Published on: January 24, 2017
For the second year in a row, the city’s $10-million enhanced capital budget turned political — and created some hard feelings among councillors whose wards received less than others.
After drawing criticism last year for dropping the enhanced capital budget on councillors’ tables at the end of a long budget meeting — and for providing nothing to five wards — Mayor Drew Dilkens took a different approach this year.
He asked for councillors’ wish lists well in advance. Then on budget day Monday morning, he released his suggested list for the enhanced capital budget.
“You can go ward by ward and start adding up things but at the end of the day, this time there’s something for every ward,” Dilkens said. “And it represents the priorities we’re hearing.”
Nevertheless, discussion quickly soured over differences in allotments, given the top ward received more than four times the lowest.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we don’t do enhanced capital budgets,” Coun. Chris Holt said at the end of a marathon meeting that finished just before 2 a.m., Windsor’s latest council wrap-up in modern history. “It’s overly politicized.”
Holt’s Ward 4 received the second lowest at $600,000, including beach volleyball courts on the riverfront between Aylmer and Parent.
The overall budget ended Windsor’s run of eight straight property tax freezes, with an increase of 1.73 per cent — meaning the average homeowner will pay $48 more in 2017, based on a home of $150,000.
Despite wrangling all night long, most drama came at the end, for the enhanced capital budget.
Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk, whose Ward 7 received the lowest amount for 2017 at $400,000 after receiving nothing last year, said many councillors suggested in advance they support splitting the $10 million evenly.
“In my conversations, it appeared to me we were coalescing around a principle, a very important principle: equity,” Kusmierczyk said. “What I see here is the furthest thing from equitable.”
Despite Dilkens assuring councillors that they would decide the 2017 enhanced capital budget, Kusmierczyk considers the end result the mayor’s list. Kusmierczyk made a point of stressing his joy over the Forest Glade basketball court receiving $200,000 for a renovation, but nevertheless questioned the approach.
“The process this year was different but the result is the same as last year,” Kusmierczyk said. “And that’s a shame.”
Coun. John Elliott received no enhanced dollars last year but made an impassioned plea Monday night for his Ward 2, which received the most for 2017, with $1.84 million. Among the Ward 2 projects, Mic Mac Park washrooms and concession stands will be renovated for $200,000 while a roundabout and entrance sign will be built at the intersection of Sandwich Street and University Avenue for $850,000.
“All in all I think Sandwich Towne deserves its due,” Elliott said, later noting that he did not appreciate an editorial cartoon in the Windsor Star last year depicting his pockets turned out after receiving nothing. “It’s high time our community got a little TLC.”
Jo-Anne Gignac, whose Ward 6 received the second most for 2017 at $1.62 million — for Tranby Avenue reconstruction, Riverside Vista engineering, and more — suggested it’s impossible to evenly distribute money for projects.
“If you look at the budget process as a whole, nothing is equal,” she said, noting that former mayor Eddie Francis also provided last-minute enhanced capital budgets. “Hopefully, we look at it as a benefit to the whole city.”
Only Coun. Rino Bortolin, who received the third least at $625,000, voted against the budget on principle. The other critical councillors grudgingly voted in favour of it, since they wanted their wards to receive some goodies.
Certainly, the enhanced capital budget, which commits $10 million in Year 5 of the extended capital budget, outlines a number of projects.
Citywide, $750,000 will go the mayor’s arts endowment, while $250,000 will cover the creation of themes and identities for various districts.
Phase 1 of the Wyandotte Town Centre will receive $1 million — half from Ward 3 and half from Ward 4 — for Windsor’s World Marketplace, which will add banners, improved lighting and more, all to embrace the area’s multi-ethnic character.
The Central Park tennis courts in Ward 1 will enjoy a $100,000 makeover, while the Tranby Park tennis courts in Ward 6 will be improved to the tune of $75,000, and Malden Park in Ward 2 will benefit from $75,000 toward a dog park. A number of roads across the city will also be spruced up.
City council watcher Paul Synnott, who talks about all things municipal on the Rose City Politics CJAM radio show, likes the projects, not the situation.
“It’s completely unfair,” said Synnott, who doesn’t support enhanced capital budgets in the first place since they commit money for future councils. “I like Drew. He’s smart. He’s a nice guy. But he has completely weaponized the enhanced capital budget. You work with him, you get your capital dollars. You don’t, you get crumbs.”
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