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‘I will not support’: Windsor councillors eye ways to bring budget increase below 5%


Windsor city council will debate the 2023 budget on Monday, and ratepayers are looking at a much higher than normal property tax increase, but not if some councillors get their way.

“The exercise is going to be extra challenging this year,” said Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, a self-professed fiscal conservative around the council table who for eight consecutive years voted in favour of zero increase budgets.

But even she will tell you this year is different.

That’s because inflation is at a level unseen in 40 years and is driving up the cost of doing business — even at city hall.

“This is not a discussion of spenders versus savers,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. “I'm sure everyone is trying to do their best to keep the lid on a budget during a time of 40 year high inflation to try to manage our way through this budget in the most prudent way possible.”

When first tabled, the city proposed a budget increase of 5.23 per cent.

A committee of council met over four days last month, whittling that number down to 4.59 per cent through administrative cuts. But according to new Ward 4 Coun. Mark McKenzie, a trio of councillors were miffed when they came to the meeting with ideas for further reductions, only to have the motion to hear those ideas voted down.

Then, the city was dealt another blow when some unexpected add-ons, including a larger than anticipated land ambulance rate and lower stipend through the provincial gas tax brought that magic back above 5 per cent.

And now, administration has proposed a new tax, adding a quarter of a per cent to fund the new residential roads asset management plan, bringing the property tax increase to 5.27 per cent going into Monday’s budget debate.

“We have an obligation to have an asset management plan,” said Mayor Drew Dilkens, who is defending the additional levy to ensure residential roads are prioritized.

Dilkens indicates every councillor who came through his door over the past few months said it’s something residents are demanding.

“This keeps us ahead of the game to make sure we’re doing the work that’s required in the community,” said Dilkens.

But some of council’s newest members are ready to sharpen their pencils to bring that number down further.

Mark McKenzie was prepared to table different ways to bring the tax rate down during the special budget committee meetings. Even though his motion was defeated at that time, he will have his ideas ready to roll on Monday.

“I don't like 4.5 per cent,” he said. “I'd love to see it, you know, close to 2.5 per cent, or three, ideally. But then again, I don't want to cut services either.”

Ward 1 Coun. Fred Francis has been consistent over the past eight years he’s served on council, with a mantra of hold the line or bust.

“My concern is that we're on a runaway freight train of tax increases, year-after-year-after-year moving forward, and that's what I'm trying to avoid,” he said.

Francis notes the city is working with a $2.5 million surplus from last year and this budget has $22 million in new spending proposed.

He sent an email to councillors this past Monday with ideas to trim the budget, including suspending funding for the asset management plan, slashing about a million dollars in new proposed hires and cutting transit increases in half from $900,000 to $475,000. He says these cuts alone could save $6.5 million.

“In a year where people are telling us they're struggling with all these household expenses, why wouldn't we eliminate a tax we have full control over?” he asked.

Francis is also suggesting council re-prioritize the 10-year, $1.7 billion capital budget, deferring the civic esplanade makeover and festival plaza projects and re-directing that money to roads and sewers so they don’t need to be funded by the asset management plan.

“I don't think we should be patting ourselves on the back and telling people, ‘oh, look, we're doing more capital works for you, but we're charging you more to do the capital works,’” Francis said. “I think we can pat ourselves on the back if we're saying ‘listen, we're doing more capital works with you, but we're not charging you more to do it.’”

Dilkens indicates the city is mandated by the province to fund the asset management plan, but has some ideas of his own to bring the number down. For now, he’s keeping them close to his chest.

“I feel quite comfortable to say that we'll be able to get the number down to around 4.5 per cent,” he said.

According to Francis, it’s a number that is still too high, which sets the stage for some tough conversations come Monday.

“4.5 per cent right now, I will not support,” said Francis.

If a 4.5 per cent increase is the number council lands on, it would equate to $145 extra on the average property owner’s tax bill.

Council meets Monday at 10 a.m. to go through the annual exercise. Top Stories

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