The Windsor Research Project: Are we Smart Enough?

A couple of weeks ago, the Government of Canada announced the winners of our country’s first Smart Cities Challenge. Windsor-Essex did have a proposal that unfortunately didn’t make it through the initial stages of the challenges. I was apart of that process, a lot of hard work went into it and the idea was there, but it missed a few marks. Having taken time to read the four winning proposals, I want to reflect on that process and what the future might hold.

A Vision for Our Future?

When looking at our region, what is the vision that ties us together? Although the City and County are great partners on a number of issues and services there are drastic differences in income, accessibility, standards of living and priorities both perceived and actual. One of the common elements of the successful smart cities proposals was a vision for the communities/regions that resonated across and throughout with demonstrated buy-in.

These were visions and strategies were not only endorsed by councils, supported by cross sector partnership, and grounded in significant in-progress work; they established strategic partnerships in their respective communities that saw significant investment prior to the challenges launching. Montreal, the $50 million prize winner has a single website tracking 70+ smart initiatives across their City, separate from the Smart City Challenge. To maintain a website, to share community information, to have a bilingual blog are not actions beyond us and they demonstrate a commitment to process.

Between Jan 2017 and the announcement of winning communities the City of Guelph had “smart initiatives” on their council agenda (yes I did review all of the agendas) at total of 13 times. Six mentions were before the challenge launched as “smart initiatives” big and small were presented or reported to Council. During the initial and final rounds of the challenge a total of 7 presentations occurred on the specific bid just to the City Council, not including the regional Council who was also a partner. To me this shows a level of political support and vision that was lacking locally. When they were selected as a finalist in same category as Windsor-Essex bid, Guelph’s council voted to invested $250,000 on top of the $250,000 that was awarded for planning by the Government of Canada. If we were to survey the new councils that are in place across our region, how many would have knowledge of Smart Cities?

For our region, I don’t know what our priority is? From an economic development standpoint “mobility” has emerged. The trouble is, the priorities of boardrooms are quite often very different from the priorities living room. Divisive issues have probably harmed the ability to rapidly unify as region and unwind the numerous interconnected systems of a Smart City, as they likely would require accepting a status quo that may be unacceptable to some.

This isn’t to say that we can’t disagree on issues. Debate and compromise is a good thing and should be encouraged as it can help build consensus for our regions’ future. I would argue conversations around what our priorities are in this space haven’t occurred. The lack of vision allows politicians to update strategic plans then champion quick wins that contradict them; to the toxicity of social media poisoning discourse in our region; to small changes quietly occurring in some of the outlying suburban communities have the potential for big impacts; to me this show a region and communities within it that are more and more in-ward looking and lacking a unified voice.

If we are the “mobile region”, as some propose, how do we communicate the importance of this vision to the community and how do we ensure the equity plays a role in who benefits from this new mobility. An autonomous bus to bring nurses and software engineers to Detroit for work sounds cool. The question has to be asked, why are we subsidizing people who can afford and choose to work in another country when 56% of kids in downtown Windsor are living in low income?

Until there is a unified vision and a clear set of priorities that unwinds these complex system issues in manner that can be explained to an outsider easily, we are starting any Smart City proposal behind other communities.

Need to Engage

Put simply the process can’t be top down and the last round missed the mark. All of the winning communities engaged thousands of their residents, through numerous channels from the beginning. Guelph’s bid incorporated over a dozen community proposals into their final submission, and they did so by cutting ideas submitted by the municipality and agencies. Call me cynical but do I see institutionally championed projects getting cut locally for residential ideas, no probably not.

I would argue that engagement hasn’t been a strong suit for our community. Our region tends to lean on online surveys (of which I have been apart of many) available only in English for two week time and/or a poorly attended community town hall to engage the public. Nunavut’s proposal engaged communities across their territory in dozens of communities in traditional languages even publishing their final submission in Inuktitut. Are we willing to do the hard work and go to where people are, and see what they actually need? We might be trying to become a mobility powerhouse but how does that impact the 1 in 2 children in West Windsor living in low income? Has anyone bothered to ask them or their parents what they need? Do they need an autonomous bus or would they rather have the skills and training to have a job building and maintaining the bus? Do we have the right people around the table at the right time, because we missed this mark last time.

Montreal’s Smart City “neighbourhood food and mobility” proposal built on a decade of work and engagement from United Way/Centraide Greater Montreal in creating neighbourhood councils across their region. The councils were stress testers for Smart City ideas and launching pad for deep community engagement. These councils and their neighbourhood resident members will play roles implementation of their successful $50 million proposal.

A last minute, crash engagement process won’t work. Successful applications had months of engagement across their communities; purchased billboards and radio ads; held dozens of publicly held meetings, created innovative engagement methods. They debated priorities and took that feedback to prioritize the proposals. What they did was the hard work of authentically listening to the people in their community and tailoring their proposals to those needs. Something we need to do more of.

Who Owns the “Smart City”

Data has been called the oil of the 21st century. a more apt description comes from Jim Balsille describing it as plutonium, a source of great power, that can both slowly and rapidly kill you. Given this era of fake news, trust in institutions being at or nearing all time lows and talk of breaking up social media/internet giants via Anti-Trust tools. Where is the community conversation on data and who owns the “Smart City”?

The easy answer is to say that the municipality will look after it, but is it that easy? At its core, the Smart City process brings together municipalities and companies together in partnership. In reality, my interpretation is that it is a tool to incentive business to invest, experimentation and eventual monetization of the infrastructure investments they are making. The Canadian Smart City darling of Sidewalk Labs is starting to face its own backlash over the scope of its development and levels of data control and monitoring that it is proposing.

Given the unique challenges of being a border city and the differing standards around data, the potential risks that come from smart technology and data being shared are very real. From program data ending up in a cloud on the wrong side of the border and being searchable under the Patriot Act and various successors; to facial recognition technology being used to target you for ads on storefronts while “keeping an eye” on crime; to a scooters tracking your movements and selling information about where you go and when; Windsor diversity is call one of its great strength, but with emerging evidence around bias baked into AI that may be sorting and/or analyzing the Smart City data how are we ensuring that all members of our community are being treated fairly? To take this discussion to an extreme conclusion, we only need to look at what is happening in China right now. Between an advanced surveillance state and an implementation of a social credit system, peoples lives are being determined by big brother through an algorithm in a black box.

The opportunity that was missed was for a debate to occur around data governance and a framework developed after we missed out on the last round. A year of conversations could have occurred, which to my knowledge have not. If they haven’t then we have stagnated over a year in a field that is evolving more rapidly than people can imagine.

If these conversations are/have occurred then it is time to bring it into the light and to share them with the community. There is massive social benefit to better understanding how our data is being used and it is potentially going to be used locally. If a framework has been developed than community agencies and organizations should begin adopting its standards and implementing proper usage.

Looking Ahead

Based on the previously announced plans another round of Smart City applications should be coming (likely dependent on the election outcome). I would argue that steps should be taken now to prepare but these shouldn’t be closed door meetings. There is time now to democratize this process, build a vision for what a Smart Windsor-Essex could look like and get buy-in from the community on what that vision means for the day to day lives of residents in our community. If we aren’t willing to do that, then we are just chasing dollars, and I fear that future outcomes won’t be much different than our past outcomes.

The Windsor Research Project- Family Matters

Note this post is slightly more meandering and personal than previous posts in this series, but it does dig into data as well.

In a society that is increasingly socially isolated and tribal in nature, the family unit remains a constant. For our region, the changing nature of the family unit may be creating additional challenges for parents and children to finding success in our community. I preface all of the following by stating that I am speaking in aggregate in regards to our city, region and family dynamics. Of course many children that do not come from “traditional nuclear family” circumstances are loved, supported and successful; many newly separated/divorced individuals use this life changing event to pivot to a new and exciting life stage; and formal partnerships very often end amicably and in a supportive manner. That being said, there is a body of research that points to the challenges faced by non-traditional family structures and the impacts of separation/divorce of parents. When looking at our region we find that the makeup of families are changing.

Divorce/Separation in Windsor Essex

Despite Statistics Canada deciding not to track divorce rates annually, the 2016 Census gives us a snapshot of family situations in Windsor and Essex County. Unfortunately our region features higher than average divorce and separation rates compared to the province.

2016 Census Separation/Divorce Rates

For comparative purposes, in 2001, Ontario had a divorce and separation rate of 6.5% and 3.3% (9.8% combined) respectively, while Essex County was at 9.5% (6.8% and 2.7%). As you can see from the table above, in 2016 Provincial rates have dropped 1.1% to 8.7%, while Essex County remained flat. Within the City of Windsor rates of divorce/separation and have bucked the provincial trend and risen from 10.9% (7.8% and 3.1% respectively) in 2001, to 11.4%.

The exact impact of this rise in separation/divorce rates is not entirely clear. Research out the US following the great recession showed that divorce/separation rates declined through the economic downturn. The reasons for this dip during the recession are not entirely clear as traditionally financial stresses are considered a leading cause of separation and divorce. Part of the assumed reasoning is that when the economy struggles on a macro level, breaking of the family unit becomes too costly a venture for many in uncertain economic times, and in turn they remain in a relationship assuming no explicate dangers being present. Whether this leads to long term stability in the relationship is another question, as divorce rates in the US have returned to pre-recession levels.

Another factor is the nature of our economy. Windsor is in many ways still a shift work town. Of the 166,070 individuals who workout side their homes, 21% travel to work between noon and 5am (afternoons and midnight shifts) in Essex County, the compares to provincial average 15.9%. The connects between shift work and separation/divorce are also well established with one study finding a 6X divorce rate between families who have one or more member work shift work compared to those who do not. The nature of shift work can bring additional stress as well as mental illness to the workers and household.

Within these separation, divorce and other marital status statistics, there are a number of unique outliers that deserve some attention. For example of 32,030 individuals who identified as separated or divorced, 57% or 18,525 identified as women, with this rate slightly higher in the City of Windsor. Whether males who separate/divorce are quicker to re-enter a long term relationships, or they leave the community (this is somewhat disputed as females have higher mobility rates at both 1 and 5 year intervals) is unknown. The impact of these factors partially contribute to the slightly higher rates of lone parents families in our region compared to the province, of which 80% are led by women.

For men, there is actually an “excess”, for the lack of a better term, who are outside of a relationship and have never been married. In Essex County there are over 50,000 males over the age of 15 who are single and never married compared to 42,000 females. As a there are currently over 1,000 females then males between the age of 15-64 and that women live longer than men locally, there are over 12,000 more widowed females than males in Essex County (16,000 vs 4,000) it potentially creates a front loaded skew in the relationship demographics of our region.

Leaving Home?

When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to leave home, and escape the oppressive yoke of my parents tyrannical rule. I don’t say this to make a comment about how things were better “back in my day” but rather to frame another family trend in our region. Young people aren’t leaving home.

The above chart shows nationally trends in living arrangements for young people over the first 4 censuses of the 21st century. The trend that emerges is that far fewer youth are living with a partner or child away while more and more young people are living with parents or some other non-attached living arrangement. Locally in Windsor-Essex we find our community has the 4th highest rate (behind, Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton) of 20-34 year old living at the parents, with 43% of them living with parents which is something that I feel needs to be unpacked.

Unlike Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton our region is relatively affordable yet young people are staying with their parents in our region just as long as these more expensive jurisdictions. Where I think the fault lies is on the wage side of our community. The decline in incomes in our region between 2006 and 2016 Censuses certainly played a role, but so has the transitioning of our economy. A couple of decades ago you could walk onto an assembly line with a high school diploma and be making a wage that lets you buy a home in a few years. Now that same education traps you in a cycle of minimum wage employment. This is supported by US polling research that showed that lower education millennial were living at home longer than previous generations

The further specialization of our economy has resulted in certain degrees and diplomas not ensuring employment anymore. I myself consider myself lucky to the employed in this community, as I have built a niche both inside and outside of work; but there are very few employers looking for a raw graduation from the political science field. How many musicians or drama majors, teachers, lawyers, marketing specialists, social workers are produced locally, and how many jobs in those fields are available annually?

This stay at home narrative connects to the original marriage conversation, particularly when you bring education into the mix. This latency in living at home, delays many young people from starting or committing to relationships. As costs of education rise, the incentive to remain at home in a low/no cost housing increases.

As I would characterize Windsor’s post-secondary institutions are more commuter institutions for local students, the incentive to stay at home is high. This stay at home nature leads to some debate around the maturity of young people today and their need for adulting classes to “get by in the real world”. Setting those aside, education certainly plays a role on when people get married, and despite the overall age of marriage is increasing. Our local economy is not tooled in a manner that will employ young adults in a way that they can financially support themselves. In Canada, young people are not worse off then previous generations from a gross well standpoint, but they are more heavily indebted and that constrains quality of life as their income to debt ratios have passed over 200% on average. No surprise that they are putting off getting married.

The Impacts

Part of the reason why I chose to write on this topic was it was something that I am currently experiencing and coping with. Being my nature, I wanted number and data to help me cope. I found that I was an outlier, getting married when I did, and now that it has come crashing down, I find that in this community, its more common than I realized. I was privilaged enough to grow up in a family that didn’t experience a divorce directly or even in my core group of friends growing up. The impact of separation and divorce are real for people and families in our community, and it is a more common than average phenomena. Financially by splitting both parties are taking significant risk and are likely constraining their short and medium term financial security, then there are the emotional and mental health impacts. As provincial rates of separation and divorce have dropped, our rates have stagnated or even risen in certain communities, this mean more missed days at work and lower productivity, damaged mental health,
people saving less for the future or retirement and less income circulating in the economy. The breakdown of a marriage can be a scaring process, without even looking at the potential impacts on children.

Through my separation from my partner, which has been thankfully been amicable; I’ve been depressed; faced financial/emotional stress; had panic attacks; probably had a few evenings where I drank too much; been working too much to distract myself; broken down and cried; and decided to punish my body by signing up for a half marathon and dragging myself out of bed at 5:31am to start training.

That being said, I knew of and sought out help, I go to a counselor to talk through things and get support. I also have a great network of friends and family, both locally and further afield who I could turn to. Financially I am in a position that many in our community aren’t in. Not everyone is a fortunate as I am, and I am thankful for that. Is everything fixed as I write this, of course not, this is part of a process but the consequences for myself and many others in our region are very real.

School Board Stuff: Educational Development Charges

For a while, I have been interested in Development Charges and their impacts on growth. The announcement that the Greater Essex County District School Board was reviewing their education development charges (EDC) was certainly interesting, partially because I didn’t know that they existed.

Originally set back in 2014, the charge of $305 per residential unit applies to all of Essex County, including the City of Windsor and Pelee Island. These funds are then at the disposal of the school board for the acquiring of property for new schools. These charges are imposed for 5 year periods after which point they need to be renewed. This renewal requires a 15 year projection for land use and student enrollment growth as a justification for the EDC (the projection will actually be very interesting to see). In the case of the Toronto Catholic School Board, they expect over the next 15 years to need $2 billion to acquire land for new schools.

These charges are collected by the corresponding municipalities and deposited to the School Boards, in a similar manner to the education property tax. Strangely I could only find a listing of these charges on the City of Windsor website which creates some confusion and probably why I was unaware. This lack of listing does raise some questions on whether or not the EDCs are being transparently imposed across the region.

The Money Stuff

According to the School Board’s and budget EDCs are expected to allocate approximately $230,000 from these funds towards land purchases this coming year. From the Board’s last audited statement they generated $363,901 in revenue. Generally speaking based on previous audits this account seems to be drawn down each year as the EDC off-set grant funding from the province.

At $305 per residential unit and reported revenues of $363,000 that works out to 1,190.16 unit being charged the EDC (2017 saw $517,131 equating to 1,695.51 units). From CMHC data just in the Windsor CMA in the 2017 calendar year there were 1,187 residential units permitted (when the charge would have been imposed). Now the data does have some issues related to calendar (School Board data based on a August 31 fiscal year and CMHC using annual calendar) as well as CMHC data misses Essex, Kingsville, Leamington and Pelee Island as they are not apart of the CMA. The primary takeaway is that it is very hard to say if the Board is maximizing its revenue potential from this tool or if it is allowing for fees to be waived in jurisdictions. Areas of Windsor Core for example have a blank waiving of development charges, it isn’t clear if the school board charges are also waived in this area. It is also possible that they are collecting partial charges in certain areas where municipal reductions are in place.

The school board currently does not charge non-residential changes. Simcoe County District School Board as an example charges 35 cents per square ft charges to commercial and industrial buildings.

The Ministry

To complicate matters the Ministry is involved in approving School Board EDCs. The underlying justification for EDCs and the background report must be submitted to the Ministry. In many high growth areas, EDC regulations have been challenged as unfair and constraining, resulting in school boards leaving millions of dollars that could be utilized for new builds or repairs. Some advocacy groups have also called for reform in EDC to allow repairs to be financed through EDCs.

According to the presentation provided to GECDSB by Watson Associates, the Ministry is conducting a full review on EDC and the finding should be release by summer/fall 2019. It is possible there will be an update on this at the public meeting in the coming weeks.

Progressive Educational Development Charges

A review by Watson Associates, the same consultants for the Public Board here locally, for the Halton District School Board stated that:

  • EDC by-laws may be uniform across the jurisdiction or area-specific.
  • EDCs may be a single charge for all types of residential development or the Board may wish to impose different charges on different types of residential development.
  • Boards can allocate net education land costs to both residential and non-residential developments.

My takeaway is the possibility that the EDCs for GECDSB could play a role in shaping broader development patterns in our region. By adjusting it’s charges from a flat rate for all of Essex County to a more targeted approach. Although its not entirely clear if exemptions are provided to the current charges, large areas of Windsor do not have development charges in an effort to encourage new development. In contrast, high growth communities (LaSalle, Lakeshore) where new development will create pressures for new schools, could/should have higher charge rates.

Given that these charges seem to be set based on expected growth patterns, that will shape the size of the charge that can be imposed, some careful calculus would need to be undertaken based on the projections developed by the consultants. The charges could in theory be only deployed on high growth areas of residential development and by not including even nominal charges for other areas it maximizes the developmental impact of the charge. For (a very crude) example:

Let’s say the consultant’s say 15,000 new residential units will emerge over the next 15 years (between Jan 2013 to Jan 2018, 4,921 residential units were built). Based on that housing growth, a student growth multipler would result in approximately 3,000 new student needing accommodation from that new housing stock. If 3,000 student equates to 5 elementary schools and a high school needing $5 Million in land acquisition costs, that amount can be applied to the new residential units via EDC at $333 per unit. Or the School Board could decide that Lakeshore units are $1,000 and Windsor Core are $0 per unit.

Calculations are crudely applied based on Watson Associate calculation for the Simcoe County District School Board

Since the charge can only pay for land needs, setting an equal charge across the whole region when certain parts are growing faster than others, actually places undue burden on part of the community by stunting potential growth with additional cost. Obviously there are political ramification to using changes in this manner but by putting a damper on outward expansion it could also help mitigate pressure to close or realign existing schools in core areas. If 10% of those 15,000 units become infill within existing school boundaries of the next 15 years, the capacity issues of certain core schools could be mitigated as high cost to develop new residential vs low infill is a proven (if often bluntly applied) tool to shape economic behaviour.

The addition of a commercial or industrial sq-ft charge would also shape this calculus. As the total amount that can be collected is based on the total land acquisition costs, adding a commercial or industrial charge would lessen the residential charge burden.

Conclusion

To be perfectly honest, I don’t fully know if the above is actually in the power of the school board to implement. A reading of the Education Act on EDC provides less clarity than I would hope. If the Toronto District School Board gets it way, these charges could actually have much more power in the future to finance building repair and other capital projects. That being said, this EDC issue is one of those issues that is flying under the radar in our region. With all of the the oxygen being sucked up by other “mega” issues, the potential impact of EDC on our region’s future is significant and won’t get the discussion that it deserves.

It’s issues like these are why we elect school board trustees, it will be interesting to see where they land. So I would encourage you to head to the public meeting on April 2nd.

2019 City of Windsor Budget Hot-Take Part 2: Capital

Capital Budget

First thing I have noticed is that it is a 7 year budget compared to the 6 year budget proposed in 2018 and 5 Year in 2017. I don’t recall the shift to a 10 year plan that is coming but I think it is a good thing in principle. The items up for approval in this year’s budget have been (for the most part) sitting in a queue for years. What are talking about in this document is if something is being pulled up or pushed back or being added to be completed sometime in the mid-2020s.

That being said the discussion portion of the document outline a number of interesting factors. First that the City’s purchasing power is being pressed, hense the recommended transfer of operational dollars to capital in this years’ budget. This paragraph shows the potential shortfall:

Based on this review process, new projects and or increases to previously approved in principle projects have been brought forth within the 2019 – 2023 period. There is approximately $121.44 M in additional capital project funding requests within this time frame, of which approximately $67.86M was funded….Several projects listed in Appendix A were able to be funded by dedicated reserves and or development charges. As a result, there was no impact to other projects to accommodate $24.67M of the $67.86M in funded requests.

Capital Budget pdf pg 7

To combat this some dollars have been freed up – $15M for the Paul Martin Building are recommended to be reallocated; the Pedestrian tunnel under Riverside seems to be dead with the recommendation that the $2.5M be transfer to the redevelopment of City Hall Square and Civic Esplanade. Ongoing inflationary pressures will continue to be a challenge for the City. In a low tax environment how those cost pressures are managed over the long term is a significant challenge.

Pre-commitment

The other big shift is a request to begin tendering multi-year projects in a single tender. The example used is the Cabana Rd. widening which is a $46M project, which by pre-committing funding and tending the whole project it would battle inflationary pressures, allow for larger project components to be undertaken and fewer start/stops in work which would reduce overall project costs. The same logic is applied to bulk purchases like playground equipment or new buses where if a large set of funds is utilized to buy all of the assets at once, better rates can be negotiated.

This long term allocation of funding is interesting and potentially can drive cost savings that I am all for, but I am not clear on the mechanics, from the example used:

For example had Cabana been funded at $46M the first year it started it would have consumed almost half of the entire capital budget for that year. Allocating funding over the 10 years leaves sufficient funding room for other projects to proceed.

pg 6

So are they paying the $46M in 10 equal installments to the builder and work is being completed immediately? Are they utilizing reserves/credit to pay entirely upfront, then repaying the reserve/credit line? Or are they paying for X years of work with payment being paid out over the period of work as it is completed? This isn’t clear to me in this proposed process.

There is also a significant political element. If project funding is pre-committed over multiple years does that not constrain future councils in their ability to reverse course or alter a project? Using the example above, would it be too late to go and add in separated bike lanes on Cabana after the multi-year tender had been issued and accepted? If it it a 10 year funding horizon, yet City Council only sits for a 4 year term will future councils find their ability to alter course or prioritize hamstrung by past council decisions? Some of this is dealt with in the risk discussion within the budget but the implications still seem hazy to me.

2019 Projects of Note:

Again, not every project. There are literally hundreds more, so you should read it yourself at your local library or on the City Website.

MAY-001-19 – Branding – $500k in 2020, 2021

HCS-001-19 Meadowbrook Housing – $12M

Investing $12M to get $38M in value for the first new community housing units in the City in decades. A bargain!

ENG-006-16 – Coventry Gardens Peace Fountain Capital Repairs – 100k in 2022

A great excerpt from the project description

…the lighting is run by a DOS based software program that is understood by very few.

Pg 172

OPS-001-07 Road Rehabilitation – $8.1M in 2019

I have nothing against this list other than I bike to work down College Ave and it needs to be done, but now I need to find another way to work.

OPS-001-11 – Minor Alley Maintenance – 200k in 2019

32km of 80km of alley were deficient as of June 2018.

OPS-005-07 – Railway Lands Fencing – 100k in 2019

This will probably be used to keep people from crossing the ETR line to the College Ave bus terminal… Oh wait.

OPS-005-19 – Gravel Alley Drainage Improvement – 400k 2026+

Leveraging alleyways for drainage in 7 years. If only there was a strategy around these spaces.

Page 500 to Page 509 of the PDF – Past ECB funding requests from 2016 & 2017

OPS-002-19 – Property Development at 2890 North Service Rd. – 790K 2026+

More or less to create a storage area for flood damaged materials next to the public drop off on North Service Rd.

PFO-006-12 – Community Parks Initiatives – 500k 2019

This year’s community park project is the Bridgeview Path Shelter Lights Park Redevelopment…. I don’t know where that is or what that means. It’s followed by Forest Glade projects in subsequent years.

PFO-007-12 – Neighbourhood Parks Initiative – $1.25M 2019-21

Mitchell and Bruce park in the City Centre will be getting major upgrades over the next few years.

PLN-018-07 – Neighbourhood Studies and Design Guidelines – $225k from 2019-21

Planning and study on Neighbourhood design ranging from CIPs to by-law reviews, to creating urban design manuals for neighbourhoods. No specifics on the potential neighbourhoods.

OPS-006-19 – Food and Organic Waste Study – 65K in 2021.

More or less to study the process for Food Waste diversion (Greenbins) from the Landfill by 2022 as mandated by the province.

OPS-001-19 Pedestrian Crossovers – 100k in 2024 and beyond.

Looks like pedestrian crossovers aren’t coming for 5 years so be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.

OPS-014-07 – City Wide Bikeway Development Initiatives – 600k per year for 3 years then 200k in ’22 and ’23 and 400k in ’24-26.

No locations determined it depends on road reconstruction (see screenshot above for this years projects). That being said just over $2M was reallocated from this fund for the Dougall underpass project to solve the “death trap”. This work will begin this year.

OPS-021-07 – Traffic Calming Initiatives – 169K in 2019 & 106k in 2020.

Does not speak to specific locations or priorities.

TRN-001-19 – Public Transit Infrastructure Fund Phase 2 and Project Management – $144M Total

Yes you read that right, $144,775,004 with $46,552,185 spent between now and 2025. This is the transit infrastructure modernization that will likely be triggered by the Master plan that is due back to Council in the fall. Opportunities for BRT and the overall system reimagining and technological improvements.

That being said over the next 7 years all of the funding is targeted to Provincial and Federal Grant so the City of Windsor doesn’t expect to fund any of this until after 2026 when it has held $36M

FRS-003-13 – New Fire Headquarters – $23M 2025+

Placeholder for a new fire headquarters

LGL-002-16 – Environmentally Significant Land Acquisition – $1.5M in 2020

A report will be forthcoming but this is the placeholder for a potential purchase of Ojibway Shores from the Port.

LGL-003-17 – Confidential Property Related Matters – $4.55M

$4.55M on confidential property purchases….

EDG-001-11 – Lauzon Parkway & Cty Rd 42 Infrastructure – $1.5M

Design for the realignment of Lauzon/Cty Rd 42 realigned with property acquistion beginning next year.

PBG-003-18 – Annexed Land Growth/Development – Storm-water Financing Study – 670k in 2022

Studying how to manage storm-water 3 years from now.

ECB-042-18 – Theme Districting – $5.25M between 2019 and 2023

Districting, its coming Walkerville!

What I Didn’t See

Things that I don’t see in this capital budget:

  • Central Library Branch: If the Mission is taking over that location this coming June, where is the plan or budget for the new location. I get that the Library has it’s own budget etc. they are going to need City money to build their new facility. I guess that request is coming outside the budget process?
  • The Councillors for Wards 2, 8 & 9 all ran (from my recollection) on platforms that called for new community centres or libraries in their wards. Although this budget was largely a carryover of the last Council, could a table drop be in the cards? If not, they all have one less budget year to get their projects on the books. As the budget horizon grow next year, will voters be satisfied with a new library in 2028?
  • Alley Lights: no mention or plan around alley lighting is mentioned in the budget. There is $250k for “Alley funding” but no specifics on what that will be put towards beyond Administration has compiled a priority list based on technical needs. All other alley investments relate to ongoing maintenance and some future drainage planning.
  • Active Transportation Master Plan: No funding pre-approved beyond existing capital projects for implementation of the active transit strategy that is due back fall 2019. Given the scope of the work, wouldn’t proactive investment/reserves to help jump start the recommendations be prudent?

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.

Out to the Woodlot…

The latest bugaboo in Windsor is around a wetland/woodlot/clumps of trees in Ward 10 ie. the South Cameron Woodlot and the surrounding lands. Just prior to the weekend the Mayor Dilkens celebrated the province removing the significant woodland/wetland designation, which would in theory allow for development. Social media has been a flutter with discussion condemning this development (pun intended) with a change.org petition calling for the green space to be protected having over 1,300 supporters in a few days.

The circumstances that lead to this debate are complex: City Council prioritizing flood mitigation and tree cover in their strategic planning sessions barely two weeks ago. At the same time the mayor’s celebration of the issue, one which was originally raise almost 2 months ago in the media as a development challenge for part of Windsor that will create new housing stock in the central part of the city and increase population density.

This isn’t the first time a woodlot has led to controversy in the face of development. Eagle nests were removed in Ward 7 in 2016, while Windsor’s Greek Community got into a spat with City Council over the removal of woodlot trees for their new Community Centre in 2014. The challenge that this sort of issue is that it twists people in knots. In many cases, as progressively minded individuals suddenly become NIYMBist and the hierarchy of priorities between infill development and environmental protection clash.

A facebook post by a resident of the area (wouldn’t embed properly) outlined many of the reasons why this change in designation could be seen as concerning. On face value I agree with author’s position, where I challenge her on this issue is that many of the points. Unfortunately she utilize are similar to those used by NIMBY advocates in major cities preventing density and affordable housing in affluent neighbourhoods: traffic congestion, little transit usage, changing the neighbourhood character by removing green space, there are “other areas” (brownfields) where this development could go. As I feel that twitter is the worst place to have a policy debate, I decided to unpack this issue a bit.

~paragraph above was edited

Density

Lets be clear, new housing will bring density and infill to the city. This area of the City is made up of 3 Census DA (codes: 35370339, 35370866, 35370867) with a total population of 5,556 spread over 1,611 private dwellings in 2.34 square km. As Don points out on twitter below:

If we take that 300 new units with the associated average family size of 3.8 people per dwelling, assuming they attract a similar socio-economic demographic it gives us approximately 1,200 people. The 1,200 people raises the population density of these Census DA from 2,374 people per km to 2,884 people per km in what would be high tax assessment new build constructions. It would actually lead to a overall population density of the ward by 52 per sq km to approximately 2,367.

We are not talking about thousands of new homes, and although there is a opportunity to bring more people with additional density in a potential new development (town houses as an example). As Ward 10 is the third least dense ward in the city, that’s not a bad thing.

Traffic/Transit

Another element of objection emerges from the already snarled traffic along Dominion and Northword. Traffic relief can emerge from connecting thoroughfares that currently service the area. Ojibway street connecting from Dayton Ave (one block of Huron Church) could be extended all the way to South Cameron. Kenora St. could run across Randolph all the way to Mark Ave. connecting Huron Church to Dominion. Mark Ave, could now bridge to Totten and suddenly Dominion and Longfellow are no longer the only North/South access to the area while creating a Northern drop off point for Holy Names School, albeit on the far side of the sports field.

Yes new housing would come with these streets, but it doesn’t mean that the whole woodlot is lost. A single row of housing along a connecting street is not a significant change in the density or populations but new roadway that can support both existing and new development would be created.

As for the lack of transit, there is nothing stopping residents in this area, the Dominion 5 runs through this neighbourhood. The reason why transit isn’t used in this neighbourhood is the same as the rest of the city: culture, convenience and perceived/actual poor quality of service. The solution to these problems are in my opinion, not impacted by whether or not new development goes onto these lots. In fact, the most effective way to ensure that transit usage would be to build affordable housing units. The unknown with this plan is whether or not affordable housing going into a middle income area would trigger its own NIMBY issues.

Development on Brownfield

As I have said on this blog, and something that I personally believe, the core housing stock in the central parts of Windsor (areas north of EC Row, more so north of Tecumseh) are fundamentally broken in the context of modern community need. Now certainly infill onto vacant and brownfield lands is desirable but in many cases in our city, they lack the economies of scale to be truly attractive to developers.

The question that has to be asked, is how big of a role do taxpayers want to play to incentivizing and subsidize developers into filling in missing teeth. The CIP with all of its success today is to be honest, corporate welfare to developers. The City is forgoing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in forgone taxes, fees and direct cash transfers to get developers to build in places that they wouldn’t build otherwise. Now I am not disputing the benefits of that development and the Downtown CIP has encouraged approximately 300+ units being proposed in the city core. This 50 acres of land would also support 300 units with a maximum development charges, zero tax abatement’s and all fees being collected.

Yes the woodlot is in the City’s Environmental Plan (take that at face value) but no one has discussed the fact that just because 300 units could be built, doesn’t mean that 300 units WILL be built. Even a developer can recognize the selling point of actually putting in less density, and leaving tree coverage/wooded areas. Don is right, the county is outbuilding the city and CMHC data shows that the county has build over 1,000 more detached home than the city over the last 5 years or so. If you actually want to tackle broader climate challenge, looking beyond “city sprawl” to “regional sprawl” is a logical jump that needs to be made.

Flooding

Flooding is an issue and there is no doubt that this area of Ward 10 has suffered:

City of Windsor Basement Flooding Map

No infrastructure can handle catastrophic flooding rains of the past two years, there would have been flooding no matter what. Research by cityfloodmap.com which is written by Robert J. Muir, the Manager of Storm Water for the City of Markham Ontario finds that the rain events that occurred over the past couple of years are a statistically significant declining event based on older Environment Canada data. Now this isn’t to say that we won’t get these storms or downstream flooding nor that impacts from climate change won’t reverse this trend. In the same post, the following is stated:

Consider this: when your design standard is so low (Essex Region has the minimum 100-year flood standard in Ontario according to the Provincial Policy Statement on natural hazards), the importance of expanded development and intensification in existing development areas is an even more important factor when considering increased runoff and flood risk. Why? Because pervious land uses can absorb some fraction of ‘small’ 100 year storm but not much of the large storms used in other regions. Those using Hurricane Hazel design storms which saturate the ground with anecedent moisture conditions (US Soil Conservation Service AMC III conditions to be exact) do not have as significant an increase in runoff following development. Those using 100 year storm, like Essex Region, use the drier AMC II conditions in hydrologic models, meaning that the soil-vegetation surface can absorb relatively more … until it is paved over.

https://www.cityfloodmap.com/2016/10/windsor-and-tecumseh-flood-reporting.html

People should read a slidedeck about Markham flooding by the Robert, its pretty interesting. Modern development patterns have made flooding in these extreme rain events more likely regardless of infrastructure. What matters more is a combination of hydro-logical factors that I am not going to try and understand or explain here. Time, amount of water, how moist the soil is, elevation, soil composition, number of trees and plants that are around, etc. all play a roll in whether or not flood situations occur. Whether or not the existance of this woodlot would stop or mitigate future events given the surrounding residental make up is a question I can’t answer but we can’t assume is true.

The simplest of these factors is elevation and looking at this area of the City the woodlot area is actual high ground.

elevation map

Although the change in height is only a few metres that is all water needs. In an extreme rain event, yes the woodlot would absorb rain but its also high ground and water is going to run in a surface and subsurface manner to the surrounding streets where municipal infrastructure can’t handle it.

From City of Windsor
http://www.mappmycity.ca/Html5Viewer/Index.html?configBase=http://www.mappmycity.ca/Geocortex/Essentials/REST/sites/Sewer_Atlas_Upgrade_22/viewers/Viewer_HTML5_20/virtualdirectory/Resources/Config/Default

The above map shows is the storm sewer flow for the area of Ward 10. Almost all of the water that falls in South Cameron area flows south towards EC Row. This is the challenges when there is a historic rainfall in the areas downstream, there is no where for the water in and around South Cameron and Dominion to go, so it sits and ends up in basements.

A new progressively designed development actually creates an opportunity to build a relief value for this area. The fact that Dominion doesn’t have storm sewers according to this map is a joke to begin with, but a new east-west connector on some of the streets I mentioned above, with additional pumping capacity suddenly the upstream pressure to get water to ECRow is relieved. This coupled with an actual Dominion North/South storm sewer line may solve some of the problems better leaving all of the woodlot area intact.

This is Why Social Media Can’t Have Nice Things

The all or nothing nature of social media is why it is shit for policy debates, as it allows only all or nothing positions to be stated in the character limit. You can’t build here because I can only explain this one point; while the other side says you have to build as it is actually infill, is going to increase density and your a hypocrite for not recognizing it, debate rages in circles.

I think partially what happened here was a messaging issue, one that if you are conspiratorial may have been manufactured as future wedge. Mayor Dilken’s number one priority has consistently and to his credit been creating jobs and economic opportunity in the City of Windsor. Allowing this development to occur fits that mandate. The ask was put out to the premier and government (reported publicly in general terms) back in December. Given what we know now, I don’t know who is surprised that this provincial government came back with this approval.

The approval came from a government that could be generously called regressive on environmental (and other) issues, to a region that did not elect representatives to help form this government. I would be surprise if there were almost any announcement made by this government that would not create a vocal response from the local population against it.

Finally the inherent polarization in our community lingering over from the municipal election, a shift on council with high expectations for progressive change and a number of divisive issues circulating community meant that this announcement was primed for outrage, and that is what happened. This outrage rippled through Windsor relatively echo-y social media sphere painting a picture that 50 acres of trees and wetlands are in imminent risk of all being bulldozed and that the Mayor was plotting more flooding for Ward 10.

Personally, I don’t have a stake in this and I can see both sides. The fact is that any development going into the South Cameron area will have to be approved by City Council. There is nothing stopping a thoughtful and measured Council from approving development that will improve traffic access, sewer infrastructure and flood mitigation and preserve green space. There is a middle ground here, that brings more people to Windsor without negative repercussions to existing residents. Taking a breath and looking for that Win-Win is important.

Priorities, Opportunity Cost and Courage

The past week or so has been interesting, as the direction of the City has been shaped for next 4 years. It began with a “strategic planning” meeting on Tuesday where City Councillors outlined their priorities for the term as part of the second fifth of the City’s 20 Year Strategic Plan. To my embarrassment, I wasn’t even aware that this prioritization was occurring so I read Brian Cross’s piece with interest, particularly the rankings that occurred.


Tied with nine stickers each were implementing the sewer master plan, ordered following disastrous floods in 2016 and 2017, and increasing the city’s tree coverage and eliminating the long wait time for tree trimming. Projects with eight stickers included: improving the city’s branding, such as the Welcome to Windsor signage as motorists enter the city; economic diversification; and implementing the soon-to-be-completed Active Transportation Plan which will lay out network of bike lanes and paths to increase cycling and walking.

Seven-sticker projects included: an aggressive traffic calming policy; adding more community events; and strengthening the property standards bylaw. Six-sticker projects included: intensify the population of people living in the city’s core areas by 25 per cent; and helping more neighbourhoods get streetlights and sidewalks.

Projects receiving scant or no support included: a new skateboard park (no votes); a long-envisioned pedestrian ferry service to Detroit (one vote); initiatives for families and youth (one vote): improving community policing; publishing the recorded voting records of councillors (one vote); eliminating the alarmingly high number of people waiting for public housing (one vote); and reducing poverty by 20 per cent. The projects with two or fewer stickers were eliminated from the strategic plan.

“They’re all valuable points, but I’d say the ones that have eights and nines are ones that will be coming back at budget time,” said Dilkens.

Brian Cross, Windsor Star from here

I could spend pages digging into these priorities and my perceptions, but then another piece by Brian Cross related to 6th Concession and the need for its redevelopment despite it not being in the long term capital plan. It’s not that I think that neighbourhoods shouldn’t be complete, but the fact that the story popped up when it did was somewhat ironic in my opinion. A priority for a Councilor, that may or may not be met as a part of the overall vision and shares a spot in the ranking with urban intensification of the city core. Which given the location is likely going to undercut that other priority making them very much a zero sum situation.

Friday then brought two more stories. Anne Jarvis provided an excellent overview of what the top priority – Tree Trimming – could look like, with a $4 per tree assessment and ~$2 Million per year just to maintain existing coverage. The other news of the day was that the City wouldn’t be facing financial doomsday as the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) would not be cut, saving the community a 6% tax increase.

This new is obviously important as the need for large tax increases just to maintain the status quo has largely been removed from the picture and fiscal restraint platform that the mayor ran on will likely be applied to all of the priorities outline above going forward. The result could be an interesting series of political horse trading for various councilors to get their priorities met, while still keeping tax increases at inflation or so. Although there is certainly room for a “budgetary coup” that drives up rates to meet additional priorities it is more likely that these ranking will now be political tool to push certain issues, many of which I support, at the expense of those not listed or perceived as a lower priority.

Finally, on Sunday morning (causing me to re-write this post) there was this story on AM800 by Teresinha Medeiros stating that the City was launching a fundraising campaign to build the shelter for the restored street car. I guess the fundraising began back in November, they are now shelling T-shirts and although I can recall the shelter being a part of the conversation from the beginning of that process, I always assumed that the shelter was included in the restoration costs. There wasn’t a conversation that I recall around the City not paying for that shelter and although I do think that sponsorship etc. can be a tool to mitigate the cost, if not forthcoming, is an extra $100,000 for a shelter something that Council or residents were aware of when the restoration process began? Maybe I missed this but to me this fundraising effort shows the potential unintended consequences that can emerge from ad-hoc priority shifting and attempting budgetary restraint at the same time.

Opportunity Costs

Don’t get me wrong, I like trees, sewers and our economy does need to diversify I also think it is a great thing that our elected officials could agree upon some priorities for this term. My question is what is the opportunity cost of this prioritization? Based on the reporting above, low priority items are not only a not seen as a priority for this council but have also been removed from the overall 20 year plan. What does that say about us as a community?

You can desire density in the city core, but without a strategy or priority to solve the poverty, homelessness and opioid issues that are present in the core, will developers build without taxpayer subsidy? Will resident want to move there compared to suburban or other areas of region, particularly if investments in their livability are being made? We can work on branding the city, but if underlying challenges aren’t solved and negative news stories keep coming out, is it worth the money? If activists continue to agitate for change and speaking for those who aren’t normally heard, will that de-rail economic diversification efforts because it’s off message?

I would argue many of the priorities outline above, are not strategic needs, rather that are tactical wants of constituents and their councilors. By forgoing the hard strategic conversation for these tactical items there is an opportunity cost. So what are some of the opportunity costs of tree trimming?

  • $2 million is annually a 10% down payment for a mortgage held by WECHC to build a 70 unit community housing project (estimate based on $38 Million for 145 Units in East Windsor). Amount could be scaled over multiple years depending on project sizes with the goal of eliminating the 4000+ person wait-list for affordable housing.
  • $2 Million per year could massively scale outreach and support efforts by both City run and not-for-profit initiatives that are part of the City’s Housing First efforts, battling opioids and mental health issues and helping the city’s most vulnerable. At $50,000 per year you could put 4 social workers in every ward of the city based out of libraries and community centers.
  • Put another way, Pathway to Potential the region’s municipal poverty reduction strategy operates at approximately $2 million per year supporting programming and subsidies across the region. This funding could be doubled.
  • A standard non-bendy City bus is approximately $600,000 and is about 3X the amount for a regional transit pilot being put on by Leamington. We could actually lead on Regional Transit with this money.
  • Investment in the infrastructure deficit whether roads, sewers or active transit are an option with $2 million per year likely supporting/completing a number of projects.

Courage

Maybe it is time to have a conversation about what our city should or shouldn’t be doing? Yes there was just an election, yes that election did frame the priorities outline above but my question is what kind of city do we want. One that lurches from the tactical cycle over cycle or one that stays strategic.

If we are looking to “Future Proof” our local economy as some have suggested, we are going to need to think outside the box. The Town of Strathroy is funding skill trades programs for youth directly in partnership with their school board. The City of Toronto is funding coding programs for at risk youth (and beyond). City Councillors in Ottawa, are attempting to battle their homelessness crisis by putting forward a 1% levee to build more affordable housing . Norfolk County leveraged provincial main street funding, not to put out garbage cans, but to give free storefront space to small businesses to help revitalize a small town downtown. Or Vancouver which is considering allowing anyone under 18 ride transit for free. To a community land trust in Parkdale Toronto that is buying land, both publicly available and through tax liens, to ensure that residents have a voice in the gentrification occurring in their neighbourhood.

Trimming trees and building sewers is not going to build resilience in our economy. As reported above we won’t be seeing a 6% tax increase this year as provincial funding came through (this year), but maybe we should. A Friday editorial in the Toronto Star called into question whether that city facing a growing list of priorities and challenges can effectively manage them through fiscal restraint and a hope that other levels of government will come forward with funding. Put simply, Windsor (most municipalities) faces a revenue problem. In general municipalities lack revenue tools leaving them with the option of raising property taxes/user fees or not spending. Paul Giroux said to Anne Jarvis:

Do you want to cut down your oak tree because you don’t like the acorns?

“A very proactive, progressive city would say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not going to give you a permit for that,’”

Anne Jarvis Windsor Star

He is right, there shouldn’t be a permit for that, but a progressive city also doesn’t leave people behind. For many in our community, acorns in their backyard are the least of their concerns. Which begs the question, given the breadth and scope of the challenges our city faces, and the priorities that we have apparently set, think of what we could do with $20+ million per year.