Mayor Drew Dilkens listens as councillors ask questions of delegates at Windsor city council meeting, Jan. 21, 2019.
Dax Melmer / Windsor Star
Fifteen years of fiscal sobriety at city hall came to a screeching halt this week with confirmation that Windsor is now in the hands of pearl-clutching progressives determined to open the tax spigots for causes dear to their hearts and damn the consequences.Drew Dilkens will continue to preside over ribbon cuttings but it became evident Monday that the guy pulling the strings, our de facto mayor, is downtown Coun. Rino Bortolin with ever-loyal aide-de-camp Chris Holt at his side and labour allies, who have big-time influence on this council, cheering them on.Last term, with its many 6-4 votes supporting Dilkens, now looks like the good old days. The math worked. This term the mayor can count on only three lonely loyalists.Final proof of neutering was council’s 7-4 decision, stridently opposed by the mayor, to use $567,000 in city tax dollars, so-called gap funding, to fill a homelessness program shortfall imposed by the Doug Ford government.Council, bizarrely, even voted to pay the county’s share and then ask, pretty please, if it would like to chip in. Yes. I’m sure the cheque is already in the mail. How naïve can seven people, four of them political neophytes, be?As if to rub salt in it, council then voted to spend $78,000 on a bizarre plan to have a U.S. consultant run a “boot camp” for potential mom-and-pop investors to become neighbourhood “infill” developers.The smart folks fled Windsor years ago, which explains why the city’s population has stagnated for half a century while county municipalities experienced eye-popping growth and prosperity — though we have attracted people to the city recently.There could be another rush for the exits once Windsor property owners get wind of the potential tax storm coming our way, courtesy, in part, of councillors who think with their hearts rather than their brains.How does an eight-per-cent hike for 2020 sound? Followed by eight per cent in 2021 and another eight per cent in 2022? Fred Francis, one of council’s saner fiscal voices, fears increases on that scale could be in the cards for Windsor, especially if council colleagues insist on compensating for provincial spending cuts with municipal dollars.The numbers could indeed mount quickly. Dilkens is dreading the arrival this fall of an official letter from the province detailing planned cuts to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF). Windsor, the single biggest beneficiary of that program, received $23.5 million this year.“If they cut the whole thing, which is entirely possible, that’s automatically a six-per–cent tax increase,” warned Dilkens.Meanwhile, councillors led by Bortolin are insisting that the $6-million initial phase of the $150-million active transportation plan, approved this week to delirious reviews from a cycling community that has outsized influence in this pickup truck city, must be included in the 2020 budget. That $6 million translates into a l.5-per-cent tax hike.The province has also mandated that the city introduce a 10-year asset management plan requiring an annual tax hike of 1.16 per cent. Add in the usual inflationary bites on the budget and, barring deep cuts, streamlining or outsourcing that this gang won’t allow, we could be looking at a truly obscene tax hike.It’s nice that councillors want to help the downtrodden by subsidizing their heating bills and buying beds and mattresses to help keep them off the street.But when you try to fill a space vacated by the province, no doubt permanently, where does it end? Should Windsor homeowners subsidize teacher payrolls to keep classes small for the kiddies? Should we underwrite medical clinics? Pay for nurses and bandages because people are bleeding so it’s the civilized thing to do?Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac reminded council this week that a fiscal disaster is looming in this province. Ontario, with a debt approaching $350 billion, forks over a billion dollars a month just to service that debt. Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne and her drunken-sailor government bequeathed us this stinking mess. Ontario could be the next Greece, except we don’t have German bankers to bail us out.The Ford government has been inexcusably inept in its first year, but the need to slash spending, especially in healthcare and education, where most provincial tax dollars go, is painfully real and will hit municipalities hard.And these are the good times. What happens when interest rates rise? What happens when the economy tanks and revenues collapse while essential expenditures soar?Those who whined that Windsor homeowners haven’t been paying enough property taxes in recent years may soon have reason to firstname.lastname@example.org