Windsor budget: Council counts on provincial, federal COVID bailout to prevent tax hike

Monday council will start debating the proposed 2021 budget which leaves millions in COVID-19 costs to higher levels of government.

City will aggressively pursue provincial, federal money for COVID-19 expenses

City, council will need to make difficult decisions if provincial, federal money doesn't cover projected COVID-19 costs. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

When Windsor council debates the proposed 2021 budget, Monday, councillors will be looking at a proposal that maintains the status quo with a freeze on property taxes —but that also counts on higher levels of government to foot the bill for an estimated $37.7-million in one-time COVID-19 costs. 

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens expects both levels of government to step up and says the administration will continue to "aggressively" seek relief from the provincial and federal governments.

"I want to be very clear, if the federal and provincial governments do not come to the table in a meaningful way, then council and the City of Windsor will certainly have some difficult decisions to make," Dilkens said.

City departments, agencies, boards and committees were told by administration to maintain service levels while proposing cuts to prevent budget increases. 

Administration is recommending that council approves: 

  • 0.6 per cent increase across city departments
  • 0.7 per cent increase for agencies and boards like the Windsor Police Service, Diversity Committee, and Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation
  • 1.16 per cent increase for the previously approved Asset Management Plan

However, that increase of 2.46 per cent in spending will not be picked up by the municipal taxpayer.

Instead, it will be covered by a change the provincial government has made to the Education Levy. That change frees up $10.5-million, enough to covers off the proposed increases to the budget. 

For context, the City of Windsor budget proposed in 2020 recommended a 3.6 per cent increase. Council decided to approve a 2.1 per cent increase. 

Two months later, the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Windsor-Essex. In July, administration estimated there would be a $29.7-million hit to the budget because of costs associated with the pandemic. 

On Monday, council will debate a budget that does not cover off what administration estimates will be $37.7-million in one-time COVID-19 costs- the result of both additional expenses and lost revenue.

This is what makes up the largest chunk of COVID-19 costs, according to the City of Windsor. The corporate losses include revenue from the Windsor Airport, Detroit Windsor Tunnel and Caesars Windsor. (CBC Windsor)

Getting this budget in without a residential tax freeze was already difficult after years of continued focus on a "leaner" organization, according to administration. 

Homelessness and affordable housing

Windsor-Essex continues to experience a homelessness crisis that has been highlighted during the pandemic and a 5,500 person wait list for affordable housing. 

This budget calls for the permanent funding of a Street Outreach worker at a cost of $69,926.

Daily visits over the course of two months by outreach workers this summer helped connect most of the 19 people who lived at an encampment in downtown Windsor to housing and social services. 

According to budget documents, there were 422 people in Windsor and Essex County who were experiencing homelessness in August 2020, with 58 living outside.

The Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation is requesting a 5.6 per cent ($680,000) budget increase driven by increases in costs for enhanced cleaning of their buildings during the pandemic, insurance increases and utilities.

Capitol budget splits money for Paul Martin Building

There's $5.6-million set aside for the Paul Martin Building now proposed to be split across four different projects:

  • $200,000 for an Anti-Racism Initiative 
  • $3.4-million to connect Lauzon Road to the WFCU centre with a new 450-metre roadway
  • $2-million to fund economic development through the recently approved Windsor Works initiative
  • $95,616 for improvements to the Roseland Golf and Curling Club

The capital budget also calls for a total of $4.8-million to cover the costs of a new clubhouse at the golf club following the completion of a feasibility study in 2021.

Anti-Racism Initiative

The Anti-Racism Initiative, if approved by council, would fall under the direction of the Mayor's Office. 

"There exists a present-day opportunity to provide additional support and to ensure appropriate resources are provided to specifically combat racism in the City of Windsor," states the project description.

This would be in addition to the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and Diversity Committee, with plans to partner with external groups for training and programming efforts to address systemic racism.

Transit Windsor, program fees to rise?

The list of user fees for City of Windsor services also sees increases in the proposed budget. 

Riding the bus will cost more in 2021, if approved by council. The budget includes a 2 per cent increase for all fares and passes except single ticket fares for the tunnel bus. Bus fare would rise to $3.10 and to $99.55 for a 30 day adult pass. 

The majority of recreation and culture rental fees and swimming fees would rise by 1 per cent.

$500,000 for Community Improvement Plans

The budget calls for $500,000 to help cover off grant payments under Windsor's 5 Community Improvement Plans. Council has approved 45 applications under CIPs, with administration expecting to pay out $28-million over a 10 year period. 

There's also $250,000 earmarked in the capitol budget for an Affordable Housing Community Improvement Plan Incentive. 

Money to keep the trails in shape

The budget also recommends approving $95,000 to maintain off road cycling trails at Malden Park and Little River Corridor Park.

The parks department has also put forward a proposal to double the trail maintenance budget across the city, brining it up to $200,000.