City of Kingston Pre-Budget Submission
COVID-19 has impacted many facets of our community including amplifying existing challenges such as issues of homelessness, mental health, addiction, and access to affordable housing. It has also placed significant strain on our local post-secondary institutions, threatened the livelihood of our downtown and cultural sector, and the survival of many local businesses remains in question.
That said, this pandemic has also inspired collaboration among all levels of government like never before. We appreciate the province’s responsiveness and investment into our community as we continue to address challenges related to the pandemic. The Social Services Relief Fund and the Safe Restart Funding helped us manage the significant drop in revenue due to decreased transit ridership and cancelled recreation programming, while enabling us to support our Integrated Care Hub to address increased homelessness and provide support for those struggling with mental health and addictions related concerns.
For Ontario to recover from the lasting impacts of this global pandemic, we need to start building communities that are integrated and responsive. We need the province to invest in solutions that work and that involve collaboration between governments, the private sector and community agencies and advocates.
As we continue to manage subsequent waves of the virus, additional spending will be essential to avoid a prolonged economic downturn. The province will need to take a consistent approach to maintain a strong fiscal situation and to ensure that communities recover, can reengage local economies, and thus encourage business investment and growth.
As Ontario manages many competing priorities in the short-term, municipalities like Kingston are looking to the other levels of government for long-term predictable investments in our infrastructure and our people to ensure our prosperity. We want to play an active role in Ontario’s recovery, and we believe recovery starts with our towns and cities, and our local businesses and non-profits.
One of the things we have greatly appreciated since this situation began is the increased collaboration among all levels of government. Residents expect their governments and their leaders to work together so that we can emerge from this public health crisis stronger and more resilient. The priorities described in our 2021 Ontario budget submission are the product of that same commitment to collaboration, in this case amongst our business community, non-profit sector, tourism and culture industry and our post-secondary institutions.
In 2021, we will continue to face budget gaps in both operating and capital until we have a more predictable public health situation. With that in mind, we believe the province should focus on:
Building a Resilient Kingston
- Continue to work with the Federal Government to extend the Safe Restart Agreement to support the delivery of essential services including transit, affordable housing, and childcare.
- Maintain the committed transfers including the Provincial Gas Tax allocations in 2022.
- Cancel any planned or potential downloading of public health and childcare costs. As we move toward recovery, it’s critical that we not receive additional unexpected costs.
- Continue the Social Services Relief Fund into 2022 to support our most vulnerable residents.
- Accelerate the implementation of the provincial ‘roadmap to wellness’ and increase investment in mental health and addictions services along with more investment in supportive housing.
- Provide an annual contribution of $1.5 million to Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub – a collaboration of community support agencies partnering to address the mounting challenge of homelessness and mental health and addictions locally.
- Create a more integrated public policy approach to better link interrelated social determinants of health and well-being – capitalizing on the collaboration happening between different agencies, ministries, etc. including policing, housing/homelessness, long-term care, public health and EMS modernization (including 100% prov CP funding), social assistance reform, child care, and mental health and addictions.
The Health of Our Economy
- Adjust Ontario’s regulatory modernization agenda to reflect new COVID-19 realities. Pre-pandemic, Ontario was reducing regulatory red tape for businesses. While this should continue, Ontario should also consider precautions to protect public health and safety in any regulatory change and the cost to the public.
- Make permanent many of the regulations introduced during the pandemic to support local economies. This includes allowing restaurants to deliver alcohol online, extending commercial patio spaces and increasing the flexibility in capacity for our local boat tours.
- Increase the percentage capacity per square footage for events / venues / tourism venues / lecture halls etc. so we’re able to welcome visitors and students back in a safe and effective manner.
- Incentivize collaboration around workforce development. Partnerships between post-secondary institutions, employers, and unions play a growing role in responding to our local labour market needs. Create incentives for collaboration and leadership on this including opportunities for experiential learning programs like co-operative education and internships.
- Work with the post-secondary sector to support small- and medium-sized businesses in creating experiential learning and first-career positions – helping our community recover from the COVID-19 economic impacts, while allowing students and new graduates to earn valuable job skills.
- Accelerate the expansion of broadband and cellular infrastructure in Kingston and Eastern Ontario. Despite recent public and private investments, many areas still lack connectivity and the system must be sustainable to accommodate more remote work and learning.
- Consider additional relief measures for businesses, like a refundable tax credit to help ease the financial burden of protecting customers / employees against COVID-19, including expenses for PPE, safety training, and other resources to help businesses keep their employees and customers safe.
- Consider extending rent relief for commercial businesses as they recover.
- Ensure a safe, effective return to on campus learning at our post-secondary institutions by:
- Providing greater flexibility with respect to capacity in instructional spaces;
- Investing in campus renewal and re-opening, by providing funding for institutions to conduct the retrofits necessary to ensure a hygienic and safe return to on-campus teaching;
- Investing in renewal and expansion of IT infrastructure to support current and future demand for digital learning, including future micro-credential programs; and
- Providing institutions with the revenue capacity necessary to continue providing high-quality education and skills training to all students.
- Invest in re-energizing tourism in Eastern Ontario. Among the industries most impacted by COVID-19, Ontario’s world-class tourism, hospitality, and culture sector employs tens of thousands directly and indirectly many more. Tourism is a major contributor to the Kingston economy, with 5.5 million annual visitors contributing an estimated $528 million to the local economy. By investing a portion of the government’s recovery funding into enhancing tourist attractions across the province, Ontario will have even more to offer when we are once again able to welcome the world.
- Create grant programs to support the arts and culture sector so that arts and entertainment organizations and venues can return to in-person programming safely.
The Health of our Social Services Sector
- Invest in stable, secure long-term funding to support the social services sector so they can continue to support economic recovery, meet the needs of residents, and ensure the most vulnerable in our communities are cared for. COVID-19 has increased demand on many programs provided by the social services sector and at the same time, limited their ability to fundraise or utilize community volunteers. The demand for these services is expected to rise as more people face economic insecurity and as the pandemic is expected to have lasting impacts on mental health and addictions. As a result, many local support agencies are struggling to keep the doors open. An investment and a commitment to predictable funding now will save more in costly interventions in the future.
- Pursue further innovation and collaboration with the sector to support the programs and services people depend on.
The Future of Long-Term Care
- Accelerate the recommendations from Ontario’s independent commission in long-term care.
- Cover the entire cost of the 4-hr minimum standard of care recognizing that municipalities are not healthcare providers and are increasingly being asked to take on healthcare related functions.
- Provide as much notice as possible on any regulatory or legislative changes in long-term care so we can effectively meet the requirements and expectations laid out – this includes adjustments to staffing and the necessary public health resources required.