My name is Irek Kusmierczyk and I am honoured to be your voice on Windsor City Council as the Councillor for Ward 7. Welcome to my blog called Forward 7. Scroll down and you’ll find posts about issues residents have raised at the door, ideas and plans for improving Ward 7, how I voted on matters before council, and discussions about innovative best practices in other cities. I hope Forward 7 becomes a space where we can connect and a first step in making City Council more transparent, accessible, accountable and responsive to residents. I invite you to surf my site and as always I am available any time to talk in person, by phone or email.
Two weeks ago the Windsor Star published an Opinion piece I co-authored with fellow WEtech colleague Deborah Livneh about the promise of economic diversification – with a focus on the opportunity for Windsor to build upon its manufacturing capacity to include the manufacture of medical devices. Here is the article:
Here are some snapshots from a busy month or two that really paint a wonderful picture of the Spirit of Windsor – which remains strong.
Starting off with a Saturday morning visit with grade school students at Polish School to talk about City Hall and local government. Like many immigrants, I too attended Saturday morning classes to learn about the language, history and culture that forms part of my heritage.
The students didn’t know I was coming, which made the hour long Q&A so impressive because the questions were really, really well informed and pretty tough! Also, I really think they nailed the silly selfie!
I also had a great time at the Windsor 180 conference – which brought hundreds of young people ages 18-34 together to connect and engage our City to make it great!
What better way to spark a revitalization than to be present at the launch of a technology incubator right in the downtown. It’s a small but symbolic endeavour that brings together a publicly funded non-profit and a private entrepreneur in a very innovative public-private partnership that we’d like to see more of in our City.
Of course, diversification is so important! Which is why we were proud to bring Hacking Health Windsor Detroit to our region – the first ever cross-border Hacking Health in the world that teamed up 250 doctors, nurses and programmers to dream up, design and build mobile applications for the health care sector. Over 30 partners were involved including 6 major hospitals and 6 major universities from both sides of the border. Diversification. Cross-border Collaboration. Economic Development. Here’s a photo with the Senior Trade Commissioner for the Consulate General of Canada in Detroit.
And here is another great photo that really captures the collaboration of a Hacking Health. Check out the quote on the wall!
Cross-border collaboration is so key to our economic development and also key to protecting our quality of life through environmental sustainability. That is why it was important for me to participate in the 11th Annual General Meeting of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) – a truly cross-border collaboration of 120 mayors and local governments around the Great Lakes basin that balances economic and environmental concerns. I registered for this conference as a Windsor City Councillor but was happy to travel on my own dime as I feel very strongly our City ought to be at the table of this important cross-border organization. Here is a photo of Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope addressing the audience after Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Diversification and cross-border collaboration is also the reason why I was excited to be present at the launch of the Cross-Border Life Sciences Hub – a partnership between Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital and the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation. Here’s Essex County Warden Tom Bain addressing the gathered.
The last month has not only emphasized cross-border initiatives, but also wonderful cross-cultural experiences such as celebrating Sikh Heritage Month in April at the Windsor Public Library.
In addition to great cross-cultural experiences, it was wonderful to take in the Battle of the Bands at St. Joseph’s High School where hundreds gathered to listen to grade school bands battle it out for City supremacy. Sounded fantastic!
We have some incredible youth in our City – but we also have some incredible volunteers across all ages whose commitment to our City really should be celebrated. That’s why it was an honour to attend a Volunteer and Staff Appreciation night for VON – our blue angels.
It’s not all fun and play. It was also time to get down to some serious business, which is why I was pleased with the turnout at our Banwell Road Environmental Assessment (EA) which put forward the blue print for a complete development of Banwell Road including the critical EC Row interchange.
What better way to cap off this month of cross-border and cross-cultural experiences than celebrating fireworks in front of the Spirit of Windsor – which is strong!
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – Elder College municipal participation||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|2 – Amendments to Safety Village signage||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|3 – Transfer of McDougall Street||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|4- Abandon East Marsh Tap Drain||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|5 – Paterson Park Tecumseh Monument||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|6 – Artcite exhibition||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|7 – Feed in Tariff||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|8 – Pelissier parking garage- keep commercial||Yes||7-3||Delegation|
|9 – Option to maintain WindsorWaterWorld||Yes||8-2||Delegation|
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – Vacant land Westminster||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|2 – Rodent extermination||Yes||10-0||Delegation|
|3 – Abandon Rivard Drain||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|4 – 2015 BIA rates||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|5 – Refurbish Little River Pollution Plant tanks||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|6 – Tend – water rehab||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|7 – Weed and grass cutting EC Row||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|8 – Sanitary sewer smoke testing||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|9 – 6th Concession EA||Yes||—-||Delegation|
|10 – RFP Playground Design||Yes||10-0||Consent|
|11 – Canada 150 infrastructure program||Yes||10-0||Consent|
I pulled my support from the New City Hall project on Monday after City Council debated a report from the New City Hall Steering Committee – where we learned that the project was $6.1 million over the original budget of $34.75 million. That’s an 18 per cent increase.
In order to minimize the damage to the budget, City Council adopted 26 reductions in the design totaling $1.5 million. Many of the reduction will dramatically reduce the aesthetic qualities of a building that was from the start already short on aesthetic qualities because it was meant to be functional. For example, the reductions include replacing the wood soffit under the main balcony – a critical design element highlighted in all the photographs which gave the building an inviting warmth and a touch of class. Also, the HVAC mechanical system was switched to a cheaper piece of equipment that “will have more maintenance involved in the long run”. Some of the costly issues we are currently having right now with the WFCU Centre are a direct result of past decisions to use cheaper material and equipment.
Hence, I voted NO on the New City Hall Project because a bigger budget and substantial design cuts mean we are paying more money for less building. In other words, we started building a frugal building, and instead are now building a frugal building that is expensive.
Over the last year, the City undertook community consultation that included among other things an Open House where photos and drawings of the $34.75 million building were exhibited. After showing taxpayers that building which cost that amount – I could not in good conscience approve an inferior design for significantly more money.
The new bill – close to $40 million – does not even include the cost of a parking garage – $7.2 million- and the cost of landscaping, which together would bring the total cost closer to $50 million.
Most disappointing is the fact that City Council appears to be making the same mistake of the 400 City Hall building by refusing to commit some funding to put in place the necessary footings that would allow the New City Hall to accommodate future growth – which went against the recommendations of the Engineer and Architects on the Design Team.
The reason we are spending an additional $50 million on a New City Hall in the first place is because the former City Council did not invest a couple hundred thousand dollars in order to put the proper footings on the 400 Building to accommodate future needs.
I have nothing but respect for the Engineer and Architects on the Design Team who worked diligently to design a building as close to the budget as possible, but they were given an impossible task from the start with an unrealistic budget. Finding a away to provide City Councillors a better cost estimate at the start of a capital project is critical to maintaining the project’s integrity in the eyes of taxpayers. It’s time to say “no Thank You” to overly rosy funding forecasts at the start of a project that leave Councillors having to explain significant capital and operating cost overruns down the line.
At the end of the day, City of Windsor taxpayers deserve better than having to shell out more money for less building.
For these reasons, Monday was the moment when I rang the bell and told the driver I’m getting off this bus.
This is my stop.
***For some recent examples of beautiful civic projects in Canada, click on the following:
Dr. Simon Hesp knows why roads across Ontario are failing – including young roads such as Banwell and McHugh in Ward 7.
An excellent and timely article was published on Friday talking about research conducted by Queen’s University Professor Simon Hesp into roads that fail prematurely.
In essence, for over a decade asphalt producers and contractors have been ‘cutting’ the asphalt mix with binders and impurities such as motor oil which weaken the material – making it prone to water ingress and cracking.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” is how Dr. Hesp describes the practice and the result.
Dr. Hesp has presented in front of a number of City Council – with the City of Kingston introducing his recommendations for stricter material specifications for contractors.
This is a critical point.
Recall at the Monday, March 02, 2015 Council Meeting – I asked administration to report back on the deplorable condition of Banwell Road.
Here is the official Council Question:
Concerned about premature deterioration of roads—highlighted by the deplorable condition of Banwell Road—administration is asked to provide a report back to Council on the cost and benefit of a third-party review of the City’s Standard Specifications as well as the Inspection and Approval process for road construction.
Only a comprehensive review of our current standard operating procedures will yield improvements to the deplorable state of our roads in Windsor – including very young roads such as Banwell and McHugh in Ward 7.
|ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_||IREK VOTED||COUNCIL VOTED||TYPE OF ITEM|
|1 – Waiver of Fees Via Italia||Yes||9-0||Deferral|
|2 – utility cut tender 20-15||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|3 – Fork and Cork significant event||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|4 – UofW research grant||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|5 – waiver of fees Santa Claus Canada Day||Yes||8-1||Delegation|
|6 – Roseland Golf and Curling club||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|7 – 2014 risk management report||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|8 – Hazardous material sharing with CK||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|9 – Odette estate||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|10 – Chrysler Centre traffic review||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|11- Cabana Road Cycling facilities||Yes||9-0||Delegation|
|12 – East Windsor Community Pool||Yes||9-0||Delegation|
|13 – Intersection Jefferson and South Nat’l||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|14 – Windsor Public Library consolidation||Yes||9-0||Delegation|
|15 – Tax Rates||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|16 – Windsor Express championship||Yes||9-0||Consent|
|Report No. 278 – St. Barnabas Church||Yes||9-0||Presentation|
|Report No. 287 – Downtown Windsor Farmers Market||Yes||9-0||Delegation|
Item No. 12 – East Windsor Community Pool – The good news is that Council voted unanimously to fund and move forward with the construction of an East End Community Pool. The debate was a little less straightforward. The RFP came back from DeAngelis Construction $2 million above the original quote of $6.5 million in order to construct a community swimming pool with the following original specifications:
- Eight (8) lane community swimming pool with entrance ramp
- Full-sized therapy pool with entrance ramp
- Splash pool for kids
I put forward a motion to stick with the original specifications and—here’s the key part—to transfer $3 million committed to the construction of the downtown Riverside tunnel underpass to fund the new East End pool. I voted against the downtown underpass and continue to believe that the $3 million should be better spent on improving our neighbourhoods. The need for a community swimming pool in the East End has been recognized in the Recreation and Culture Master Plan as well as Aquatics Feasibility Study conducted back in the 1990s. The pool is supported by residents of all ages- seniors, youth, families across the entire East End which is growing in population. It can be used by high schools—St. Joseph’s, Riverside, Tecumseh Vista – as well as seniors in long term care homes such as The Villages of Aspen Lake, Banwell Gardens and Heron Terrace – and all ages in between. If we build this facility, we must build it once and build it right to guarantee the widest accessibility, to accommodate future growth, and to make sure it is built to last. That is why I proposed building the East End pool according to the original specs.
That motion was defeated – 8 to 2 – and Councillor Gignac proposed a new motion to reduce the size of the East End pool by 25 per cent, reduce the number of lanes and the size of the therapy pool and splash pad. The motion also eliminates the basement (e.g. storage) as well as incorporating other cost saving measures for mechanical and electrical components. This motion passed unanimously.
Item No. 14 – Windsor Public Library Consolidation and Expansion
Council voted to move forward with the $7 million expansion and consolidation of the Windsor Public Library (WPL) – with a little additional homework assigned to the Chair and CEO who were on hand.
“The Plan” involves the following:
- 6,500 sq. foot addition to Optimist Community Centre to provide library service to the area including for the neighbourhoods of Walkerville, Seminole, Remington Park after the closure of their branches
- 6,500 sq. foot addition to Budimir Library
- Renovate former Sandwich Fire Hall into west end library
- Replace roof at Riverside Library
Council had some serious reservations about the closure of the Seminole Branch – which would remove an important community asset and force residents to travel over 3km to the next closest branch – which is a distance beyond the industry standard.
The original motion presented by Councillor Sleiman would have directed the CEO and Chair to delay the closure of Seminole in order to provide a more in-depth study and to look at alternatives such as co-locating a smaller digital Seminole branch in the John Atkinson Community Centre just up the road. Furthermore, Councillor Sleiman’s motion also wanted the CEO and Chair to provide a report on the Sandwich Library Branch with more information on the cost, feasibility and alternatives.
Finally, the original motion also directed the CEO and Chair to reconsider the WPL decision to close the books—so to speak –on the Devonshire Mall satellite branch, a decision that was vociferously opposed by Ward 9 Councillor Hilary Payne.
Councillor Sleiman’s motion was defeated – with the vote stalemated at 5 to 5.
Councillor Gignac put forward an alternative motion to move forward with the recommendation with a directive to the Chair and CEO to return with a more comprehensive report on all the moving parts of “The Plan”.
During the discussion – Councillor Holt inquired why the WPL was closing smaller branches and not dealing with the “elephant in the room” which is the oversized Central Branch that represents the largest strain on the WPL budget? That’s a good question and we wait for the Chair and CEO to respond.
Report No. 278 – St. Barnabas Church Demolition - As you recall, the Planning Committee voted to deny a demolition permit to the owners of St. Barnabas Church. The demolition permit was a condition on the sale of the church to a prospective buyer who wanted to tear down the architecturally significant building and replace it with a drug store. The great news is that the building has now been sold to a developer who wants to keep the building “as is” and use it for a gallery. Win-win.
Report No. 287 – Downtown Windsor Farmers Market: I support the Downtown Windsor Farmers Market (DWFM) and would have liked to have seen City Council vote to waive both the rental and noise permit fees (around $12,000). Because it was a long meeting and the hour was getting late, the Mayor intervened by recommending Council end discussion and accept a sponsorship from a local entrepreneur to cover the cost of the fees for 2015 – with the City picking up the small difference.
City Council voted unanimously in favour – but here is what I would have liked to have seen happen.
I would have liked for the City to enter into an MOU with the Downtown Windsor Farmers Market to waive the rental and noise permit fees for a period of five (5) years – thereby giving the market some stability which also helps in planning e.g. capital purchases. However, the five year agreement would have been conditional on the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Area (DWBIA) coming onboard as a partner. The principal being: the more partners we have onboard the more sustainable the farmers market and the better it is able to draw visitors from miles around. I want to see the Farmers Market thrive and become a magnet for tourism – just like the St. Jacob’s Farmers Market.
Doing a little cursory investigating (e.g. Google), I found that a large number of Farmers Markets in Ontario are funded and supported by the downtown BIA. The list is extensive: Timmins, Guelph, Waterdown, Collingwood, Acton, Hamilton etc. What is disconcerting to me is that the word on the street is that our Downtown BIA has slowly been pulling back its financial support from the Farmers Market. I just don’t get it. The Farmers Market is exactly the kinds of programs the Downtown BIA ought to be supporting more – not less.
Would love to be wrong on this one.
The Farmers Market is vital to the downtown and to the city on a number of levels. It needs more partners – not less—and it needs long term support from the City to provide stability it can build on.
Wondering if the Downtown Windsor Farmers Market and the Riverside Farmers Market would be interested in joining forces one weekend this summer to put on a Grand Market on the East End?
City Council held a special meeting on Monday April 27th to set Development Charges – something the Council is mandated to do every five years. Development Charges (DC) are fees imposed on development – new residential homes, new offices, new apartments, new factories – that assist in paying for new infrastructure the new developments require such as roads, sewers, parks, libraries, transit, parking etc. in order to maintain service levels. Hemson Consulting Ltd. led the City through the process which included stakeholder deliberation through a Task Force, workshop and a public meeting.
The slogan you often hear is “growth should pay for growth”. To me, the critical phrase is “true cost recovery”. The City is not making any money off the developments. The City simply wants to share the cost of building new infrastructure and hence recover some of these costs so that the City doesn’t have to ask current homeowners to subsidize Joe Neighbour building his new house down the road.
All things being equal, policy doesn’t just happen in a vacuum – and so the City over the last decade has taken into consideration external factors when setting development charges (DCs) – and the chief consideration was the economic recession and depressed market in Windsor. It does the City no good to set maximum allowable Development Charges–and hence recover the full cost of new development–when it contributes to a condition where no houses or commercial buildings are being built.
Over the last 10 years, the city in effect has been subsidizing developers by keeping the DCs artificially low in order to prime the housing market – so much so that even with the significant increases proposed in 2015 the DCs are still under the maximum allowable number. Recognizing that Windsor’s economic recovery is fragile, the City has also proposed a phased-in approach – whereby the first year will only see 25 per cent of the new DC increase introduced.
Having said all that, I voted in favour of the new Development Charges only very reluctantly for two reasons.
First, the 150 per cent increase in commercial DC charges is a major concern. As mentioned, we have a very fragile economic recovery and the highest unemployment rate in the Country. Business folks are our most precious asset in Windsor because they are our job creators, and hence we should not be placing any additional obstacles and burdens on their shoulders as they consider constructing new restaurants, offices and shops. We should be doing the exact opposite and give them a hand by reducing obstacles and burdens in their way. The argument that there is a 30 per cent commercial vacancy rate in the City holds no water for me. Entrepreneurs know best where their market is and will launch their business in the location and building that suits them. It’s immaterial if a business is launched in a vacant building downtown or a new building in the East End. A job is a job is a job.
Second, Windsor has the opportunity to take advantage of the so-called “Silver Tsunami” – the fact that in the next two decades about a quarter of all Canadians will be 65 years old or older. These folks will be looking for affordable housing options that are close to public transit, medical clinics, shops and libraries. Hence, we should be making it easier for developers like Peter Valente to build new multi-residential apartments – such as Rivertown Terrace apartments being built in East Riverside – the first such multi-residential in close to a decade. Instead, the new DC charges introduce a 40 per cent increase for multi-residential. My humble opinion is that we should be going in the opposite direction – not just for the economic opportunities multi-residential presents but because of the planning advantages – namely that such intensive developments do not put as much strain on existing infrastructure. Multi-residential is smart growth.
However, what moved me to vote YES on this important issue is the fact that Administration will be reporting back to City Council on Special Discount Zones that exist around the City whereby those DCs charges can be reduced. For example, currently the closer one builds to the downtown core the greater the DC discount – even up to 75 per cent. I voted yes on the new DC charges because I see the potential to expand the Special Discount Zones not just geographically but also to direct those discounts to more intensive multi-residential developments and much need commercial starts.
In essence – Council will be able to fine tune the application of DC charges to facilitate Smart and Balanced Growth in the City. That, to me, represents a responsible way forward.
Today we celebrated Earth Day by planting 2,000 trees in Ward 7 near McHugh and Florence – with the help of a couple hundred of our friends.