City of Kingston launches third-party audit to seek budget efficiencies

The City of Kingston is taking the Ontario government up on its offer to do an in-depth review of its municipal budget to look for potential savings.

The city will receive $175,000 through a special one-time $7.35 million provincial audit and accountability fund to conduct a line-by-line review of spending in several high-profile services.

Interim chief administrative officer Lanie Hurdle says the city has hired KPMG to take a closer look at the multi-million-dollar budgets of housing, social services and long-term care – all departments that are currently cost-shared with the province.

“Because we are trying to find efficiencies and savings for both the city and the province, we thought it would be a good place to start and focus on those services,” she explained.

The three municipal departments account for a big chunk of the city’s annual operating budget. The 2019 budget for housing and social services is $17.1 million, plus $5.7 million for long-term care.

The city will spend $5.7 million this year to operate Rideaucrest long-term care facility on Rideau Street.

Hurdle expects findings of the independent audit will lead to recommendations to city council in time for its 2020 municipal budget deliberations this fall.

On Monday, Premier Doug Ford revealed that 34 of 39 municipalities are taking advantage of the provincial audit fund to look for efficiencies.

Hurdle says the goal of the audit in Kingston is to identify administrative processes that could be changed or eliminated.

“Or, different ways of applying regulations for those services because they’re highly regulated by the province,” she said. “And those could lead to savings.”

The province says results of the third-party audit must be posted publicly outlining the “analysis, findings and actionable recommendations by November 30, 2019.”

City council will use audit funding to look for efficiencies in housing, social services and long-term care.

The audits come as municipalities brace for provincial spending cuts in 2020. The Ford government is changing the funding formula for cost-shared services such as childcare and public health.

Hurdle says it’s too soon to gauge the impact of spending cuts on Kingston taxpayers, though she suggested the city is in good shape to weather the download that will see municipalities pay 30 percent of public health costs and 20 percent of new childcare spaces.

“We anticipated the public health changes in 2020. This is not necessarily a surprise.”

City hall’s top bureaucrat says Kingston currently pays 33 percent of public health costs and the province picks up the other 67 percent.

“Based on what we understand, it wouldn’t have much of an impact.”

But future childcare funding changes could pose more challenges for the local budget.

Hurdle says the city is currently looking at the potential financial impacts and implications, adding the city could tap into its reserve funds to absorb the financial impact on childcare funding shortfalls.

“We do have some flexibility in our social services fund. So we will be looking at moving some things around to minimize any impacts there.”

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