Councillors question Windsor's crammed budget discussions

Monday's public budget meeting lasted close to 11 hours, and that has some Windsor city councillors saying budget discussions should span multiple days.

'You end up alienating the people,' says Councillor Rino Bortolin

Councillors Irek Kusmierczyk, Bill Marra and Paul Borrelli during Monday's late night 2017 budget meeting. (Rob Heydari/CBC)

Monday's marathon budget meeting that lasted close to 11 hours has some Windsor city councillors saying it's time to overhaul how politicians conduct budget deliberations.

Mayor Drew Dilkens described the latest meeting as one of the longest in his 11 years on council. Monday's meeting opened  to the public at 3 p.m., wrapping up just before 2 a.m. the next morning. 

Councillors say lengthy single-session meetings don't allow the public to follow the discussions, while forcing politicians to make important decisions when they are far too exhausted. 

Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin says taxpayers are the big losers during the long meetings. 

"If you came to speak to an issue, you would have had to take the afternoon off of work, passed your kids along to babysitters, and then wait five hours or more," he told CBC News. "You end up alienating the people who want to speak to the budget."

Many other municipalities in the region spread their budget deliberations over multiple days.

Chatham-Kent held five public budget sessions in January, with budget committee meetings scheduled over four days in early February. While LaSalle takes three days for its budget discussions, despite the community having both a smaller population base and budget than its larger neighbour, Windsor.

Councillors Irek Kusmierczyk, Bill Marra, Jo-Anne Gignac, Rino Bortolin during an 11-hour city council budget meeting on Monday, January 23, 2017. (Rob Heydari/CBC)

"It's just not the way to do it," Councillor Irek Kusmierczyk said about Windsor's one-day session. "When you talk to your financial investor, and she tells you she came up with your investment strategy after a 13 hour marathon that went up to 2 a.m., you'd probably change your financial advisor."

The idea to spread the 2017 budget meeting over two days in Windsor was discussed by council, but ultimately the idea was rejected, explained Dilkens.

The mayor says he's not sure meeting on multiple days would increase transparency.

"Even when we took five days to do operating and capital budgets in the past, you still had the same number of people come to speak," he said.

Mayor Drew Dilkens (CBC)

Dilkens also doesn't think increased attendance at the budget meeting would change much.

"Coming to speak to city council on budget night is probably the least effective way to change minds," he said. "People go through these budgets and start formulating their opinions well in advance of the actual budget night."

The mayor suggests people write or email members of council, if they have feedback on the city's budget.

Bortolin worries citizens are suspicious when the entire budget is voted on in a single council meeting. He regularly hears from residents, who say council intentionally holds one long meeting to reduce public input.

Councillor Rino Bortolin

"I don't believe that's the case ... but ... we are — in essence — shutting them out, whether we're doing it on purpose or not," Bortolin said.