The City of Windsor recently approved its 2017 capital and operating budgets and a $10 million enhanced capital budget. What overall impressions are you left with after watching this process unfold?
Doug Sartori: Close your eyes and visualize a modern, well-governed, city. Imagine how a great city could use modern technology to engage citizens in meaningful dialogue about their priorities. Picture well-informed and independent councillors listening attentively to community delegations and engaging in respectful, substantive debate.
Now take that mental picture and flush it down the toilet because Windsor’s budget process is nothing like that.
Windsor’s budget document is a big, complicated document that takes a serious commitment of time and mental energy to digest. It’s full of jargon and unapproachable for the typical citizen. It doesn’t have to be this way. Take a look at the budget web site of the City of Guelph and compare it against Windsor’s. Guelph offers citizens an informative and simple introduction to their budget, a Q&A message board, and a web-based budget simulator. Windsor’s budget communication efforts are an embarrassment by comparison.
The budget deliberation process is disappointing. Windsor’s 2017 budget was decided in one marathon 13-hour meeting, starting in the afternoon and continuing into the early hours of the morning. There’s no need for this. Passing the budget in one night accomplishes nothing except limiting the opportunity for the public to monitor the most important city council meeting of the year. It’s disrespectful to citizens and contrary to basic principles of good government.
Councillor’s priorities in debate often left me scratching my head. It’s amazing that the same councillors can find endless time to debate whether to spend $37,000 on large item trash collection, but only need a few minutes to rubberstamp $10 million in Enhanced Capital Budget spending.
Next year, Mayor Dilkens should summon the confidence to put aside the games and truly engage the public. Windsor deserves a budget process that goes beyond the low-effort cynicism we saw in 2016.
Doug Sartori is a technology consultant in Windsor/Essex, a partner at Parallel 42 Systems and the President of Windsor Hackforge. He tweets about lots of things including politics, video games, and history.
Kieran McKenzie: My main takeaway – we’re doing this wrong. Let’s start with the 13 hour meeting itself. Do you do your best work at your job at the end of a long shift?
This self-imposed torture test is not only detrimental to good decision making but it also fails to give citizens a reasonable opportunity to participate effectively in this process. This council has a poor record on transparency and approving hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures in the dead of night is another unfortunate but stark example of our city’s democratic deficit.
Let me address a positive - the 1.73% tax increase. I know the fiscal hawks of the world are circling but let me just say FINALLY! This marks an end to Windsor’s policy by tag-line era. Perhaps now we can replace a tag line that literally paints you into a corner a less snappy but much smarter ethos:
“Responsible and Transparent Fiscal Management.”
Now I could go into some of the line-by-line good, bad and ugly but the minutia, though important, is just too vast to reasonably address here.
But the Enhanced Capital Budget…this has become a cesspool of political pork and vote buying. I can accept that there’s room for political decision making with respect to capital projects but this funding has become weaponized and is not being used in a way that serves the city as a whole.
Rubber stamping the Mayor’s agenda should not be the matrix applied to funding allocations. Unfortunately this is standard operating procedure now at City Hall and the city suffers as a result.
Political activist/organizer with a passion for social justice issues. A lifelong Windsor-Essex resident, Kieran McKenzie holds an honours BA in political science from the University of Windsor and has been campaigning in both elections and on issues since he could walk.
Mark Boscariol: The best way to describe this budget is that it’s penny wise and pound foolish. Unfortunately this column doesn’t have the space to explain how many times the council voted against expenses under the guise of saving Windsor’s taxpayer money, only to waste the exact same dollars elsewhere.
The budget was also a study in contradictions. Denying our fire department the tools to rescue on inland waters, while disciplining and arbitrating those same heroes for ignoring the rules as if they could stand idly by while someone drowns in front of them. Also, acknowledging that user fees on rat control prevent its use, then instituting those same fees on large item pickup while spending that same money on cameras to prevent dumping.
You have to look at this two ways. Either they don’t know what they are doing, or because of the time constraints of dealing with this in one day they have predetermined their decisions and aren’t listening to the delegates or anyone else. The most egregious decision was to fully fund the Grand Marais Beautification Project while not allocating or even saving money to deal with the Dougall Box which also alleviated Dominion traffic problems.
Was this a good budget? I’m happy that they kept the tax increase to a minimum but I’m not satisfied with the answers from the councillors who voted against it. They took money from operations towards capital but they didn’t take that same money from the enhanced capital budget. I also didn’t see proposals from those who wanted a tax freeze to get us there.
What I’m ashamed of is that I have come to expect the Mayor to use the ECB to reward and punish those that agree or disagree with him. What I didn’t expect is the councillors who benefit from this disciplinary scheme to go along with it, punishing the person in the chair next to them and expecting this is somehow good for our city.
Husband, father, and entrepreneur, owner and/or creator of Tecumseh Roadhouse; Walkermole; Bedroom Depot; Chanosos; Oishii; Buda; Flying Monkey; Automatic Slims and Windsor International Film Festival, advocate for Windsor and supporter of all things good.