Kingston Police report shows student gatherings continue to stretch police finances

Kingston Police Headquarters. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Kingston Police Chief Scott Fraser and Director of Finance Scarlet Eyles published their Operating Budget Status Update report for Q4 (fourth quarter) 2023 in advance of the monthly meeting of the Kingston Police Services Board on Thursday, Mar. 21, 2024,

While most revenues and expenditures were within budget, the report notes that — just as reported last quarter and in years before — post-secondary student mass gatherings put significant pressure on Kingston Police, making it difficult to manage expenditures and remain within budget.

As of the end of December, total costs to police these gatherings were $581,000, compared to approximately $1.2 million in 2022 — representing an over 50 per cent decrease in those costs. However, while expenditures are significantly lower, the year-end results include $147,000 for the St. Patrick’s Day events within the University District, $61,000 incurred during September (move-in weekend and weekends leading up to Homecoming), and $373,000 to police Homecoming weekend. 

The report states that staff would have achieved a year-end surplus position without these unbudgeted costs. 

The report points out that Kingston Police implemented several measures to reduce expenses and manage discretionary spending, and were able to use additional grants and other funding opportunities to limit the overall impact on the budget.

“A large portion of these costs are unavoidable to ensure public safety and follow recommended guidelines and regulations,” the report notes. 

Operating revenue and expenditure results

The overall results show a total net cost of $44.6 million for the twelve months ending December 31, 2023, compared to a budget of $44.4 million. Gross revenues and expenditures, as reported, show actual revenues of approximately $5.8 million compared to a budget of $5.3 million, and expenditures of $50.4 million compared to a budget of $49.7 million. 

Table via ‘Operating Budget Status Update as of December 31, 2023 (Q4)’ report to the KPSB, published March 13, 2024.

The majority of revenues exceeded projections. The report notes that provincial grant revenues equalled $2.5 million, or 115 per cent of the annual budget, resulting in a year-to-date surplus of $324,000. 

However, total net annual expenditures were $50.4 million, or 101.56 per cent of the approved expenditure budget. The report notes that increased staffing costs are impacting fiscal year-end results. Inflation also impacted several expenditures, but efforts were made to manage the level of discretionary spending to offset inflationary pressures where possible. 

Salaries and wages were $43 million, or 101.64 per cent of the annual budget, resulting in a year-to-date unfavourable variance of approximately $696,000. Budget pressures were experienced in absentee costs related to WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) incidents, other leaves, and accommodations, as well as additional overtime costs incurred to police mass gatherings. 

Some “significant variances” were noted in the report. For example, full-time wages came in under budget, primarily due to staff vacancies, turnover, and the timing of new hires. Part-time wages are unfavourable, reflecting backfill requirements due to staff vacancies, primarily in the communications centre. The report points out that, like other police services, the Kingston Police Force continues to experience challenges in recruiting for vacant positions.

Overtime costs exceeded projections at the end of December. According to the report, overtime costs are highly dependent on the occurrence of major incidents. For example, $355,000 of unbudgeted costs were incurred for policing post-secondary mass gatherings. A further $78,000 was attributed to the March 2023 Collins Bay shooting incident. Local rallies and protests supporting each side of the ongoing conflict in Gaza accounted for $19,000 of overtime costs.

However, this unfavourable variance was offset by overtime savings across departments, the report notes.

As the four collective agreements expired on December 31, 2022, the year-end budget results include an estimated labour contract settlement amount.

Supplies and services were $7.1 million, or 100.33 per cent of the annual budget, an unfavourable variance of $24,000. This category includes costs such as uniforms and protective clothing, utilities, gasoline and diesel fuel, insurance, fleet parts and tires, telecommunications, education, and training. The report notes that uniform and protective clothing costs were higher than projected, reflecting supply chain issues, inflation, upgrades to safety elements, and new regulations.

Contracted services and contracted maintenance include asset maintenance and support contracts and other service contracts, including cleaning services, “winter control,” and city building maintenance charges. Professional services include legal and consulting services.

In response to Kingstonist inquiries, the KPSB confirmed that “winter control” refers to snow removal, sanding, salting, etc. at Kingston Police Headquarters and garages.

According to the report, software is over budget due to increased information technology (IT) software costs. Meanwhile, education and training costs are favourable, reflecting the Ontario government’s elimination of police college tuition effective January 1, 2023. Utilities are $150,000 lower than budget due to lower-than-anticipated electricity rates combined with less consumption.

Investigative services include $238,000 of unbudgeted costs to support policing the University District events. The report suggests this is due to reinforcements from other police agencies providing additional staffing resources. Additional grants from the Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario (CISO) have assisted with financing investigations, helping to offset the costs, according to the report.

The report concludes by noting that departments work with finance staff to review variances regularly and seek opportunities to offset cost pressures. Unforeseen circumstances, situations, or activities, such as spikes in crime rates or activities, protests, and unsanctioned gatherings always present challenges to a police budget, the authors of the report note.

The Police Services Board holds its regular meeting on the third Thursday of each month, beginning at 12 noon in the William Hackett Boardroom at Kingston Police Headquarters, 705 Division Street. The next meeting is Thursday, Mar. 21, 2024. The agenda and all reports on it can be viewed here.

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