Referred to Budget

I have been pondering something for a while. In my watching of City Council and the media reporting, I had a perception this year that the number of items referred to the 2020 budget was greater than in past years. Maybe I haven’t been paying as close attention as previous years but I have come away with the perception that a lot of items are getting referred to the 2020 budget process.

Image result for city budget windsor
A breakdown of the 2019 budget spending

So I decided to dig through some of the minutes of this budget year City Council meetings and media reporting to find out what has been referred to budget and get a sneak peak of what we could expect with the 1000+ pages drops just before the holidays (assuming it arrives at the traditional time). Last year’s budget was late due to the threat of Provincial cuts and time being need to get new City Councilors up to speed after the election. As a result the budget meeting occurred on April 1st meaning the first meeting of this budget year was on April 15th. From the minutes of the Council meetings since April 15 you can only find the following items referred to 2020 (scroll the table to the right at the bottom to see expected costs if available)

Decision ItemItemMeeting DateSummary Estimated Cost
CR195/2019Cabana Road East Roseland Public School Pedestrians – WARD 915-AprReport on a new pedestrian crossing near Roseland Public School$65,000-$75,000 Capital + approx $2,500 annual operation costs. Starting Pg 488 of PDF
CR259/2019 CSPS 34Regarding the Sand Base at Willistead Playground – Ward 427-MayReplacing Sand at Willstead Park Playground$140,000-$160,000; $360,000 for full replacement see pg 70 of PDF of May 27th meeting report
CR378/2019Active Transit Plan22-JulI. That City Council RECEIVE the Active Transportation Master Plan Final Report subject to inclusion of FCM’s required wording for grant funding acknowledgement:
II. That Council APPROVE the key principles around implementation of the Active Transportation Master Plan; and,
III. That the implementation plan for the Active Transportation Master Plan BE REFERRED to the 2020 budget for Council’s consideration;
IV.That administration REPORT BACK to Council during the 2020 budget deliberations with a policy/framework with respect to sponsorship to bring in additional revenues to fund some of the elements outlined in the report specifically paths and trails, current or new. 
For projects already included in the Capital Budget, additional funding (beyond what was earmarked for transportation facilities) may be required if Council decides to implement the more accessible transportation facility options as laid out in the ATMP. The requirement of additional funding is due to the nature of the transportation facilities and their associated maintenance costs.
CR523/2019 ETPS 698Ward 6 & 7 Flood Mitigation7-OctI. That the report for East Riverside Flood Risk Assessment, completed by Landmark Engineers Inc. and dated September 3, 2019 BE RECEIVED for information; and                                                                     II. That implementation of measures to address the vulnerability of the existing flood protection infrastructure outlined in the East Riverside Flood Risk Assessment BE REFERRED to the 2020 budget for Council’s consideration.$18.7 million with costs broken out in the Council Report beginning on PDF page 574
CR571/2019 ETPS 716 Ward 3 & 4 Nov 18 That the report of the Transportation Planning Engineer dated January 6, 2017 entitled “CQ26-2016 Riverside Drive Road Diet” and the report of the Transportation Planning Engineer dated October 4, 2019 entitled “CQ26-2016 Riverside Drive Road Diet- Follow up” BE RECEIVED for information; and further, That administration BE REQUESTED to provide specific information related to the traffic analysis study portion of the report and that this information BE REFERRED to the 2020 budget deliberations meeting. No Cost outlined report forthcoming at 2020 Budget
CR572/2019 ETPS 717 City WideNov 18 That the report of the City Engineer dated September 5th, 2019 regarding Addressing Illegal Dumping BE RECEIVED for information; and further, That administration BE REQUESTED to provide a report related to options of providing free bulk item pickup service and that this information BE REFERRED to the 2020 budget deliberation meeting Cost of “free” bulk item pick up service referred to budget

Out of this years meetings these six items were the only items that I could find in the minutes (based on how I keyword searched them) that were formally referred to the 2020 budget. Honestly, this surprised me as I felt that more items had been referred to the 2020 budget process. Now it is possible that Standing Committee recommendations to refer to budget were just shunted along in the consent agenda but the standing committee minutes are not keyword searchable in their PDFs (at least in my viewer).

That being said, two significant grants which each featured a special meeting of Council on July 29th and October 30th did see commitment of funds from this and future budget years. Some of these funds were already in place, but certainly there were un-allocated funds pre-committed towards flood mitigation while the parks expansion taps into several existing “pay as you go” funding pots between 2020 and 2027. Both of these commitments mean that Council is largely locked into these plans should they wish to access the matching funding, limiting their flexibility to tackle new challenges over the short/medium term.

Beyond the big ticket items, media has also reported that red light cameras and the active transit plan with a coordinator could be appearing at budget time. Outside of the core budget, the Library board has already put forward a proposed 1.7% budget increase; a 4.1% increase from the Solid Waste Authority has been approved by County Council but remains to be approved by the City; and the Health Unit which has put forward a budget that saw cuts in staffing but the municipal share of funding increased due to reductions in funding from the Province. ERCA to my knowledge hasn’t put forward it’s budget but based on cuts from the Province, should programming wished to be maintained an allocation increase may be in order. This also doesn’t count potential increase whether requested or mandated from Transit Windsor, EMS, Windsor Police or other external bodies.

What I takeaway

Despite apparently finding fewer items prior to budget, it seems to be that the tension between the established orthodoxy of spending restraint and an investment mindset could be coming to ahead. Given the pressures and priorities outlined above, the prospect of future funding cuts from the Province in 2020, it will be interesting to see where council strikes a balance.

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