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Monday, January 22, 2024

Windsor council hears pleas for funding ahead of setting 2024 budget

Published Jan 22, 2024  •  2 minute read

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and senior city administrators and council as a whole listen to Alejandro Tamayo, executive director for the Arts Council Windsor and Region, speak on the proposed 2024 city budget on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Photo by Taylor Campbell /Windsor Star

Investments in public transit, mental health services, arts and culture were among the many demands residents had for Windsor council during a special meeting ahead of budget deliberations next week.

Council on Monday heard from more than a dozen individuals and groups seeking changes to the proposed 2024 budget, which council is expected to finalize next week.

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Multiple delegates, including Ward 2 resident Caroline Taylor, argued against a proposed 10-per-cent increase to Transit Windsor fares, which city staff recommends to keep up with inflation.

“Windsor has a poverty problem,” Taylor said. “Food bank usage is way up, and donations are way down. People are literally scrambling.”

Alejandro Tamayo, executive director of Arts Council of Windsor & Region, encouraged council to revisit how much the city contributes to that organization, which expects to end the fiscal year with a $15,000 deficit.

Karen Soulliere, chair of Iris House’s board, also asked the city for an increased contribution to help the organization support its 67 residents, who have persistent serious mental illness.

“Currently we have a year-long waiting list for our program,” Soulliere said. “It really hurts my heart, because I’d like every person to be able to access this program.

“We get a lot of compliments for our program, but unfortunately compliments don’t pay our bills.”

Monday’s special meeting was a new exercise for city council, which normally hears delegations on the budget during a single marathon meeting that culminates in council’s debate and final budget decisions. This year, the vote will take place on Jan. 29, but members of the public were able to share their thoughts on the budget with council one week in advance.

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Dilkens said the new format is the brainchild of city clerk Steve Vlachodimos, who created the budget meeting schedule in light of changes to the Municipal Act. Mayors with strong-mayor powers, Dilkens included, are required to propose the municipal budget by Feb 1 each year. Dilkens presented the budget on Jan. 8.

Council is now in its legislated 30-day budget review period.

“The city clerk was trying to map out how best to deal with the 30 days while also providing flexibility to city council to be able to ask for the information they want,” Dilkens told the Star ahead of council’s 10 a.m. meeting.

“He tried to break this up to allow for delegations to be heard.

“In some years we’ve had upwards of 35 delegates, and they each get five minutes, and that just eats into the overall budget time. This was a way to separate it while still hearing feedback in advance of making the decisions on budget items.”

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Dilkens said this new format is “actually more effective” than hearing from members of the public for hours on the same day the budget is decided.

“Having this meeting in advance actually lets councillors think through, for a week, some of the comments … as opposed to trying to deal with it in real-time at the budget meeting.”

Dilkens encourages residents who want to provide input on the budget to contact him or their ward representative by phone or email.

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James Mackreides
James Mackreides
'Mac' is a short tempered former helicopter pilot , now a writer based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Loves dogs, the outdoors and staying far away from the ocean.

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