Kingston City Council wrapped up their 2021 budget deliberations on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 after three nights of meetings with staff and agency representatives.
Council approved a General Municipal Operating budget of $384,133,729, with a Municipal Capital budget of $58,750,013. The budget maintains a property tax rate of 2.4 per cent.
Additionally, Council voted to approve a $229,570 operating budget for Finance and Administration, Chief Adminstrative Office, Strategic Initiatives; a $6,011,301 operating budget for Community Services, Long-term care; a $3,363,362 budget for Kingston Access Services and a $1,050,000 transfer to the Hospital Foundation.
The budget vote was sub-divided to allow councillors to recuse themselves from voting on certain items where they had declared a pecuniary interest.
Council decided Thursday night to amend the budget, adding $1 million from the Working Fund Reserve as additional financial support to local businesses, not-for-profits and arts groups.
“We’ve heard that the effects of the pandemic have been uneven,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson, who tabled the amendment. “This is a tough time for everybody but we know that it has been particularly devastating for those in particular sectors. Some business owners and employees are at risk of losing everything.”
The additional funding includes $600,000 to be transferred to the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO) for distribution as financial relief to the small businesses “most impacted” by the pandemic. A further $200,000 was allocated to recreation and social service not-for-profit organizations, as well as $200,000 for artists and arts not-for-profit organizations in the City.
“I appreciate certainly all of the programs that the provincial and federal governments have brought forward,” Mayor Paterson noted. “This is really … about what the City can do on top of that.”
Councillor Simon Chapelle raised concerns that Council was making the amendment without fully assessing which at-risk businesses had taken advantage of federal or provincial programs.
“I think this requires a much longer, larger conversation,” Chapelle said. “We haven’t had an opportunity as a Council to sit around a table to talk about how, right now, our entire economy is being held afloat by a variety of subsidies….It can’t go on forever.”
“I am not fully aware of if we are duplicating efforts and I don’t want to be doing that,” he said. Chapelle and Councillor Peter Stroud voted against the $600,000 for businesses, but in favour of the remaining $400,000.
Councillor Robert Kiley said that he felt it was imperative that Council make the $1 million relief available, adding that it might not be enough, and further help might be required.
The amendment included directions to staff to develop temporary eligibility criteria for each new relief fund, and implement a strategy to replenish $1 million to the Working Fund Reserve in future budgets.
Council also passed a new motion put forward by Councillor Jeff McLaren and seconded by Councillor Rob Hutchison calling for out-of-the-box thinking from City Staff. They’ve requested staff develop “doable, sustainable, blue sky” options to reduce costs in the short, medium and long-term for local businesses, non-profits and artists.
During their third night of review of the annual budget report, Council also heard from City CAO Lanie Hurdle, Commissioner Peter Huigenbos, Commissioner Brad Joyce and Director, Strategy, Innovation and Partnerships, Craig Desjardins with in-depth presentations about all aspects of City operations.
Desjardins talked extensively about the work of the Kingston Economic Recovery Task Force, highlighting that Kingston’s unemployment rate has decreased steadily between August 2020 at 10.1 percent and December 2020 at 5.9 per cent.
Hurdle’s presentation included highlights from the Housing and Social Services budgets, such as over $2 million in funding from the Social Services Relief Fund which temporarily supports the Integrated Care Hub and COVID-19 impacted services. She also noted a $900,000 reduction in administration and salary expenditures in that department, implemented through attrition.
The full details of the municipal budget meeting agenda can be found here. All three of the meetings can be viewed in full on the City’s YouTube Channel, and are summarized on the City’s Twitter feed.
Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, kingstonist.com