City of Windsor facing $25-million in unfunded COVID-19 expenses

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The City of Windsor is dealing with $25-million in unfunded costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed 2022 city budget calls for a 1.99 per cent tax increase, but Fred Francis, Ward One Windsor City Councillor, says if the city had to absorb the entire $25-million in unfunded costs, that would be a disaster.

"That would be a complete crisis, disaster. Choose your word and implement it here. A $25-million one-time tax increase would require around a seven per cent tax increase on residents of the City of Windsor."

Windsor City Council is calling on the federal and provincial governments to offer renewed funding support for municipalities to deal with the increased costs.

Conversations are taking place between the city and the upper levels of government, but there is no guarantee funding will be provided, and if it is provided, there's no guarantee it will be made available before City Council begins budget deliberations on Dec. 13.

Francis says city administration has been tracking every dollar lost as a result of COVID-19 in 2021.

"Hopefully what happened last year, happens this year and they provide us dollar-for-dollar of all our losses, but that's not guaranteed," he says. "The provincial and federal government's have to deal with their own budgets, and they're dealing with their own budget shortfalls and revenue shortfalls."

In September 2020, the federal government reached an agreement with the Ontario government on the Safe Restart Agreement, which helped fund municipal, social services and transit operating pressures.

Under provincial law, municipalities are not allowed to run a deficit.

Francis says raising taxes needlessly when you have $25-million in unfunded expenses is 'grossly irresponsible.'

"Not knowing how much, or if any senior level government funding we will be getting to help us deal with that $25-million unfunded COVID expense, is certainly scary," he says. "We need to mindful of that when we set any tax increase or if we even set a tax increase."

Ongoing costs associated with COVID-19 preparedness in 2022 include:

- About $5-million to further subsidize the operations of Transit Windsor, which is currently operating at 50% ridership, as compared to pre-pandemic levels;
- $6.8-million corporate dividend losses associated with the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, Caesars Windsor and Windsor Airport;
- Over $4-million for enhanced cleaning and screening across City of Windsor facilities;
- $1-million additional pandemic costs associated with local homelessness & housing programming;
- $300,000 to hire additional staff;
- $1-million lost due to lower parking revenues, in part through patios and parklets; and
- About $7-million associated with recreation services.