| Feb 03, 2005


Feature Article February 3, 2005

Feature article February 3, 2005

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County budget depresses Frontenac Councillors

by Jeff Green

All the talk of successes in the past year from County officials did little to lift the spirits of township Councillors from the four Frontenac Townships at a meeting held in Sydenham last Thursday night, January 27. A handout outlining a draft budget with a 10.41% increase in the County levy kept them in a sombre mood.

It didnt help the general mood when County staff and the four township mayors that make up County Council pointed out that most of the tax increases came from expenditures that the County does not control.

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County Treasurer Marion Vanbruinessen talked about the largest increase: an increase in the cost of shared services with the City of Kingston that is responsible for over half the budgetary increase, or 5.6%. Negotiations between the County and the City over the cost sharing formula for non-profit housing, child care, Ontario Works and the Ontario Drug Supplement Program ended up before an arbitration panel.

Although we are paying more than under the old agreement, we did keep the increase to a lower number than the City was hoping for, Vanbruinessen said.

Other factors in the budgetary increase included increased costs at Fairmount Home, much of which has come about, according to Fairmount Chief Administrator Julie Shillington, as the result of costly new regulations from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

What cuts have you made? asked Councillor Frances Smith from Central Frontenac of County Chief Administrative Officer Elizabeth Fulton.

To what? Fulton responded

To anything in your operation. Ten percent is going to kill our township budgets, Smith said.

We run very lean in terms of administration, Elizabeth Fulton said, It is 3.1% of our budget, much lower than the average for Ontario counties, which is over 4%.

As it was presented at the meeting, the only possible savings from the 10.41% increase are through holding off on a proposed enhancement to the Ambulance service. Paul Charbonneau of the Ambulance service has requested that an additional 24-hour car be funded in Kingston, and that a 12-hour Emergency First Response Vehicle, which is based in Ompah, be exchanged for an ambulance. The emergency vehicle can do just about everything an ambulance can do on scene, but it cannot transport people to hospital.

The cost of these ambulance enhancements would be $144,000 to the County. (The City of Kingston would pay about $600,000). This accounts for 2% of the proposed budget increase. At this point Mayor MacDonald from Central Frontenac and Mayor Maguire from North Frontenac support the increased ambulance expenditure, and Mayors Lake from South Frontenac and Vandenhoek from the Frontenac Islands, oppose the expenditure.

Paul Charboneau argued that the constant increase in call volumes experienced by the ambulance service make putting the new vehicles on the road necessary. He pointed out that the Kingston ambulance service does an increasing number of calls in South Frontenac and the Frontenac Islands, hoping this information might sway either Bill Lake or Jim Vandenhoek in favour of the ambulance enhancements.

The ambulance enhancement would cost taxpayers about $6 for every $100,000 of assessment.

Whether the enhancements are funded or not, the County is now being forced to put two extra ambulance shifts on the road to cover for lunch breaks because of a recent ruling by the Ministry of Labour. The Frontenac County service is the first in the province to be faced with this cost, and the County is exploring its legal options.

The Frontenac Mayors, as members of County Council, expressed their frustration with the provincial government, which has frozen transfers to the townships, for services that were downloaded by the province, at 2002 levels.

They also committed to paying for 50% of the cost of ambulance service, said Mayor Vandenhoek, and they are now only paying 40%, and they will pay nothing towards enhancements of the service.

Vandehoek has just ended a year serving as Warden of the County, and as such was involved in the lobbying efforts of the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus.

The fact of the matter is that the province is pulling back, he said, The chance of our getting more money is very unlikely.

A 10.41% increase in the County levy will amount to an increase of approximately $28 in taxation for every $100,000 worth of property assessment. The County budget represents about 20% of property taxes raised by the townships. A 10% increase in the County levy translates into about a 2% increase in the cost to taxpayers.

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