leave our citizens [at] the mercy of other people’s decisions,” and he urged the provincial government to support the City in its efforts.
As for how the additional funds would be used, Hurdle noted staff are preparing to report back to Council in February with an overview of how the program has worked so far, as well as potential recommended changes. She explained that if councillors were to approve the additional funding through the budgetary amendment, the future report could include additional options for the program, such as the recruitment of nurse practitioners.
Hassan’s motion to amend the budget generated significant discussion about the various health-care needs within the local community. In order to make the recruitment campaign more inclusive of other health-care professionals, Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn, who is currently serving as Deputy Mayor, proposed an amendment to the amendment, changing the wording from “family physician recruitment” to “the continued recruitment of health professionals in support of primary care.”
However, based on comments from Hurdle, who confirmed the February report will include options for additional health-care professionals, many representatives felt the additional amendment was unnecessary, and it failed to pass when put to a vote.
After voting down Glenn’s motion to amend the amendment, councillors turned their attention back to Hassan’s original motion. Mayor Paterson spoke in favour of the amendment and described it as an appropriate use of the Working Fund Reserve: “This is money that we’ve saved up through good financial management from previous years.” Hassan’s motion ultimately passed unanimously, after which
Loyalist-Cataraqui District Councillor Paul Chaves then introduced a motion to amend the Operating Budget for Infrastructure, Transportation, and Emergency Services by adding $40,000 from the Working Fund Reserve to cover four additional crossing guards beginning this fall “at locations… determined by staff.”
To prevent additional debate on the matter, Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme introduced a motion to immediately call the amendment to question, which received the necessary 2/3 majority. Once the amendment was called to question, councillors voted 12-1 in support, with Meadowbrook-Strathcona representative Jeff McLaren the lone vote against.
Once members were finished amending the proposed budget, Paterson introduced a motion to close the 30-day window in which councillors can continue to bring forward budgetary amendments. Under the new strong mayor powers, councillors may continue to amend the budget for up to 30 days after it has been presented by the mayor.
Not all councillors agreed the amendment window should be prematurely closed. Glenn suggested the 30-day period was “there for a reason” and argued, “Shutting down the opportunity for discussion, debate, democratic change — I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to go.”
Some councillors disagreed with Glenn’s sentiments, and Boehme suggested clarity was needed from staff and the community. “We’re going to know what the tax increase is, we’re going to be able to be held up as comparator communities… This just is a way of solidifying the fact that we’ve had many, many days to look at this. The community as well has had many, many days to look at this and provide comments,” he noted.
According to the mayor, the 30-day window adds a level of unpredictability for City staff. “The problem that staff are in is that there’s the uncertainty that we may not actually get a budget finalized until late February. We’re already into 2024, and I think that this is going to cause a lot of excess headaches for staff,” he explained.
The motion to shorten the 30-day period to amend the proposed budget passed by a vote of 10-3, with McLaren, Glenn, and Kingscourt-Rideau’s Brandon Tozzo opposed.
Based on the new budget process in effect through the strong mayor powers, councillors did not officially vote to approve a 2024 Budget Bylaw. According to a report from staff, “After the process of amendments, vetoes and overrides has passed, the amended budget is deemed to have been passed.”
As confirmed to Kingstonist by representatives from the City, Mayor Paterson has since issued a Mayoral Decision “to shorten the 10-day period for the mayor to veto an amendment resolution passed by City Council to the proposed budget, effective January 16, 2024,” meaning the 2024 Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets are deemed to have been approved.
With the 2024 Municipal Operating and Capital Budgets now official, later this spring councillors will debate the final tax levy and rates for 2024. Since the 2024 education tax rate is still to be confirmed, the final property tax rate increase may differ from the 3.5 per cent increase noted within the budget.