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Windsor council approves 2.1% tax increase in 2020 budget
WINDSOR -- Windsor’s one-day budget debate has drawn to a close – with councilors landing on an increase of 2.1 per cent to the city’s operating budget.
"The best budget is the one that leaves each side thinking it could have done just a little bit better and I think in this case we certainly accomplished that goal," Mayor Drew Dilkens quipped at the end of the meeting Monday evening.
The budget was broken down into three categories: Departmental budgets, agencies, boards and committees and the new provincially mandated asset management plan; each adding 1.2 per cent to the proposed 3.6 per cent levy.
Council walked it back to 3.2 per cent by shaving funding to a handful of corporate accounts and agencies.
"The onus is on us to go line by line saying what do you approve, what don't you approve, what are your ideas," says Ward 1 Coun. Fred Francis.
The ideas didn't stop there with council finding another $4.3 million in savings.
After it was defunded by the United Way, $100,000 of funding requested by Life After Fifty was trimmed down to $30,000. The group will still receive a total of $172,000 from the city.
Council also made a $600,000 reduction to the request from the Windsor Police Service, slashed $125,000 of requests from the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation and said ‘no’ to 22 of 35 new full time jobs at the city.
Mayor Dilkens says landing at 2.1 per cent struck the right tone, ultimately costing the average homeowner with a house valued at $163,000 an extra $60 on their tax bill.
"I think we found a good balance here. Some councillors wanted to go lower -- there are councillors who I know from my conversations wanted to have more done,” said Mayor Dilkens. “But at the end of the day, they looked at it and said what you're presenting is fair and reasonable and they were willing to get behind it as you heard today."
Deliberations began at 10 a.m. with delegations and lasted until nearly 7 p.m. Monday night. Ward 9 coun. Kieran McKenzie was also satisfied with the result.
"It was a good process, administration brought a great budget forward and I think we had some good consensus I think tonight at the council table," he said.
One highlight includes an investment in bus service that will double Sunday hours, the first step in a transformational plan for public transit.
"This is one of the early wins we were trying to put forward recognizing the master plan was just approved,” said the city’s transit executive director, Pat Delmore. “We knew this is one of the major concerns that residents had."
The asset management plan was passed as presented, resulting in about $5 million additional dollars over the next six years for roads, sewers, parks and facilities.
The only person to vote against the operating budget was coun. Francis, citing the need for more affordability.
"We're not out of the woods and the economy's not sky high where I think we can add a financial burden to our residents,” Francis said. “And at the end of the day, if I can save someone a dollar, I'm going to try to save them a dollar. That's what I got elected to do."
The city will also spend a record $161.5 million on capital projects in 2020 on improvements to roads and sewers.
As part of that, some nasty intersections will get face lifts -- including Howard Avenue at South Cameron. Phase two of construction at the pinch-point at Northwood and Dominion in South Windsor will also wrap up and Windsor's most dangerous crossroad at Lauzon Parkway and County Road 42 will get an overhaul.
Next year, council may undertake a different approach called zero-based budgeting that would tie councillors into the budgeting process earlier. A report was requested by Ward 6 coun. Jo-Anne Gignac, who debated her 17th budget Monday night. She believes the process will give councillors more input and insight and hopefully -- improve transparency around decision making at city hall.