2019 City of Windsor Budget Hot Take

According to the Mayor and Administration news conference (some audio issues for the first few minutes) there are two big items that are missing from the budget documents. Due to the timing of the budget along with council’s strategic planning session tree trimming and economic development are not included and currently have a largely unspecified costs (some estimates for tree trimming which I have commented on here). Given the Mayor’s goal of getting the total tax levy increase down under the proposed 3.3% increase, and these additional costs, it means that cuts will have to occur to the proposed budget just to hold the line and include these items.

Below are a list of items that caught my eye on my first view of the budget. By no means are they the only items of interest and upon future reflection other items may rise or fall in priority. I would encourage you to go to your local library, City Hall or read the documents here. After you do that, reach out to your City Councilor here with any question, comments or concerns. Budget deliberations are April 1 & 2 at City Hall.

ABCs

The Agencies, Board and Committees budgets are somewhat “meh” from budgetary standpoint, there are a number of interesting tidbits within the 2019 priorities from these entities. What averages out to 6% increase across all of the entities, 5 of the 13 show no increase. The largest driver was a $5.5M rise in policing costs which represents 80% of the total ABC budget increase; followed by Community Housing and the Health Unit (board approval pending) and in total represent 94% of the ABC budget. ERCA budget is still outstanding (board approval required) but is requesting $38,000 (2.4%) increase; while handy transit is requesting $81,000 more due to fuel cost increase, collective bargained wage/benefit increases and some other ridership factors; and WSO is getting an extra $25,000.

For the five entities not receiving funding increases (Artcite, Arts Council, Life After Fifty, Safety Village and Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island) four are receiving fixed grants that seem to not have budgetary increases year over year. TWEPI on the other hand seems to be waiting on the hotel tax revenue as a means of revenue upside.

The one unknown in this section is the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corp budget as the Mayor has already stated that an increase would be coming but is not included in this document.

Operating Budgets – Recommended

The department operating budgets are an interesting space to view how changes impact the day to day operations. I personally find the recommended and non-recommended items insightful then the department specific budgets. Codes below can be used to search budget documents to easily find the items.

2019-0375 [A] Annualization of Senior Economic Development Officer – $140,883

The City’s economic development positions have to date been funded from the surplus returned from WEEDC a few years ago. The request is to make this position permanent with the tax levy becoming the funding source. It will interesting to see how this Senior position will interact with WEEDC and the regions other economic development entities as well as the overall WEEDC enhancement.

2019-0306 [M] Service Enhancement Addition of one Legal Counsel – $136,560

Only in a city budget could hiring a lawyer be considered a “service enhancement”. I am not sure how the average citizen will see any enhanced services. That being said the report does make the argument that the department is already understaffed and due to demographic outlook hiring a new staff person makes sense from a succession planning standpoint.

2019-0382 [M] Implementation of Two Factor Authentication – $90,000

The Doug Sartori special…. 3 cyber security breaches in 2018, via a guessed password and phishing. It make sense.

2019-0152 [I] Revenue Increase New Fee For Enforcement of Fence and Swimming Pool Bylaws – $25,600

The new fee is $260 for fence and pool violations. This wasn’t as funny as I originally thought it was going to be.

2019-0088 [I] New User Fee – Uber – $32,000.

Uber will pay $30,000 license fee with an additional 11 cents per trip fee being changed. They are actually estimating nearly $52,000 in revenue but the variation is only showing $32,000. Quick someone call an auditor!

2019-0286 [I] New User Fee- Dirty Yard Work Order – $168,750

This is actually really interesting. A $75 property standards fee for by-law to impose on properties with “Dirty Yards”. The fee would rise over the next 2 years to $215 in 2021. In 2017, there were over 10,000 property standard complaints the fine could be a interesting tool to change behaviour around property maintenance. I have lingering questions around whether it will impact areas of absentee landlords or student housing but it certainly will be interesting to watch!

2019-0358 [M] Addition of Friday Branch Hours – $98,412

IMO Library’s should be open every day, glad to see they are adding additional hours.

2019-0033 [I} Increase in Sidewalk Cafe Encroachment Fee Revenues – $1

Although not generating revenue, the cost of encroaching on a side (cafe, patio) is raising form $1.50 per square foot to $2 and rising to $3 in 2021.

2019-0104 [M] St Clair College Increase to Transit Revenue – $277,472

This is what happens when Institutions don’t talk to one another.

As of April 2018, over 3,000 new students were attending St. Clair with most using Transit Windsor service to travel to and from. Additional unscheduled and unbudgeted service was added to meet the needs of students and residents with many overloaded buses. By the summer of 2018, transit passenger ridership boardings on the Dominion 5 had increased by 188%, 203%, 224% for the months of May, June and July respectively. Passenger boardings for the South Windsor 7 route increased by 220%, 201%, 217% for the months of May, June and July respectively

2019-0354 [M] Holiday Light Displays – $235,500

More Christmas lights headed too Jackson Park, Gino and Liz Marcus Community Centre, Mackenzie Hall, WFCU Centre, Charles Clark Square, Dougall and Howard Ave Gateways, Dieppe Park and City Hall Square

2019-0153 [A] Annualizing Open Streets – $61,500

All the Winning! Probably the best event of the year IMO in the city is going to be permanent.

2019-0148 [G] Windsor Water World Operations – $50,000

Keeping Water World open for another year pending the catholic school board building a new school. Interestingly enough usage in 2017 has increased from the low in 2016 following the closure of the pool in the previous year.

2019-0387 [G] Increased Demand for Emergency Shelter Services & Potential Deficit in 2019 – up to $500,000

To offset the cost of housing individuals and families in hotels where there are no shelter spaces available.

2019-0180 [M] Funding to Expand Street Outreach Services – $68,555

Every best practice says bring services to people and having more trained outreach workers on the streets will help.

Operating Budget -Not Recommended

There are a number of these items that are little real risk of being accepted ex closing libraries, eliminating student hiring, removing bus routes etc. that would be needed to reach a 0% increase. They act a little more than placeholders int he process as they have been in the last 3 budgets and never were considered.

In-Camera

One thing that caught my eye was the 80 pages (by my count) of the 202 page document that were In-Camera issues and pages were left blank.

2019-0139 [L] Bulk Item

Not proposing elimination of bulk item is a win particular given the recommended fees around yard maintenance.

2019-0175 [M] Addition of an Active and Sustainable Transportation Coordination – $134,426

A preemptive recommendation around a staff person to implement the Walk Wheel Windsor recommendations when the report is completed in 2019. They recognize that establishing this position early on can help facilitate commitment to the study outcomes and implementation

2019-0118 [I] Transit Fare Increase – $250,000

Probably not a good idea which is why recommending against it is a good thing.

2019-0242 [K] Reduction in Forestry Contract Work – $534,837

Although a significant investment, this is likely going to grow considering the outcomes of the Strategic Planning Process.

2019-0168 [M] Increase of the Arts culture and Heritage Funding – $62,800

This quote sums it up:

For MBNCanada Culture measure Arts, Heritage & Festival Grants Only per Capita, Windsor has a result of $1.05 which is below the median of $6.76

Conclusions

The operational budget, baring the outstanding items, is a pretty steady as you go sort of budget. The devil will be the details, of whether the majority of the council agree that the total final rate should be 3.3% or not. If additional items come forward, it may put pressure on the the pathway to reduction.

The other piece that is missing is for many councilors some of their campaign planks are not included in the operational side of this budget. Items like by-law enforcement increases, enhancing art and cultural funding, preemptive maintenance on parks, trails that would enhance green spaces find themselves missing or not recommended. It will be interesting to see how these items play out.

The levy was pegged $90 dollars per year on a $150,000 (about 25 cents per day) I feel that from an operational side there seems to be value for that. Could more value be extracted, sure. That is why there is a delegation day on April 1 & 2 where you can share your ideas.

Tomorrow, I dig into the capital budget.

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