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.