20 Year Strategic Vision: Talking Libraries, Jobs, Fiscal Prudence and More!

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