I’m very pleased to announce that this coming Monday, we will be launching two new express bus routes in the city. Our first express bus route has been an enormous success, and now we are building on that success with route 601/602 that provides a quick trip from the east end to the downtown, and route 701/702 that will make it much easier and faster to get from the north end of Division St. all the way to the west end.
These new express routes matter because they make transit a more convenient option for many residents. I’m a big believer in the power of choice, and with these new express bus routes, you now have more choice and better options, which is good for everyone. That doesn’t mean that we declare war on the car. We still need to invest in roads and parking spaces downtown, because we know that for many people driving their car is still their preferred option.
For those of you that haven’t used transit before, why not give it a try? With express bus service every 15 minutes, it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s reliable and you can send texts and emails along the way! I normally drive from my home into downtown, but on Monday, you’ll find me on the express bus. Hope that you will join me!
This week at our final strategic planning session, council was asked to set a target tax rate increase for the city’s next four annual budgets. After several hours of debate and discussion, council voted to set this tax rate target at 2.5%.
I have consistently stated that as a city, we must live within our means and keep Kingston affordable for taxpayers. I am pleased with council’s decision to keep future tax rate increases in line with the rate of inflation, and to explore savings and efficiencies with the potential to bring in lower tax rate increases over the next four years.
It’s important to note the 2.5% increase continues to dedicate 1% toward saving for infrastructure that will allow us to invest in future capital projects. This means we are targeting only a 1.5% increase towards city operations, which is actually below the inflation rate. To bring in this rate we will need to find approximately 1.5 million dollars in operational efficiencies and/or additional revenue sources. It’s a big challenge, but I believe we can reach this target.
Here are two ways we can hit our target;
First, we will review our existing operations and carefully examine how to get better value for tax dollars, either by using new technologies, adopting best practices from other cities, or finding innovative ways to deliver services more efficiently. After all, that’s what being a smart city is all about!
Second, we will work hard to grow our local economy and expand our tax base. More growth will take the pressure off our existing taxpayers. Since council has chosen building a smart economy as its top strategic priority, I believe we will be successful.
Last week I was honoured to be elected as the new Chair of the Eastern Ontario Mayor’s Committee for a two year term. This group includes the mayors of Kingston, Belleville, Brockville, Cornwall, Gananoque, Pembroke, Peterborough, Prince Edward County, Quinte West and Smiths Falls. At our first meeting last week, it was clear we had many common interests and priorities…and opportunities to advance Eastern Ontario.
Too often, we fall into the trap of viewing other communities as competitors for new development, tourism and investment and miss opportunities for collaboration to make the region stronger as a whole. In a 21st century global economy, the bigger danger to Kingston is not that we will lose investment to Belleville or Brockville, but that Eastern Ontario will lose investment to other areas of the province and the country. So rather than fighting for a larger piece of a shrinking pie, we’re coming together to grow the pie, where every community in Eastern Ontario, including Kingston, will gain.
Over the next few months I will be working with the other mayors of Eastern Ontario to establish key priorities we can then use in our advocacy with the provincial and federal government to make the case for increased investment. While my primary objective is and always will be to promote the interests of the City of Kingston, I am convinced that by taking a leadership role in Eastern Ontario, we can advance our entire region.
On Monday April 20, City Council will decide the future tax rate increases to our budgets for 2016 through 2018. The tax rate we choose will determine the extent and pace for introducing new city programs and services, and will guide potential changes in our current operations.
Right now the city invests an annual 1% tax increase for future road repairs and other important capital projects. If the cost of providing city programs and services rises by inflation (approx. 2% per year) and we want to maintain the 1% for future infrastructure projects, we would be looking at an annual tax increase of 3 – 3.5%. That 3 – 3.5% doesn’t include if we want to invest in new programs and services.
During the election I heard from countless seniors, families and small business owners who felt squeezed financially – that their incomes and pensions weren’t keeping pace with tax rate increases. As a city it’s critical that we live within our means while keeping our community affordable. But I want to hear from you on how we can find the right balance between investing in our programs and services and keeping taxes low.
To get the tax rate lower, we need to look at how we deliver our programs and services, explore new revenue streams, and be open to how we can reduce our costs to save money. The question is, like in any household budget, how do we get there?
After two nights of planning and discussion, city council has established six priorities to guide us over the next four years. Council has adopted the vision of A Smart and Liveable 21st Century City as the guiding theme for these priorities moving forward. I am also happy to say council has prioritized the expansion of the airport and getting the Third Crossing shovel ready within our term. Now it’s time to get to work!
Here are the six priorities for the next four years:
Create a Smart Economy – Establish Kingston as a leader in innovation and incubation to foster entrepreneurship, youth employment and an open-for business culture.
Invest in Infrastructure – Get the Third Crossing shovel ready, expand the airport, create more affordable housing and expand multi-modal infrastructure that will encourage active transportation.
Plan a Liveable City – Revitalize existing brownfields, promote intensification in the city’s core, and address homelessness and food security.
Green the City – Create, connect and improve trails, pathways and green spaces across the city, including the K&P trail and intensify the urban forest.
Advance a Vibrant Waterfront – Revitalize the inner harbour, facilitate the redevelopment of Kingston Penitentiary and expand public access to the waterfront.
Foster Open Government – Improve our communication and public access to city data and council business in order to engage citizens and encourage participation in civic affairs.