Rose City Politics
Jan. 29, 2023
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Last week we talked about the City of Windsor’s recent consultant report on a Digital Modernization Strategy (see page 62). In the Windsor Star headline it was described as a brutal assessment of IT infrastructure at the city. No fault is laid at the feet of the administration or the staff in the department, rather the report identifies a heavy reliance on outdated technology and manual processes.
Our commentator, Doug Sartori, in an interview with CTV labelled the findings as evidence of the kind of IT dysfunction that occurs when large institutions fail to understand that the information technology behind its services are as important as bricks and mortar or in municipal parlance, roads and sewers. For those who may not be as familiar with what this means, our water and wastewater systems, traffic lights, traffic cameras, snow plows, dispatch, 311, bylaw enforcement, budget and financial reporting are all managed by complex and unrelated pieces of technology. This isn’t just being good at Excel, it is being good at understanding and integrating life safety technology and protecting it from harm. A pothole on University Avenue is annoying. A digital pothole in the SCADA system that runs our water treatment could be fatal.
Listen to the show if you want to know more. This blog post is about something else.
In the CTV piece, it refers to Mayor Dilkens taxation strategies and he is quoted as well: “Dilkens, who has long campaigned on promises to keep tax increases as close to zero as possible, goes on to say city council’s budgets have included tax increases above, at or below the rate of inflation “over the past several years.” He’s not wrong, but that’s not the whole story. Some of the above inflation increases were attached to a 1% levy for the hospital construction and the mandatory asset management plan which ensures that our infrastructure (roads and sewers) deficit doesn’t get worse.
The problem is that the amount of money which the city took in to pay for things like IT did not keep pace with inflation. So while the rate of tax paid per dollar of the value of your house went up, the amount of money taken in by the City went down on several occasions and barely kept pace with inflation.
The Mayor likes to bring out this chart to show how much savings we, as taxpayers have had, because we didn’t increase our annual operating budget by a steady 2% per year.
But to me this chart is not a picture of fiscal responsibility or of savings, it is a chart of fiscal irresponsibility or arbitrary starving of needed upgrades and improvements. If our operating levy had increased, not even by 2% but by a mere 1%, many millions of dollars could have gone into clearly needed IT upgrades.
MBN Canada, the organization that does benchmarking of cities across Canada reports that our investment per FTE in IT is barely at the median for our peers.
Yet during this same period, we built the Adventure Bay where we continue to subsidize annual losses, started Bright Lights which does not earn revenue, and renovated an historic trolley.
We have been putting up trinkets and shiny lights when we should have been funding critical technology infrastructure. We are pennywise and pound foolish. As is inevitable, those chickens are coming home to roost.
WRITTEN BY MELINDA MUNRO
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