A very good article published by Frazier Fathers on his blog Ginger Politics that talks about the opportunity costs of building a New City Hall that is growing more expensive by the day.

I voted NO both times on the New City Hall – whose costs have escalated by 25 per cent.

Opportunity costs basically means – what investments are we not making as a result of committing more and more dollars to the New City Hall.

I have pasted Frazier’s blog post below – and here is the link to his Ginger Politics website which you can access by CLICKING HERE

Opportunity Costs of City Hall

I can appreciate the tough job that City Councillor’s have, stewards of taxpayers dollars they have to make tough decision about how to spend the dollars collected from citizens. This was why I was surprised to read today that work had already begun for the new City Hall. Council narrowly voted 6-5 (Mayor casting the tie breaking vote) and although a call for tender is still needed, it seems that another major decision has reached a forgone conclusion.

Our future new city hall.

Faced with that realization I decided to see what may have been given up on in order to build a $43.3 million City Hall.

  • According to the CBC reports to grind and repave one block in Windsor it costs approximately $600,000  = 144.3 blocks repaved
  • Windsor Water World  at full operation levels costed approximately $418,068 annually = 103.5 years of operation
  • Almost build a new central library and innovation hub at a cost of $50 million or build many small libraries across the city at that cost of the new Optimist Library at a cost of $2,463,000  = 17.5 libraries
  • According to the 2011 Census there were 87,830 residential households in Windsor = a one time tax rebate of $492.99
  • Just over 1/5 of the total municipal costs for the new Windsor Regional Hospital being paid for without a levy on taxpayers.
  • A one time 20% increase to all department budgets
  • City Buses run between $600,000 and $900,000 for their life cycle per bus (depending on the type – see pg 21 of linked report, costs divided by 100 to get a per bus cost) = 48.8 buses fully funded for their life cycle
  • Almost meet the low end cost estimate for a Street Car running from University of Windsor to Via Rail Station = $50,000,000

That being said, something will need to be done with the existing City Hall. Repair costs were estimated between $20 million to $35 million  which is $8.3 million under the current projected budget. If I were to recalculate many of the above alternatives we get- 13.8 blocks of streets repaved; 3.38 new libraries; $94.50 tax rebate; a 3.8% budget increase to city departments; 9.2 buses fully funded or keep Waterworld open for almost 20 years.

Given the broader needs in our city, any number of these other would in my opinion have a greater positive impact on the day to day lives of Windsorites than a new City Hall.

Another great article from Anne Jarvis of the Windsor Star talks about the benefits that a world class science and innovation centre would provide the City of Windsor.

Here is an excerpt:

Think of what we could do if key players — the city, school boards, university, college, industry and community groups like Hackforge — joined Science City and committed to a centre for science, technology and innovation. No one is expecting to build a new science centre. The city’s capital budget is largely already spent until 2020. But one of the planned projects is a new main library, and some councillors are talking about the new library including a centre for science and technology, an innovation hub.

“That has tremendous potential,” says Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk.

Why science and technology? Because Windsor, says Kusmierczyk, is a city that builds things, and technology is exploding in advanced manufacturing. Because we live on the Great Lakes, where a growing cluster of clean water technology companies are addressing the global water shortage. Because we already have leading scientists in fields like invasive species at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research here. Because we’re grappling with the issue of toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie.

The majority of new jobs require skills in the so-called STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math. But Kusmierczyk goes further, including the arts. He read University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman’s passionately argued essay in The Globe and Mail last week on the value of  humanities and social sciences.

“A centre that awakens in our young people a love of inquiry and innovation,” Kusmierczyk called it.

Locate it downtown, he said, to continue revitalizing the core and to give kids from vulnerable neighbourhoods the opportunity to continue learning after school, on weekends and in the summer.

For the whole article CLICK HERE

And the same week Maclean’s Magazine published an excellent article highlighting libraries as engines of innovation and economic development.

Macleans_-_Libraries_2015

In order to read the whole article CLICK HERE

The simple fact is – Windsor must keep pace with cities like Toronto, Kitchener, Halifax and even our own Detroit in putting in place the kind of infrastructure that will diversify our economy, boost innovation and support homegrown entrepreneurship.

This is an important piece of the puzzle for a City wanting to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy.

An innovation hub that combines a maker space and tech-infused library is a potent tool in the hands of Windsorites – especially considering our 100 years of manufacturing know-how.  We know how to build things.

And of course, education is the foundation of economic development – hence we must do what we can to bring more resources and partners to the table when it comes to preparing our young people for success in today’s economy.

Let’s start here.

Anne Jarvis wrote a great piece in the Windsor Star titled New Dynamic at Windsor City Council.  For the full article CLICK HERE

Here is an excerpt:

Windsor_Star_-_New_Dynamic

 

“There’s more debate,” said Kusmierczyk. “Councillors feel they can ask tougher questions. I’ve seen administrators’ reports challenged more. Councillors push each other as well. You’re expected to come to council with more research, look for more best practices from other jurisdictions.”

And they are less hesitant to vote against big projects. Five councillors voted against proceeding with the environmental assessment for the Riverside Drive underpass. Fivealso voted against more money for the new city hall.

They’re more likely to introduce new ideas, even risque ideas, like paying for parking at all city facilities to raise revenue for public transit. All of which, in turn, is more likely to engage the public.

How could this be bad?

We expect council to get things done but that shouldn’t preclude accommodating new ideas and different perspectives that fully reflect the community.

And what of the so-called “left-leaning big spenders?” They voted against an additional $4.4 million for the new city hall and against the $3-million underpass. They’re also the ones questioning how the heck the city ended up spending $2.2 million more — more than double the estimated cost — to operate the aquatic centre. Sounds more parsimonious than profligate.

I would like to start off by acknowledging Mayor Drew Dilkens for starting the process of a 20 Year Strategic Vision, and for engaging City Councillors through an Open Door policy that was established from Day One of the new term.  The Mayor encourages Councillors to drop by his office any time to discuss ideas and concerns both at the Ward and City level.  I can attest on a number of occasions spending several hours through the evening talking potholes, libraries and economic development with the Mayor.

In the spirit of open dialogue fostered by the Mayor’s Office – I recently shared my position on the Windsor Public Library (WPL) with the good folks at AM800, in which I stated that I prioritize investing in the WPL over investing in international sporting events such as FINA that last only a week.  Here’s the quote:

“That money (FINA) I believe, should go to things like the Windsor Public Library which are important assets to our neighbourhoods and our city. It’s not about reaching deeper into the taxpayers pockets. It’s not. It’s about prioritizing and I’d rather invest in our libraries then invest in a week long sporting event.”  

The comment was not meant as a criticism of FINA, but more about being up front about my priorities moving forward: in short, spending taxpayer money on international sporting events that have fleeting economic impact are near the bottom of my list of priorities.

Where I do see a need for investment are community centres that strengthen our neighbourhoods – centres such as the various branches of the Windsor Public Library.  I made that comment based on the fact that Windsor spends 20 per cent less (per person) on our library than the provincial average – including 20 per cent less than London and almost 50 per cent less than Guelph.

I see libraries as critical to our city’s revival as a catalyst for economic development, social equality, innovation and quality of life.  Libraries are meeting places for seniors to socialize, for youth learning to read and operate the newest technology, young mothers learning parent skills, for job seekers sending resumes, for new Canadians integrating into our community.  And that just scratches the surface of the role libraries play in our city.  They are also catalysts for partnerships between community stakeholders like the University of Windsor, St. Clair College, United Way, New Canadians Centre, industry and countless others.

Yet, in the last 10 years – the operating budget of the WPL has increased by $7000.  That’s $700 per year out of a total $7.8 million budget.

Even with the injection of $8 million into brick-and-mortar enhancements at Optimist Community Centre, Sandwich and Budimir coupled with closure of some deteriorating branches in order to bring the bloated number of buildings in line with provincial averages and save maintenance costs – the reality is that the operating budget is 20 per cent less than the provincial average.

That is the reality you can’t ignore.  It’s not political posturing to say it.  It’s a fact – and it should be a critical part of the conversation around a 20 Year Strategic Vision.

Here’s an example closer to home: Forest Glade Library was built to serve East Windsor in 1988, but it simply does not meet the needs of a growing Ward 7 – especially considering the rapid pace of development around Banwell Road – nor has it kept up with the change in technology.  To bring the branch in Forest Glade up to speed requires both capital and operating investments.

Yes, the WPL could operate under the same tight fiscal parameters over the next 10 years, but the WPL would not fulfill its potential.

Having said all that – I wanted to couch my thinking on the WPL in the framework of a broader 20 Year Vision.  It is by no means comprehensive, but it does sketch out an outline to start.

So here goes.

Fiscal Prudence

I would like to reiterate my commitment to fiscal discipline, which includes the goals of debt reduction and levy restraint balanced with smart investments in infrastructure and services.  It is also about finding efficiency – for example – bringing our various economic development agencies and economic development partners under one roof e.g. realize savings by merging WEEDC with TWEPI is a start.  There’s no point in both organizations paying separate rent and overhead.

Job Creation and Diversification

Building upon our strengths means supporting homegrown entrepreneurs, leveraging local economic development organizations, utilizing instruments such as the CIP to attract investment, and providing platforms that spur innovation.   I support:

  • Establishing a technology and business incubator.  The innovation centre at Bayview Yards in Ottawa provides a model.  Windsor is a city that knows how to build things – a true Maker City with an enormous store of manufacturing  and tech talent with start-up potential.  Let’s build on that strength!
  • Maintaining regional economic collaboration (WEEDC) while establishing an in-house economic development office that focuses exclusively on the City – similar to the model in Kitchener and Waterloo.
  • The Windsor Public Library (WPL) can be a catalyst for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development by providing residents with access to technology.  Establishing a dynamic Central Library Branch in the downtown core should be a priority. The growing gap between per capita funding for the WPL and peer municipalities should be narrowed.

Improve Infrastructure

The state of Banwell Road from Little River Road to Tecumseh Road is deplorable and unacceptable to East End taxpayers as an important arterial gateway to our community.  With significant home construction in the area, and as the landing pad for many Ontario transplants moving to our City, the state of a main arterial like Banwell Road is quite frankly an embarrassment to the City and a bad first impression for newcomers.

It goes without saying, the same problem exists across the City.  Fixing this problem will require a long term commitment and prioritization.

Public Transit

I support continued investments in Public Transit and the expansion of services in areas such as Ward 7, which are under-serviced.  The following improvement would boost service in a neighbourhood experiencing rapid population growth:

  • Working with Town of Tecumseh to establish an East-West Recreation/Retail Corridor Route along McHugh-McNorton that would connect Tecumseh Mall + WFCU + St. Joseph’s High School + Tecumseh Arena.

Parks, Bike Trails and Quality of Life

Ward 7 is characterized as a Greenway – with an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities that together provide a defining feature of our East End community.  These community assets should be enhanced through the following:

  • Complete Area Five – East End of the Vista Riverside Project along with Phase II that would establish bike paths connecting Downtown through Ganatchio to the East End
  • Maintain current level of playground equipment
  • Expand benches, picnic areas, washrooms and lights for evening access where appropriate
  • Provide outdoor exercise equipment at Sandpoint Beach
  • Make necessary investments above the minimal required to make Lakeview Park Marina and Sandpoint Beach exceptional public parks

Open Government

Hire an Auditor General.  Full stop.

I also applaud the recent ITS Management Plan which aims to maximize opportunities for the City of Windsor to share Open Data with residents.

On the topic of open data, publishing the voting records of City Councillors should be standard-operating-procedure – as well as establishing easily accessible archived voting records

 Strong Schools

A major magnet for the attraction and retention of residents and investments is the quality of our schools.  Simple fact: great schools attract people.  Where possible – the City of Windsor should collaborate with our School Boards to leverage resources and partnerships with the goal of making Windsor schools the best in Ontario.  An example could include – the City partnering with School Boards, University and College to establish a downtown Innovation Hub that would include a new High School, a Central Public Library and Maker Space infused with latest technology such as 3D printers and digital lab, and a Community Centre.  Students could simply cross the campus to continue their education – evenings, weekends and summers – at the Central Library, Maker Space and Community Centre with some programming provided through partnerships like the University and College.  Now THAT would be an engine of economic development and innovation!

These are just the outlines of a Twenty Year Vision that I support – and undoubtedly there are elements that have been left unsaid.  But a picture should come into focus of a City built on smart investments based on the five pillars of:

  • Fiscal Prudence
  • Economic Development
  • Quality of Life
  • Partnerships
  • Accountability

Maker_City_Op_Ed_2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Windsor Star published an Op-Ed written by Yvonne and myself on the remarkable heritage of Windsor as a place of innovation and entrepreneurship, with many local businesses developing products and services that authentically put Windsor on the global stage.

As the auto capitol of Canada, it is widely recognized that the City of Windsor knows how to build things.  But we should also recognize and spread the word that we know how to innovate and invent things.

We are not just an auto town, we are an auto and ideas town.

We are a true Maker City.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

To lift a line from a recent Chrysler commercial, we are born makers and inventors.

One hundred years of Windsor-based innovation tells us that building partnerships and platforms that support our homegrown entrepreneurs is a good investment.

That is a vision we can all rally around.

If you want to read the entire article, CLICK HERE

At the Executive Committee meeting of City Council on July 27, 2015 – I questioned the wisdom of changes to the PwC Audit Plan specifically Key Update to the Plan #6 which states Replacement of Oversight of Major City Projects and Initiatives … deferred indefinitely.  The Windsor Star picked up on the line of questioning and published the following followup article: CLICK HERE

Here’s an extended excerpt from the article:

“Windsor has undertaken a number of large construction projects and we’re hosting some major sporting events, such as the FINA (25-metre swimming) event, that cost over $10 million, and I do believe that having an extra pair of eyes is a wise investment,” Kusmierczyk said. “There were audits conducted on the WFCU Centre and the 400 building and there were lessons learned and controls tightened.”

Kusmierczyk still believes in having an auditor general — a position the City of Windsor did away with in 2012 — since he says an auditing firm essentially only digs into what the city wants.

“I am in favour of an auditor general,” Kusmierczyk said. “An auditor general would have more autonomy and would dictate what they’re actually looking into and what documents they’re studying, as opposed to the current auditor, which looks at documents the city provides.”

Kusmierczyk doesn’t suspect any wrongdoing. He just likes the idea of greater transparency for such things as a $39-million new city hall. The new Aquatic Centre, for instance, has never been deeply audited.

Today was a very good day.  The City broke ground on the construction of the new East End Community Swimming Pool at the WFCU Centre.  Look around the nearby McHugh-McNorton corridor and you will see row-upon-row of new home construction.  The East End is a growing community – a community with an increasing number of families, seniors and youth.  Investing in stronger neighbourhoods and in the quality of life, health and well-being of our residents is prudent.

CJUplPUWsAE3FID

Proud day at Monday’s City Council meeting for all the Councillors involved with Windsor Essex Youth Advising City Councillors (WEYACC) – an innovative program that engages our youth with the decision-making process at local government. A year after it launched with no funding – WEYACC made it on the Agenda with a pretty big idea: the Blue Dot movement which seeks municipal support in convincing upper tiers of government to adopt the Right to a Healthy Environment as part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Way to go Advisors! And congrats to my fellow WEYACC mentors Rino Bortolin Chris Holt Joe Bachetti and Bill Marra 

For information about WEYACC or how to apply for the upcoming intake visit: WEYACC

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:

Manufacturing_Medical_June_2015_-_WS

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!

polska szkola

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!

windsor 180

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.

hackforge

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.

hacking health

And here is another great photo that really captures the collaboration of a Hacking Health.  Check out the quote on the wall!

Hacking health 2

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.

great lakes

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.

life sciences

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.

sikh

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!

st joes

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.

VON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

spiritEA