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Windsor's budget is well underway. Here's what some councillors, and an expert, think so far

Windsor city hall, pictured in a 2022 file photo.  (Jason Viau/CBC - image credit)
Windsor city hall, pictured in a 2022 file photo. (Jason Viau/CBC - image credit)

Windsor's budget process may be complete as soon as this week. It's the first such budget drafted by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens under newly expanded mayor powers granted last year.

Councillors we spoke with say the system brought plenty of changes — and one expert says how the system will operate can change from one city to another.

This year marks the first that Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens personally prepared the budget with staff.

The power was granted under provincial legislation last year that awards mayors of large and medium-sized cities expanded powers in a bid to increase housing.

Dilkens said he believes the budget "found the balance," between services and a large tax increase.

"[The] process that we used, it was much more efficient and so it was open for council to ask any question on the operating budget, any question on the capital budget," he said, noting he also attended every ward meeting. "I met with every single member of council in advance of preparing the budget."

On Monday, council met for more than five hours to hear presentations on the operating and capital budgets, and to propose amendments to the budget Dilkens had prepared.

For example, an amendment brought up monday included a proposal not to extend enforcement on downtown parking. Amendments such as this have to have the support of council to be considered by the mayor.

From here, the mayor has 10 days to veto an amendment — and council can override that veto with a two-thirds majority for 15 days afterward.

In the case of the parking enforcement amendment, it was accepted by council but the mayor has the option to veto it if he so chooses.

Ward 3 Coun. Renaldo Agostino and Ward 6 Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac both noted the differences in this year's budget process.

Agostino, who brought forward the parking enforcement amendment, said Monday's process was "one thousand times better," than last year's budget deliberations.

"I hate to proclaim that it was good or bad until it's over. We don't know that the process is finished," he said.

"But I think it was new to everyone this year and I can only see it getting better as time goes on.

"I think even for the mayor's office it was a new experience. For councillors, it was a new experience, but I could tell you every step of the way, every door was open, so every opportunity to make an amendment, to suggest an amendment to work with the city and to work with the other councillors … and I took full advantage of it for sure."

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told reporters Friday that he doesn't feel that people who object to having four-plexes in their neighbourhoods should be labeled NIMBYs.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told reporters Friday that he doesn't feel that people who object to having four-plexes in their neighbourhoods should be labeled NIMBYs.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens pictured in a January 2024 file photo. (Dalson Chen/CBC)

Gignac said she felt it was a "really balanced" budget with the recommended increase of 3.93 per cent.

"I think it went very well. It's a much different budget process," Gignac said. "First time that council has been through it, but I think it was an effective process. We had good discussions and made several amendments that brought us to a conclusion."

Gignac had an amendment on increasing Lakeview Park Marina fees accepted. She also requested that staff report back next budget cycle on dog licence fees.

Other councillors did not have amendments accepted by council, such as a proposal by Couns. Fabio Costante and Kieran McKenzie to expand transit service by eliminating school extra buses.

'Growing pains'

Martin Horak is an associate professor of political science at Western University. He says some "growing pains" as councillors and staff acquaint themselves with the professor is to be expected.

"The new system is kind of unlike anything else we're used to in the Canadian and certainly the Ontario local government context because … what the province is introduced is the is a system that's a little akin to the separation of powers in American political institutions," Horack said.

"Also, I think the process is actually pretty complicated because there really is this balancing back and forth between the mayor and the council … I think it's a lot to process between the fact that we're not used to it and the fact that the rules are actually quite complicated."

How efficient the process is in any one municipality, Horak says, depends on how closely aligned councillors are with the mayor's priorities.

"Because if the mayor effectively has majority support on council already for his or her vision of the budget, if you have the mayor making all the choices, then it certainly cuts down on council's work, right?" he said.

"I think the dynamics of this are going to be really different from one city to another."

As the process moves forward, Horak says residents can watch for the use of the mayoral veto power in the budget.

"From the perspective of your average resident, you're moving into a very different system where, in your municipality, it's no longer council that calls the shots, but the mayor has kind of this independent power and they're using."

Dilkens says he expects this year's budget process to be complete by the end of the week.