A Few Thoughts on the City Budget 2021

Numbers in () are the PDF page that I found the item on.

  • Let’s be clear on a few things, the only reason why there is a 0% tax increase (as currently proposed) is due to the changes at the provincial level that freed up tax levies normally allocated to the school boards and capturing those dollars.
    • The city may have “found” an additional $10M in previously collected school board taxes but this doesn’t fix the structural problems in the budget that became reliant on Casino, Airport and Tunnel that may take YEARS to bounce back.
  • No climate issues in this budget…. Just asking, but wasn’t a climate emergency declared and a climate analysis supposed to be done on all reports that go to Council?
    • Only 7 references to climate in the capital budget (6 were climate change, one was business climate)
    • The temp admin position in the recommended operational budget provides more or less the only direct climate change references. In the not recommended, accelerating the climate strategy is listed as is some additional funding for outreach.

Engineering Department

  • As promised following the Ford Mobility Announcement, I said I would look at staffing levels in the engineering department. I forgot that only in the approved documents include 2021 staffing levels in the department documents. I will follow up again after Feb 22.

Not Recommended

  • (25) – Hire two additional by-law enforcement – Obviously, by-law enforcement is an ongoing issues in parts of the City there are currently 12 by-law officers, adding additional staff would work to reduce backlogs of calls and improve service standards.
    • The item also provides opportunity to increase the number of hours worked by existing officers as a means to deal with this backlog at lower costs.
  • (70) – Approximately a $192,000 of additional funding for climate change initiatives is not recommended. As the item states 150K is needed to be transferred to a reserve to leverage for grant writing while, 42K is for wide range of engagements and events that have been impacted by the pandemic.
  • (89) – Expand parking enforcement to 9pm from 6pm. This would earn approximately $268,000 to the city.
  • General comments – you can see how barebones some of this is. In the non-recommended is the elimination of the Municipal Benchmarking (10), Snow Angel program (40), Employee EAP program (47), Closing Library’s Branches (55), Eliminating Bulk Item pickup (109), Reducing Transit Services (121), Closing Outdoor Pools (169-175), Eliminate P2P (195) etc. Many of these items are only put forward by department just to meet the mandate of providing 10% cuts to their budget and show up every year.
    • There are also 29 in camera items that totaling approximately $12,204,386 was the value of the in camera savings not recommended. I assume it means firing a lot of people to try and show a 10% department cut. What is there to cut in the finance department, seriously! There really is not that much fat to trim.

Recommended

  • Windsor Work implementation (4) – $550,000 to implement the economic development strategy in the Mayor’s office.
  • Waterworld Operations (163) – additional $50,000 to keep the centre open through 2021.
  • Children Service Administration Revenue Loss (181) – There is a downloading of childcare services from the province to the City and County (which the City leads delivery). This year sees the administrative costs cut from 10% to 5% and any costs above 5% being 100% responsibility of local governments. All in this is $454,908 for this year with an updated annualizing costing following this year and the expiry of the provincial transition grant.
  • Permanent Funding for Street Outreach Service (188) – $69,926 a second full time street outreach staff to support housing and homelessness outreach in the community.
  • Supporting Remote Workspaces (33) $38,725 not only maintain the ongoing remote work during COVID (or future unforeseen work disruptions). It does explicitly mention broader incorporation of remote work into the City’s policies – including a work from home policy in the future.
  • Red Light Camera’s Implementation (64) – Actioning Councillor Costante’s motion on red light cameras at 10 intersections. A total of $180,000 is expected to be generated in revenue above the costs of the cameras, which seems like a lot.
  • Reinstating Planner 2 position (68) – Was originally cut in 2012 as a part of the “Pathway to 0” this position is being asked to be returned due to development work that is currently happening. $115,445.
  • Increase sidewalk encroachment fees (79) are back (as it is every year from 2016) from $2 per sqft to $3per sqft. Given the success of patios during COVID if this cost will be moved forward.
    • I also didn’t see street patios anywhere. I assume there will be a separate report but given a fee structure likely needs to be established, it was a bit surprising it is not in the operational or user documents that I could see.
  • Residential parking permits (116) increasing by $5 annually.
  • Increase in daily rates for on street parking meter bags (118) from $5 to $10. What I find interesting on this is that in their calculation they assume that the spot that the bag was being purchased for would be filled with a car 100% of the time being metered.
    • This potentially impacts things like Downtown Farmers Markets, it could also impact patios or other community events (Dropped on Drouillard) where parking on the street is restricted prior to the event unless fees are waived.
  • Smart Card fee for transit riders (133) I wasn’t aware (I don’t ride transit regularly) that Transit Windsor had a smart card system. The in theory would encourage people to keep their card, and the smart card hopefully reduces the hundreds of thousands of paper tickets sold each year.
  • Phasing out of Federal block funding (183) which is a long-term funding reduction.
  • CIP Funding increase (216) due to demand and expected demand for CIPs the need to build up a potentially overdrawn account is needed totaling $500,000. A good problem to have in that development is coming, but the taxpayers won’t see revenues for that development for a decade.
  • There are a number of one-time funding and temps positions in this year’s budget, I don’t recall seeing as many of the previously but I could be wrong. For Customer Service Clerk (15); Financial Analyst (22); Energy Financial Analyst (24); Financial Planning Admin (27); Accounts Payable Clerk (83); Community Energy Plan Administration position (86); Technologist 1 (88); Extension of a Temporary Fleet Systems Analyst Position (119); Coordinator of Housing Administration and Development (190); Coord of Attendance & Schedules & Nursing Records Assistant for WFM (199)
    • 5 reductions in camera for $522,304 and 8 increases totaling $1,675,403

ABCs – 2020 Thoughts if you are interested.

  • The Health Unit and ERCA’s budgets don’t seem to be finalized so estimates based on historical averages are included. Most other ABCs held the line.
  • Police budget rose by 1.9% so I guess they aren’t defunding things.
  • Handi-transit and land ambulance saw 2.2% range due to COVID and staffing costs which doesn’t seem unreasonable.
  • WEC Housing Corp sees the largest confirmed increase (5.9%) with rent subsidies and PPE driving costs. Provincial legislation stopping any rent increases in 2021 removed one of the major cost recovery tools from CHC on their market based units.

Fees

  • (31) The one that catches my eye most here is the transit fee increase. At a time where transit ridership is down, and frankly those taking the bus are now more than ever those who use it as an essential service to raise ticket costs by a $0.05 (1.7%) seems disingenuous almost. Kind of like the City doesn’t care – “we raise this rate by inflation every year, why would this year be any different”. This increase also applies to monthly, student and other passes.
  • (33) Facility operations has a bunch of new fees to set up for a external equipment set up for event at a city building with new charges including. I presume this is mostly for weddings at places like Willstead or MacKenzie hall or something.
  • Almost all of the other increases are inflationary in nature and some again seem like they were simple a part of a process.

Capital Budget

The capital budget now stretches to 2030. You can find 2020 comments on the budget as many of the later items I mentioned last year have just moved 1 year forward.

All are totals between now and 2030 unless explicitly stated

  • Airport Refurbishment (23) – $2.695 M if we are losing air traffic control, do we have to do this?
  • Police Equipment (38) – $4.640M for police “protective clothing, use of force options, and investigative enhancements”. This is largely to maintain existing equipment as it is a maintenance expenditure.
  • Windsor Work Capital (48) – $5.5M for Windsor Work capital expenditures – $500K in 2021, $1M in 2022 and 2023, then $3M in 2030 which will likely get pulled forward.
  • Anti-Racism Initiative (49) – $200k only in 2021 nothing to sustain the initiative after this year.
  • Central Riverfront Lighting (150) – $497K in 2022 for new lighting on the riverfront that was reported in the media. This project does link and City the Street Car and Celestial Beacon.
  • Central Riverfront Festival Plaza (158) – Although funding doesn’t begin until 2023, totaling $6.3M the report states “ A consulting firm has been retained in September 2020 to formalize the final design and phased build out of the space, details on the final construction and phasing will be ready in 2021.” Keep an eye out for a report to council sometime later this year.
  • Fred Thomas Splash pad (160) – $300K for a splash pad in glengarry which is great! There is an interesting note from a CFO that “July 27th CFO Memorandum pushed Placeholder funding out to 2021 and reallocated the 2020 funding to PFO-007-17 7171070 Washroom at Alexandra Park from the 2021 commitment reducing the deficit and mitigating the capital interest charges.” If I am reading correctly it means that the washrooms went over budget in Ward 6 so Ward 3 had to wait a year longer for their splash pad.
  • Capital Reserve replenishment (229) – One interesting item between 2020 and 2021 budgets is the end to the Capital Reserve Replenishment after 2027. Building up that reserve is important (I believe required) but the $3.17M annual allocation is the equivalent of a 0.75% tax increase giving the city some future flexibility 2 terms from now.  
  • Smart Community Initiatives’ (247) – Over $1.4M but little details beyond “Citizen self-service initiatives; Digital City Services; Improved open data and transparency initiatives.” Between now and 2024 and placeholders after that.
  • WFCU Roadway (306)– $3.4M for a brand new road to WFCU! I wonder if there are bike lanes?
  • Ojibway Eco-passage (309) – $250K for a study and $1.5M held in 2026. The project will need more than another $8.55M to be completed. According to the Community Benefit’s plan on the GHIB all projects need to be completed by the time the Bridge is open.
  • Huron Church Road (449) – $6.009M for the next phase of reconstruction from Tecumseh Rd to College Ave is up for reconstruction assuming the City gets the matching grant (I don’t see why they wouldn’t). This is right near my house, hence why I flagged it.
  • Affordable Housing CIP – $250K in 2029 – a target of 300 units over 10 years at $3000 subsidy per unit. A friendly reminder that the housing waitlist is over 5000 people and with the exception of the Meadowbrook construction no additional affordable housing is budgeted to be built (although reserves are being built)

Conclusions

  • This budget is a prototypical budget for Windsor, where the tax levy is the end, not a means to an end. There is certainly uncertainties in the 2021 year for the City and hedging against them is prudent but when you look at the cuts in the operational operational budget (both recommended and not) there is nothing in there. The whole thing is premised on the $10M that the city inherited from the school boards.
  • Any thought using this crisis to innovate in our community seems like it is on deaf ears. It is this lack of vision in our budget priorities that has created the perception problems that led to hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent to develop a new strategy for economic development.
    • The City of Ottawa put $15 Million aside is once again for affordable housing – totaling $45 million the last three years to leverage upper level funding.
      • Think that can only be done in big cities Brantford is investing $13 Million in 2021 in affordable housing.
    • City of Toronto despite a shortfall totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, they looked to close the digital divide in the city by providing affordable housing units access to low cost high speed internet. The plan will roll out over the next few years. Paging Connecting Windsor Essex!
      • Toronto is also bringing back CaféTO (street patios), ActiveTO (open streets) and are opening city bathrooms in the Winter.
    • Guelph is building a whole new district around a Central Library and Community Centre in southern Guelph with construction beginning in 2021 through 2025.
    • Little Zorra Township in Oxford County is building a carbon neutral public works facility that will be geothermal/solar powered to meet their carbon neutral goals.
  • The economy, society and culture are all adjusting to a dramatic shock that was COVID. There could have been an opportunity to lead, instead we choose to play it safe.
    • A 1% tax increase equates about $4.2M of additional revenue:
      • The City’s Poverty Reduction strategy spends $1.2M (Not Recommended cut 190) you could triple that investment in a time of economic crisis.
      • From the capital budget you could do the University Ave Streetscaping at Victoria Ave. and the Riverside/Devonshire intersection redevelopment from 2022 as one example of speeding up capital improvements.
      • You could overfund the Health Unit so they have the resources to not only see the region through the rest of COVID but than maintain a strong operational base into the future.
      • You could pull forward dozens of park projects to put in signage, benches, lights and playground equipment.
      • You could cover the entire 2022 Transit fleet replacement costs.
      • Move forward 50% of Community Housings 2022 capital improvements.
      • OR you could hold that $4.2M in reserve, just in case the bailouts from the Province and Feds don’t fully cover the gap in expenditures.
    • Saying cities cannot do more during a pandemic other than record road/sewer investment is not a vision for our city in my opinion.
6 am walk attempt

2 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on the City Budget 2021

  1. Pingback: Weeknote 8 (2021) – The city is here for you to use

  2. Pingback: A Few Thoughts on Week 49 | gingerpolitics

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