Windsor Star photo - IrekMy 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.

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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.

Click HERE

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.

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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?

 

 

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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.

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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.

We have a right to a healthy environment – clean air, clean water, clean land – but we also have a responsibility to roll up our sleeves and make it so.
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ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_ IREK VOTED COUNCIL VOTED TYPE OF ITEM
1 – Roselawn Bike Lanes Yes 7-3 Delegation
2 – Parked Trailers bylaw Yes 10-0 Consent
3 – Governor General Canadian Leadership Yes 10-0 Consent
4 – ERM framework Yes 10-0 Consent
5 – 2015 BIA Budget Approval Yes 10-0 Presentation
6 – Landscaping right of way Yes 10-0 Presentation
7 – Tax rates Yes 10-0 Consent
8 – Excess land at Tecumseh and Banwell Yes 10-0 Consent
9 – Mayor’s Walk Yes 10-0 Regular Business
10 – Revised emergency response plan Yes 10-0 Consent
11 – Lauzon Parkway EA – WCF Yes 4-7 Delegation
       

 

 

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Interested in seeing how the budgets of your local Business Improvement Areas (BIA) stack up against each other? Check out the spreadsheet below. Interesting – some BIAs are better than others at keeping administration costs down and increasing capital expenditures to physically improve their business environment.

Others….not so much.  Interesting that the Downtown Windsor BIA increased their staff costs by 21 per cent and decreased their capital expenditures by 24 .5 per cent.  More money to staff.  Less money on things like streetscaping, planters, banners, lighting, graffiti cleaning, beautification, benches, capital repair etc.  

In fact – a whopping 37 per cent of Downtown Windsor BIA money goes directly to administrative costs.  Compare that to Old Riverside BIA (23 per cent) or Ottawa Streeet BIA (22 percent)

 

BIA_2015_3BIA_2015_-_1

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Mark S. Lee dedicated his entire show – Small Talk Detroit – on CBS Detroit to Hacking Health Windsor Detroit that was broadcast and podcast in Detroit and coast-to-coast.

You can catch the podcast if you CLICK HERE

I was honoured to join the Vice President of Research at Wayne State University – Dr. Steven Lanier; the Dean of Graduate Studies at Madonna University – Dr. Debbie Dunn; and the Director of Technology Based Entrepreneurship at Tech Town Detroit – Paul Riser Jr.

Mark led a fantastic conversation about the awesome potential of deepening cross-border collaboration between Windsor and Detroit – in addition to the potential of breaking down barriers between the health and IT sectors.

I was really delighted to hear our counterparts in Detroit speak so highly of Windsor as a partner in economic development – and the need to drive the innovation agenda forward through more extensive crossborder partnerships

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ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_ IREK VOTED COUNCIL VOTED TYPE OF ITEM
1 – Partners for Climate Change Yes 10-0 Consent
2 -10th Concession Drain Yes 10-0 Consent
3 – Municipal drains charges Yes 10-0 Consent
4 – Herb Gray Pkwy closure Yes 10-0 Consent
5 – Lauzon Pkwy EA Yes 10-0 Deferral
6- Building permit fee reserve fund Yes 10-0 Consent
7 – Snow Angels Volunteer acknowledgements Yes 10-0 Presentation
8-Maintenance trust fund Tecumseh/Brock memorial Yes 10-0 Consent
Report No. 281 – Heritage Property Tax Reduction Yes 6-5 Presentation
Council Question      

 

Council Question: On Tuesday I asked the following Council Question:

(1) The Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association (OHMPA) has established a Quality of Asphalt Pavement Task Force. A Press Release from the OHMPA states: in recent months, we have become acutely aware of some hot mix asphalt performance problems that are in need of our attention immediately.

In light of the terrible condition of some of our newer roads – roads such as Banwell – is administration concerned about the quality of the material used in the construction of our roads? And second – what is the City’s response?

(2) A recent article on the CBC website talked about how Edmonton is using different hot asphalt mixes to deal with pot-holes. The article had a glaring figure that jumped off the page: Edmonton spends $5.9 million on pothole patching and $55 million on arterial road rehabilitation. How much bigger is Edmonton’s pothole and road rehab budget compared to Windsor? (The answer is 10 x bigger for a city that is only 3.5 times as big). Is it fair to say that our road rehabilitation budget is grossly underfunded?

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If you reside or conduct business in the East End – you’ve noticed the deplorable state of Banwell Road.  Seems like the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association (OHMPA) has finally woken up and noticed the problem is widespread across the Province by launching a Quality of Asphalt Pavement Task Force.  We await with bated breath the results of the Task Force in the coming months – and expect that it does more than just tell us our roads are in bad shape and that it’s the fault of Mother Nature.

For the full article CLICK HERE

OHMPA

 

 

 

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ITEM # and DESCRIPTION_ IREK VOTED COUNCIL VOTED TYPE OF ITEM
1 – John McGivney Children’s Centre Yes 10-0 Deferral
2 – Lou Romano tank refurbish Yes 10-0 Consent
3 – Local Immigration Partnership Yes 10-0 Consent
4 – Social Housing Reserve Fund withdrawal Yes 10-0 Consent
5- Lou Romano turbo blower Yes 10-0 Consent
6- Housing supports standards Yes 10-0 Consent
7 – Combined heat/power at WFCU Yes 10-0 Consent
8 – Ministry of Education agreement Yes 10-0 Consent
9 – Power washing and graffiti Yes 10-0 Consent
10 – Site plan approval – Huron Church Yes 10-0 Consent
11 – Windsor Professional Fire Fighters award update Yes 10-0 Presentation
12 – Solar panel roof installation Yes 10-0 Consent
13 – Fairview road rehab RFP Yes 10-0 Consent
14 – 2014 investment report Yes 10-0 Consent
15- GHD scope change for asset planning Yes 10-0 Consent
16 – Solid Waste Authority 2015 budget Yes 10-0 Consent
17- Learning and organizational policy update Yes 10-0 Consent
Report No. 277 – Social Development Compassionate Charter Yes 5-5 Presentation
Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation  (WEEDC)– Receive for Information Yes 10-0 Presentation
       

Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC):  It is important to begin by noting that the Waterloo Region—which is composed of eight (8) municipalities and townships such as Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge—just concluded an intensive three year review of their entire economic development ecosystem – reviewing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and gaps that exist among all organizations and institutions operating in the economic development sphere.  They had a very frank discussion about what works and what doesn’t, about where there is overlap and inefficiency.

This is important to note because the Waterloo Region is one of the best performing economic regions in Canada and North America.  Its unemployment rate is less than 6 per cent – way below the provincial average.  In fact, more remarkable is the fact that Waterloo has the highest job participation rate in Ontario.  The area is economically diverse and is home to thousands of companies including giants such as Blackberry, Toyota, Manulife Financial.

And yet despite being one of the best economic regions in Canada and North America – rather than rest on its laurels and be satisfied, they are constantly reviewing the region’s performance trying to find ways to do economic development better.

Surely, if Waterloo is constantly measuring and rethinking its economic development – then Windsor ought to be doing the same.  We must constantly review the performance of our economic development ecosystem and seek ways to improve it, to make the organizations that operate in that sphere more accountable, more accessible, more effective and more efficient.

But here is the other remarkable fact about the Waterloo Region and its comprehensive review of economic development: after their three year review – which included an independent third-party report—they concluded that the best way forward is the establishment of a Regional Economic Development Corporation that is almost identical to the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation.  The one difference is that the Waterloo organization is even more arms-length and independent of political oversight.

The Waterloo board has no elected representatives of government on their board.

Windsor’s economic development agency has two elected representatives of local government: the Mayor and the Warden of Essex.

This is important because on the one hand it validates that we in fact have the right economic development structure in place in Windsor: a blend of arms-length, industry-driven know-how with a measure of elected oversight.

But on the other hand– the report also demonstrates that even the best performing regions constantly review and improve their performance.

I believe we can start that process today by introducing the following measures which are not costly nor time consuming on the part of the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation – but which address the communication gap at the heart of the recent debate:

  • WEEDC should provide quarterly written reports to City Council – not annual – which provide clear performance measures
  • WEEDC should open its meetings to the public – with in-camera meetings maintained where appropriate e.g. where sensitive information is shared
  • WEEDC should fund out of its own budget a review modelled after the Waterloo Region Report (2013) – a cost of $100, 000—which would study the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and gaps of the economic development ecosystem in Windsor-Essex.

Finally, it should be noted that in the grand scheme of things, the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) is a small piece of the economic development puzzle in our region.  Other important actors include the solar system of industry partners and economic development organizations as well as the University of Windsor and St. Clair College.  Most importantly, Windsor City Council – overseeing a $750 million annual budget – has a tremendous impact on the establishment of a business-friendly environment that invites investment and job creation.

The two fundamental questions we should be asking ourselves are:

  • How can we work together better to build up the economy of our region?
  • Is Council making the right investments that create an environment that is attractive to business and that helps make our region competitive in today’s global economy?
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