Windsor approves 2022 budget

Windsor City Hall, December 2019. (Photo by Maureen Revait)

Windsor City Council approved the 2022 budget with a tax levy increase of 1.86 per cent.

“I think that 1.86 is a very fair and reasonable budget. It certainly reflects on the time that we’re in and the economic realities which you cannot ignore,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. “You have to be disciplined and that’s really what today’s discussion was about is being disciplined and not taxing and spending to accomplish all the goals that you have.”

The increase was brought down from the proposed 1.99 per cent increase before budget deliberations began. This resulted from several agencies, boards, and commissions providing updated budget figures.

The budget was passed with a nine to two vote. Councillors Rino Bortolin and Chris Holt both voted against the operating and capital budgets in large part due to Transit Windsor’s portion.

“This is a missed opportunity to invest in our community and keep pace with something as vital as transit as things change year over year,” said Bortolin. “Transit and housing has been shown to be the top issues in cities across Canada. We are not keeping pace in Transit, not even close.”

Councillors Holt and Bortolin were hoping to see the introduction of a new route, the 418x.  This route is included in the previously approved Transit Master Plan and would provide service to the University Lancer Centre. It’s estimated the route would cost about $1-million annually with the addition of 15 full-time staff and six new buses.

The route was not approved in the 2022 budget. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said approving the route when ridership is down 50 per cent and every route is being subsidized would have been among the “worst business decisions” a council has ever made.

“Residents in this city want good service but they expect each and every one of us to balance that service level with the amount of tax that we’re adding on to their levy,” said Dilkens. “This particular year as they’ve gone through a pandemic, with 1,100 people at Caesars who are not working, when I know that our largest employer is letting go of their second shift and everything that surrounds that and all the feeder plants that are going to be impacted by the global pandemic and the chip shortage and the pain that that’s going to have on the community, you are darn right that we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we’re not adding undue burden.”

As a compromise and to get service to the Lancer Centre when it opens in the summer Transit Windsor will modify the Central 3 route. This will increase the length and decrease the frequency of the busses along the route. Sunday service will also be added to the route.

“On a daily basis, that route is going to be less efficient than it is currently by layering this in,” said Councillor Kieran McKenzie. “We’re repeating previous mistakes that led to a transit system that is inefficient, where the ridership isn’t meeting the expectations of the community and that’s because the routes aren’t bringing them to where they want to go in a timely enough fashion.”

The 518x route which connects Tecumseh Mall to Devonshire Mall to St. Clair College was also made permanent in the 2022 budget.

The overall operating budget includes a $25 million deficit on pandemic related one-time costs. Upper levels of government have covered many of these costs over the last two years, but it is unclear how much of those costs will be placed on the city in 2022.

Council approved the ten-year capital budget worth over $1.6-billion in spending on projects, including $182-million earmarked for next year. The budget includes road projects over the next 10 years, funding to revitalize Adie Knox Recreation complex and other parks and recreation spending. Councillors Holt and Bortolin also voted against the capital budget.