Chamber – careful what you wish for

December 11, 2013

Blog

During this budget process, Windsor was mentioned a few times as a city we should emulate – by a couple of residents, Councillor Cam Guthrie and the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Lloyd Longfield.

I am all for using comparative data but have always believed we need to take care in which cities we choose for comparison.  I also believe it is important to understand the story behind the numbers.

So let’s dig a little deeper into the Windsor comparison.

Before I do let me say I stayed a few days in Windsor a few years ago while attending a municipal meeting.  I went for an early morning walk in their downtown and almost everyone I passed said good morning to me.  It says a lot about a community when they greet strangers so warmly. I do not envy the job of their elected officials in meeting the economic challenges posed by the precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs.

Windsor’s population is in decline.  It declined 2.6% between 2006 and 2011.

Compare that to Guelph which, during the same period, grew 5.9%.

More people = increased demand on services. For instance, the 2014 budget includes two part-time positions to maintain new parks in new residential neighbourhoods.

Windsor has reduced its workforce by 170 positions over the past 6 years – through necessity, some perhaps through increased productivity, and certainly many because they have not had the same or growing demand for controllable services levels that Guelph or other communities have.

Point #1 – we should not be comparing ourselves to a city that is depopulating.

And there is more to the story than just population.

The value of property in Windsor has fallen over the last few years because of the depressed local economy.

Point #2 – we should not be comparing ourselves to a city that is seeing a decline in the value of property.

While it is true that the total amount Windsor will collect from taxpayers – municipal tax levy – will be the same as last year, the municipal tax rate (set after the approval of the budget just as it is in Guelph) will need to increase to ensure the city actually realizes the municipal tax levy they have approved.

Why?  Simple math, the same municipal tax levy this year must be raised from fewer residential and business property owners.

Point #3 – we should not confuse municipal tax levy with municipal tax rate.

Windsor is losing services – like the closing of 9 municipal child care and early learning centres in 2010 – at a time when the people likely need them the most.

I wish them well.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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7 Comments on “Chamber – careful what you wish for”

  1. David Schaller Says:

    I do not think that you should point fingers on this matter.  Windsor is hurting.

  2. Lloyd Longfield Says:

    The Chamber presented Halton as a region that could be used to study best practices. Windsor was mentioned in our discussions during our presentation to Council, supporting another previous delegation’s presentation. Necessity often drives change and Windsor is finding ways to reduce costs because they have to. Halton (with Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, and Milton) is an area quite different than Windsor, but both are looking towards goals of maintaining taxes at current levels, ie zero increase to the consumer. When Halton included police services, their increase was 0.4% this year. As it stands, our tax increase has continued to decline in the past few budgets, heading toward getting below the CPI rate. Continuing in this direction will be a challenge that hopefully can be met by finding what other municipalities are doing that could be applied in Guelph.

  3. Terry O'Connor Says:

    Like comparing apples and oranges, and to think they would wish the kind of economic disaster that has gone on in Windsor on Guelph, maybe they should both reconsider there positions in this community. Not to say the mayor of Windsor, Eddie Francis has been directly involved in the collective bargaining process and has personally supported gutting collective agreements and cutting public services in Windsor.

  4. kfarbridge Says:

    The whole point of the posting was to make the point that Windsor is indeed hurting. I wish them well and I don’t envy their challenges.

  5. kfarbridge Says:

    Municipalities “borrow” from each other all the time – at the Council and management levels. I accompanied our CFO to meet the Internal Auditor for Waterloo Region several years ago as an example. However, we also need to look to our own internal management expertise and enable them to continue to close the gap.

  6. Dennis Galon Says:

    I am concerned with the apparent acceptance of the Consumer Price Index as a reasonable norm for comparison of municiple expense increases. As I understand it the CPI is based on a basket of items designed to emulate typical Canadian family costs. Obviously, the actual expenses of municipalities is not represented by this basket. As I understand it, over many years a basket of items representing typical municipal expenses has tended to run about 1% higher than the CPI.

    Frankly, I don’t know where I got these rules of thumb. Is there an official Municiple Price Index out there somewhere computed a reputable research group? Stats Can?

    Be that as it may, what conceivable logic is there to suggest the zero price increase is a rational comparator for municipal performance. Surely it is nothing more than an unreasonable pipe dream with no other purpose than feeding our irrational desire to have something for nothing.

    As long as inflation is a reality, no matter how low the rate, everyone’s cost must go up even if one goal in terms of services is to tread water.

  7. kfarbridge Says:

    Regarding Halton Region Lloyd, you might want to check what happened at the lower tier level – that is another thing we need to be careful of in our comparisons. Guelph is a single tier municipality – one municipal tax levy. The residents and businesses in Halton Region pay two municipal tax levies – upper tier (Region) and lower tier (Municipality). You might also want to confirm whether Halton Region dipped into their reserves to achieve the outcome you have referenced.

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