| Feb 24, 2005

Feature artcle, February 24, 2005

Feature article February 24, 2005

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Frontenac County Budget rejected by Mayors

by Jeff Green

A funny thing happened on the way to passing the County budget last week. Three of the four Frontenac Mayors didnt like the 11% increase in the levy to taxpayers that it entailed and they voted to reject the budget as a whole.

This left Warden Bill MacDonald and County Chief Administrative Officer Elizabeth Fulton wondering what to do next.

The rejection of the draft budget wasnt entirely unexpected. It was widely known that the four member Council had been split down the middle on whether or not to approve a $776,000 expenditure proposed by Emergency Services Co-ordinator Paul Charbonneau for improvements to the ambulance service that was part of an earlier draft of the budget. Because the City of Kingston pays for 80% of the municipal portion of ambulance costs, County of Frontenac residents would have been paying $140,000 for the ambulance enhancements, about a 2% increase in their County levy.


Matters only became more difficult for the County budget when the implications of a Ministry of Labour decision ordering the County to establish meal breaks for paramedics was taken into account. This order will cost the service about $480,000 this year unless the County wins an appeal of the ruling.

By the time the draft budget estimates were presented to County Council for approval on February 16, there was an $834,000 increase in the ambulance budget.

Of that increase, about $420,000 was slated to cover for legislated meal breaks, $60,000 towards a new scheduler for the service, and about $350,000 towards enhancements to the service.

Paul Charbonneau told Council that the $350,000 enhancement included 8 hours per day of extra ambulance service for Kingston.

The enhancement included in this proposal puts an extra ambulance on the road for the two peak time periods faced in Kingston. It also includes putting a 12- hour ambulance on at Ompah in place of the Emergency First Response vehicle that is there currently, and a $7,000 enhancement to the service on Wolfe Island, Charbonneau said.

There were other options included as an addendum to the budget package, including one which would increase the ambulance budget by $1.2 million, which would cost County taxpayers $220,000. This option would fund the entire enhancement proposed by Charbonneau, as well as the extra 16 hours of ambulance time required for meal breaks.

The least expensive option, at a cost of $480,000, ($90,000 to County taxpayers), would cover only the meal breaks.

During the budget meeting on February 16, Mayor Jim VandenHoek of the Township of Frontenac Islands, said, We have to budget for the meal breaks; we have no choice, so I would like to see a budget document with that cost in it. Then we can look at enhancements to the service.

Vandenhoek also said that he would like to reconsider other items in the budget in order to see if money could be freed up to fund ambulance enhancements.

I realise that we have already passed the rest of the budget in principle, but that can be undone, VandenHoek said.

Mayor Ron Maguire of North Frontenac, attending the meeting through a telephone hook up, suggested that by going over the budget line by line, savings could be found that would help fund increased ambulance costs.

In my former career with the federal government, departments would be told to cut their budgets by 5 or 10 per cent by the Finance department, and they did, he said before asking about various administrative line items within the budget.

I realise some of these are small items, but if we take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves, he said.

Mayor Bill Lake from South Frontenac had trouble with the 11% increase.

We had a meeting in Sydenham on January 27 where the budget was presented to township Councillors. My Council didnt like the increase of ten and a half per cent. I cant come back to them with an 11 per cent increase, he said.

Marian VanBruinessen, the Financial Officer for the County, pointed out that an arbitrated settlement for shared services with the City of Kingston accounted for 5% of the increase, and legislated requirements for Fairmount Home account for an increase of almost 3%.

Only about 3% of the proposed increase actually comes from increases that we control, she said.

Mayor VandenHoek said he had a couple of items to discuss, but since they involved staffing they should be considered in camera.

Nothing came of the in camera session. Knowing that the budget may not pass, County CAO Elizabeth Fulton recommended that it would be preferable to amend the draft budget before voting. None of the Mayors suggested amendments, and the budget was defeated with only Warden MacDonald voting in favour of it.

Elizabeth Fulton was scheduled to leave the very next day for a ten-day holiday. She wont be back until March 1, and the Mayors will be meeting later that week to have another go at the County budget.

A frustrated Warden MacDonald said he didnt have time to reconsider the budget in the next two weeks in any event, and were planning to start working on our budget in Central Frontenac on the 1st of March, and now we wont know what the County numbers are going to be.

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