The price to police partying in Kingston, Ont.'s university district is costing the force resources that could be used to investigate minor crimes and hire new staff, according to a new report.
A budget update submitted to the Kingston Police Services Board Thursday notes revenues and spending are adding up as expected, but there is one exception threatening balanced books.
"Student mass gatherings continue to put significant pressure on the Kingston Police fiscal circumstances, making it difficult to manage and forecast overall expenditures," it reads.
Staffing for most weekends costs between $10,000 and $15,000, but that figure balloons to more than $100,000 during mass gatherings and street parties, said acting police Chief Scott Fraser.
"We've deferred some hirings," he said, adding while they weren't front-line positions, that money spent patrolling parties was meant for other purposes.
"It's got an impact and the cost isn't necessarily seen just in dollars and cents," the chief added. "It's behind the scenes as well."
Acting Kingston Police Chief Scott Fraser speaks during a Kingston Police Services Board Meeting on Sept. 21, 2023. (Dan Taekema/CBC)
By the end of the second fiscal quarter, the force had racked up $147,000 in unanticipated costs covering St. Patrick's Day celebrations, the report notes.
This year's move-in weekend was also an exceptionally busy one, with police and bylaw officers handing out more than 300 charges and fines, compared to about 46 the previous year.
Police also had to patrol at a pier and public park after they were shut to the public between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. for several days at the start of the school year after unsanctioned gatherings posing "major safety risks" happened there.
Tough to budget for parties
Despite a recent warning from the chief about tough enforcement, tickets have continued to be written at a high rate.
Last weekend alone, six people were charged with underage drinking, 107 tickets were issued for open liquor and two highway traffic charges were given, police said.
Expenses are expected to continue rising as the year goes on, according to the report, which blames partying for the force's financial situation.
"Aside from these unbudgeted costs incurred, staff would project a balanced net operating position by year-end, staying within the approved budget," it reads.
A bylaw official uses a megaphone to tell partiers to get down from a roof on Aberdeen Street or they'll be ticketed during a street party on March 18, 2023. (Dan Taekema/CBC)
The report said that "since no compensation or reimbursement is anticipated," police have taken steps to reduce spending in other areas.
Those include deferring the hiring of new and replacement staff in non-critical areas, decreasing spending on minor crime investigations and cutting back on discretionary spending wherever possible.
Fraser said the force is trying to "squeeze every dollar" it can to offset the costs, but described it as a "big challenge."
University offered $750K over 5 years
In February 2022, Queen's University announced it would provide $150,000 each year for the next five years in recognition of the impact on city services.
"The university felt that a financial contribution to the City was an appropriate way to acknowledge and address some of the additional pressures placed on our municipal services throughout the year," said principal and vice-chancellor Patrick Deane in a media release at the time.
The funding followed the launch of a task force created to take on the issue of large street parties.
To date, that task force has offered up recommendations for limiting mass gatherings, but a final report that was promised by last fall has yet to be delivered.
An empty bottle and other pieces of litter are strewn on a street in Kingston, Ont., after authorities cleared out a large party on March 18, 2023, the day after St. Patrick's Day. (Dan Taekema/CBC)
In order to address budget issues, police are also pursuing grants and other funding opportunities while preparing for homecoming and other major events where partying has occurred in years past.
"A large portion of these costs are unavoidable," the report concludes, explaining they're necessary to ensure public safety.
Fraser anticipates the revelry will continue ahead of homecoming near the end of next month, but said he believes increased enforcement will help students get the message that the party is over.