Though the City of Windsor finished in the black to the tune of $2.1 million last year, the surplus could be eaten up by tax appeals. Out-going Chief Financial Officer, Onorio Colucci, expects some large appeals being made to the Assessment Review Board this calendar year and suggests that the extra money be put into a reserve account.
Windsor was hit hard during the 2008 economic collapse and still has not recovered. Stagnant population growth, identified by the Conference Board of Canada, as well as the exodus of manufacturing to less costly locales have played a major part in the mired local economy.
A lack of will on the part of Windsor Council to address the property taxation and development fee issues has further contributed to a decline in Windsor property as desirable for investors, resulting in a consistently high unemployment level.
As a result, there have been a number of high profile organizations seeking remedy from the Assessment Review Board for comparatively high property value assessments. In recent years, the tax roll for the city has been reduced by $86 million resulting in losses in tax revenue of $17.8 million.
Now the city is bracing for another round of appeals that Colucci seems to think will be successful. Windsor will turn to the the residential taxpayer to make up the difference, but that group has been dwindling over the years because of the ever increasing property tax rate.
Larger municipalities like Toronto and Hamilton have more diverse tax bases, however Windsor hasn’t diversified the economy to offset the hit to manufacturing. Had the city done so, the reduction in tax revenues would have had a smaller impact on the shrinking population.
The pressures on will continue on the city’s budget and we have already seen service cutbacks and amenity closures to offset costs. Adventure Bay, built at a price of over $80 million, is now closed for three days each week with minimal hours the rest of the time due to the lack of interest to visit the park. There is an administration plan to divest park space and there is a continued reluctance by the city to spend on infrastructure.
Instead, Windsor wants to add capital spending in the form of a new city hall, new plaza, a Riverside Drive tunnel, and $200 million commitment to a new hospital that is yet to be approved. Add to that a $21 million invoice for a FINA swim meet in December and Windsor will need to severely control costs and/or raise taxes just to break even.
Damage can be mitigated by the city, but Council as a whole has to be willing to take the proper steps to protect the well-being of tax payers, including pulling out of the FINA debacle in the making, placing a moratorium on non-essential capital spending, and moving to reduce development fees to spur investment, as they have done successfully in Leamington.
They also need to get a grip on the excessive salaries that have skyrocketed within Administration.
Otherwise, Windsor will become an even more costly place in which to live in the very near future.
Ian Shalapata can be heard at noon every Thursday co-hosting Talkin’ ‘Bout Windsor on CJAM 99.1 FM. Listen on demand to previous episodes or catch the discussion live and join in. It is also streamed online at CJAM.