Canada

Kingston homeowners face 2.4% tax hike as pandemic hits municipal revenues

Kingston city councillors will hear some good news and bad news when they gather virtually next week to open the 2021 budget talks.

Despite plunging municipal revenues and other financial pressures caused by the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, city staff managed to bring in a balanced budget of more than $393.8 million, which represents a spending increase of $3.3 million over last year.

Then, the bad news.

Taxpayers can expect to dig a little deeper to fund municipal programs and services.

If city council approves the budget recommendation from staff, property taxes will rise by about 2.4 per cent this year, which represents an extra $88 on an average tax bill of $3,778.

The 2.4 per cent increase is in line with council’s pre-determined tax target for 2021.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: How Kingston will navigate the State of Emergency

The proposed tax hike includes 1.4 per cent to cover extra operating costs and inflation, plus another one per cent infrastructure tax that will be earmarked for road repairs, new municipal vehicles, equipment purchases and other capital expenses.

The proposed increase could go even higher based on a previous council decision to add a separate line on tax bills starting in 2021 to reflect the city’s annual share to co-fund Frontenac County’s Fairmount seniors home and Frontenac land ambulance.

The city’s multi-million-dollar share of funding for Frontenac land ambulance and Fairmount Home for the Aged will be placed on a separate line on this year’s property tax bill.
The city’s multi-million-dollar share of funding for Frontenac land ambulance and Fairmount Home for the Aged will be placed on a separate line on this year’s property tax bill.

“Beginning in 2021, the City’s share of these services will be funded as a separate component on the City’s property tax billing, based on an annual requisition received from the County,” according to the budget report from Desiree Kennedy, chief financial officer and city treasurer.

Story continues below advertisement

The city’s share for county-run services is about $11 million a year, which is now removed from the operating budget and installed as a separate tax line that will remind homeowners of the extra cost every year if there is extra funding needed for the nursing home and ambulance service.

Read more: Kingston's paramedic costs expected to rise

City hall’s yearly budget talks, usually held in the late fall but delayed to January because of the pandemic’s uncertainty, are scheduled to unfold over three nights on Jan. 26, 27 and 28 with final approval of the operating, capital and utilities budgets set for Feb. 16.

Trending Stories

The weighty document makes several references to the pandemic’s financial toll on city coffers during the past year and projections of a financial impact that could stretch on for years.

Kingston Transit revenues are expected to be down by over 50 per cent in 2021, while staff say it could take three years for ridership levels to recover from the pandemic.
Kingston Transit revenues are expected to be down by over 50 per cent in 2021, while staff say it could take three years for ridership levels to recover from the pandemic. CKWS TV

The city says it has lost millions of dollars in revenues from transit, parking, recreation and other services during the pandemic, listing examples:

Story continues below advertisement

  • Transit revenues have been budgeted at 45 per cent of normal levels, a reduction of $4 million, while ridership levels will take about three years to return to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Recreation and cultural revenues have been budgeted at 51 per cent of normal levels, a reduction of $5.7 million over 2020, due to the closure or scaled-back operation of municipal rinks, Leon’s Centre, Grand Theatre and recreational programs.
  • Parking revenue budgets are down by $383,000 over 2020 budgeted amounts due to reduced demand for parking permits as a result of employees working from home and limited shopping and event capacity.
  • Airport revenues are decreasing 48 per cent, or $873,000 over 2020 budget estimates, because of travel restrictions and reduced flights.

Despite the ongoing drop in revenues, the city had some good news to end 2020 — more COVID-19 relief funding from the province, which ultimately helped Kingston bring in a balanced budget of matching expenses and revenues.

The province’s Safe Restart Funding program in 2020 delivered $7.2 million in pandemic-related funding to assist with Kingston’s operating costs in the first phase, $5.4 million in the second phase, plus another $1.4 million so far this year.

Read more: Kingston receives emergency pandemic funding

Kennedy says the money will be “used to help offset reduced revenues anticipated as a result of the pandemic.”

Story continues below advertisement

The 2021 operating budget is also leaner in wages and benefits for civic workers, down about $945,000 from last year as the city expects pandemic-related staff reductions, delayed hirings and reduced overtime to continue impacting departments like transit, recreation and cultural services.

Non-union salaries and council’s own pay rates will also remain frozen in 2021.

Despite calls to defund Kingston police, the recommended police budget is set to rise by 3.6 percent in 2021.
Despite calls to defund Kingston police, the recommended police budget is set to rise by 3.6 percent in 2021. CKWS TV

Read more: Kingston police to study issues of systemic racism

Amid recent public calls to defund Kingston police as part of the Black Lives Matter movement — highlighted in recent public consultation on the budget — the police services board is seeking a 3.6 per cent increase in spending, boosting the crime-fighting budget to a record $41.1 million in 2021.

Read more: Black Lives Matter vigil in Kingston

Story continues below advertisement

Council has asked the police chief to deliver a briefing on Jan. 19 “to provide further information on how the police budget is constructed to deal with the concerns raised by BIPOC and Black Lives Matter and how those elements are related to other priorities included in the 2021 police budget.”

On the capital spending side, the 2021 budget includes $62 million in new spending for a variety of projects and purchases, including regular road repairs and affordable housing initiatives, plus other one-time expenses such as transit fare box replacement, turtle fencing on Highway 2 near Westbrook, solar panels on the Kingston East community centre and repairing the limestone steps and walkways around city hall.

Football news:

Nikolic was sent off for arguing with the referee over a CSKA penalty. He got two yellows in 10 seconds
Ronald Koeman: Barcelona must win every game. Proud of the team
Gerard Pique: I'm proud of Barca. The team showed that they are still alive
Guardiola on 20 consecutive wins: One of the major achievements of his career, given the schedule, the pandemic
Lopetegui received a yellow card, demanding to remove Messi in the match Sevilla - Barcelona
Messi has 22 (18+4) points in 23 games for Barca in La Liga
Nemanja Matic: For Manchester United, every game is a final. We will lose points - it will be difficult to catch up with City