There are questions remaining about the three major 2020 city budgets

By Gerry Barker

November 18, 2019

Opinion

Tonight, city council will commence trimming the “tax supported operating budget.”

City staff has already reported a 3.88 per cent property tax increase subject to change, possibly increase.

This becomes a political matter as councillors jockey to promote their own must have agenda items.

Just wondering, does the University pay the same property tax increase as the rest of us? More on this later.

For some 14 years, citizens have been shorn of accountability and transparency of the public’s interest. Did I mention the administration’s conduct of the public’s business has deliberately thwarted the public interest?

Having just spent three years defending myself against the City of Guelph, the recent decision by a judge dismissing my 130-page statement of defence supporting my motion to dismiss the case. The judge ruling centred on the alleged harm done to the plaintiff and the public interest.

The judge ruled the harm done to the plaintiff “outweighed the public interest.”

That decision is being appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.`

What has this got to do with the city budgets?

Let me say from the start, that the financial management of the city has greatly improved. There is a refreshing openness about the flow of information from the finance department.

The number of closed-session meetings has diminished and the public interest is being better served.

Running a city of this size requires rocket-science attention in terms of planning, short and long term. The city has grown exponentially in many ways including population. However, questions remain.

Setting aside the performance of the previous administration, in the past five years, there have been some major league boo-boos. Much of it was commenced by the previous administration.

Then, following the 2015 first year of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s election there were changes among the senior city managers. By March, this year the three senior managers who shared the $98,202 salary increase in a closed-session of council in December 2015, are now gone.

Sifting through the budgeting sands

Here are some current questions that affect all citizens:

* Why does the city rely on communicating with the citizens Online or through its “City News” pages in the Mercury Tribune at the public’s expense?

* What are the details of the City’s long-term strategy plan and was there public participation when this strategy was discussed and presumably approved by council?

* What is the status of the main branch library that Mayor Guthrie promised to be part of the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment during his re-election campaign? Is it true that he said the library would be the anchor in the proposed plan?

* Why was it necessary to spend some $22 million on a parking garage next to the City Hall? How was that in the public interest when most of the parking spaces are monthly and convenient to the city staff?

* What is the proposed total number of public employees, including permanent, part-time and those on contract?

* What was the actual cost in 2018 of consultants, legal and other professional serves?

* There has been extensive work on Speedvale Avenue between Woolwich and Manhattan Court this past summer, What is the ultimate plan to relocate power lines underground. What is the rationale and source of funding for this project that three years ago, the staff estimated the cost to be $15 million?

* More importantly, is the plan to widen Speedvale to permit bike lanes and restrict traffic lanes from four lanes to two on the city’s major east west route?

* What is the financial impact of increased assessment for new construction and existing properties in the city?

* The staff is proposing a 3.88 property tax increase for 2020. Why is it being predicted to be more than 4.5 per cent before the trimming starts tonight, what ever that means?

* Why is the city administration plumping for five new buses but is the library, remember the promises made over the years, getting benched again?

* Why hasn’t the city pursued the University of Guelph’s sweetheart deal that in lieu of paying property taxes, it is based on charging each registered student $75 per year? Why was this rate locked-in by the province 33 years ago? Did your property taxes not increase every one of those 33 years and at a rate exceeding the rate of inflation?

* Shouldn’t the Guelph General Hospital’s $4.5 million requested grant be included in the capital budget, not tax supported operating budget?

* Is it time to approve annual subsidized operating grants to vital services such as public safety organizations, and critical care facilities?

* Why is the supply of water, potable, waste and storm, not included in the tax supported operating budget? It’s just another tax on top of the property tax annual increases.

* What is the definition of infrastructure? What are the parameters of renewal of our aging infrastructure, some of it 200 years old? Should there not be detailed explanation annually to show how the money is being spent?

* What is the latest information about the ratio of assessment between residential property and commercial/industrial? It has been locked into 84 per cent residential versus 16 per cent commercial/industrial. This is a massive burden on taxpayers.

* There is a mixed bag of special levies swirling around the budget soup.

Aside from the huge property tax deal subsidy granted annually to the University, what are their other subsidies paid to city operations?

Let’s review where your money is going:

Transit, pension benefits, boards remunerations, wellbeing donations, Hillside festival, staff travel, expense accounts, community city organizations, severance costs, employee bonuses, and gifts.

Add to the list, long-term suspended development including property tax grants and collection of unpaid taxes and offences fines.

The city’s chief source of revenue comes from property values and taxes.

In my opinion, successive provincial governments have failed to work with the 445 provincial municipalities to alleviate all the egregious downloading of costs.

Certainly there are some offsetting grants but this city needs a house cleaning to reduce costs and increase revenue without socking it every year to the property taxpayers.

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Remembering those who have fallen in the service of our country

By Gerry Barker

November 11. 2019

Remembering my two uncles – John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker killed in action in 1916 and 1918.

They were my father’s brothers, John the oldest and Thomas the youngest. My father Francis Cecil Barker and my aunt Gladys Barker, also served in the first world war.

I was a teenager during World War 2 and never knew John or Thomas whose names I now carry with respect and honour.

When I was 12 in 1942, I spent part of my summer with aunt Gladys and uncle Jaspser at their farm in Byron, outside London. Aunt Gladys decided it was time for me to drive a car. After a few lessons I learned to shift gears, use the clutch and brakes. Then aunt Gladys decided I was ready to solo and away I went using the country roads.

Aunt Gladys never had any children. So my cousin Diana and I were the designated surrogates and were spoiled purple. Those summers will never be forgotten.

My aunt and uncle had a horse on their country home and aunt Gladys helped me saddle the horse and, after a couple of trots, around the property, I set out to visit my friends up the road. Everything was going great until the horse decided to head back home and there was nothing I could do to persuade the horse to take me to visit my friend.

Keep in mind, at age 12, horse gender recognition had not developed. A horse is a horse, of course it’s a horse.

That’s when I learned that you can lead a horse to water but I learned the relationship ended there.

My father passed away in 1941 and I was shipped off to Appleby College. My mother and grandmother were engaged in war services operated by the YWCA, They were posted to #14 Service Flying Training School outside of Aylmer. Their job was to serve light snacks, mend uniforms and counsel the never ending parade of aspiring young pilots.

These were 18 and 19 year old boys from all over the commonwealth. I was able to spend part of my summers there and was made an honourary Service Policeman whose job was to raise and lower the bar across the entrance to the base. I was issued with a pith helmet and SP armband.

One day, a a group pf British sailors arrived to complete their flight training. Their uniforms were worn out and my mother and grandmother were kept busy mending the uniforms. One of them was Johnny Johnston who would sit down and talk to me about his life as a sailor. I asked him how he knew how to properly wear his hat. He flipped it over and showed me the lining. On one side was a red strip and on the other a green one. See, he said, red is for port and, green for starboard.

That was my first introduction to seafaring. Upon graduation, he gave me that hat and I treasured it for some time.

A few months later he received his wings and was posted to the Fleet Air Arm. We later learned he was killed in action, attacking the German Bismark battleship.

I was attending Aurora high school in 1947 when I joined the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st American Regiment, 25th Armoured Regiment as a Trooper. The unit was the York County Regiment, based in Fort York Armoury in Toronto and Aurora.

The Aurora group were known as Charlie Squadron and we were issued with two brand new General Sherman tanks and two Canadian-built Grizzly tanks powered by circular aircraft engines. We also received a General Stuart Honey light tank powered by twin Cadillac engines and Hydromatic drive. It was used during the war as a recconaisance tank attached to an armoured regiment.

I obtained my commission as a First Lieutenant in 1951 at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Camp Borden and the Meaford tank range.

As part of celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, I was assigned to drive the Honey tank to York Township from Aurora escorted by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Just north of Richmond Hill traveling on Highway 11, the police waved us down. The officer approached and asked me if I knew how fast we were going. It was 55 MPH. He asked how fast will it go? I said, “we haven’t tried that yet..”

At the end of the day, we gassed up the tank from Jerry cans and headed for home escorted by police.

I served for nine years including active and reserve service. My civilian job as a reporter photographer with the Toronto Star made it difficult to attend parades and training exercises. I retired to the supplementary reserve

In 2006 my Ranger comrade Captain (retired) Peter Styrmo, invited me to join the Ranger Officer’s Association. From there I joined the Regimental Council.

I was appointed chairman of the finance committee. In 2018, I retired from the Council. They were years of great accomplishments and fellowship. It was part of preserving the 250-year history pf the oldest regiment in the Canadian order of battle.

It has been a part of my life that I will never forget.

And so, it’s time to fade away with wonderful military life experiences.

Most of all today is a day of pausing to remember those who fought for us and paid the supreme sacrifice.

 

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This U of G professor believes the 2020 Guelph Police budget increase of 9.81 per cent outweighs the need

By Gerry Barker

November 4, 2019

Opinion

Dr. Rene Van Acker, dean of the Ontario Agriculture College, part of the University of Guelph is urging people to protest this increase requested by the Guelph Police Services Board.

It seems to be a clash between the academic ivory towers and the 24/7 protection and services of our community.

The professor obviously has never performed shift work, carried a gun, investigated fatal collisions and major criminal occurrences, attended domestic violence calls, and responded quickly to cases that engage citizens.

In short, this is a city with a university sitting in the middle. Often, Guelph police are called for support to control student behaviour on and off campus.

Think weekend’s downtown, homecoming, St. Patrick’s Day, and political protests.

It seems stranger to read the professor’s letter to the editor in which he refers to the proposed 2020 police budget as “outweighing the need.”

How would Dr. van Aker know the details of police operations to make such a statement?

He ignores the night and day risks that our police endure on a routine shift. He criticizes the Mayor that he “senses” that people want a professional and responsive police service, night or day. And Mayor Guthrie should know because he sits on the Police Services Board along with Coun. Christine Billings.

So the unsubstantiated complaints from Van Aker over the 2020 police budget rings hollow because he does not identify the needs of the police services.

The Ontario Sunshine List shows that three times in the past six years, Van Acker has received more than a 7 per cent salary increase. It was topped off in 2018 with an increase of 7.69 per cent earning a yearly salary of $235,000 plus benefits.

Dr. Van Aker should look beyond the police services budget and consider all the other services that citizens pay for, including the public safety personnel who are engaged around the clock.

The city administration must raise sufficient revenue to pay for the scores of public services plus the cost of primary and secondary boards of education. One can only imagine the operating costs of those institutions that function 10 months of the year.

The U of G pays $1,600,000 per year in lieu of property taxes. The payment is based on the number of registered students, currently estimated at 22,000. This was a deal granted in 1987 to public post-secondary institutions. The rate is still fixed at $75 and has not changed since.

Lets compare the impact of inflation that this deal has ignored for more than 32 years. All costs have increased. Are your property taxes fixed for 32 years? Has the university increased tuition and student fees and land leases in which it derives income?

Keep in mind that the chief revenue sources of the city are property taxes and user fees.

Our property taxes have more than doubled in the 16 years we have lived in Guelph. It is this property tax deal with the University and Conestoga Community College that remains fixed and only increases when additional students enroll.

About Guelph Transit

Students are required to pay $75 per semester for bus passes. It’s ironic that this mandatory contribution to access public transit is twice what the University of Guelph pays the city in lieu of property taxes.

This is particularly advantageous to the university because it is, we believe, to be the largest landowner in the city. The management over the years has leased its land to a variety of commercial and residential developments.

Seeing that these developments are on University lands, does this sweetheart deal extend to those leased properties as well?

In the 32 years of this arrangement, the city has grown, requiring citizens to pay for the need for increased city services. That is a subsidy that is unfair and needs revision.

Unfortunately, this would have to be a decision by the provincial government. It involves more than 600 post-secondary institutions in the province.

Our representative in the Ontario Legislature is Mike Schreiner, Ontario leader of the Green Party, a party of one.

This affects a number of municipalities and an independent committee of mayors and chief Financial Officers need to negotiate with the government to update the property tax arrangement.

It will be a daunting task and predictably the University of Guelph will oppose changes to any proposal that will increase their property tax commitment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

via By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

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October 27, 2019 · 9:01 pm

By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

By Gerry Barker

October 28, 2019

Opinion

Why did four city councillors not show up to vote spending $197 million on a maintenance and transit garage? Council voted 6-3 to proceed with planning the project which will take 25 years to complete.

The vote was as follows:

IN FAVOUR: Mayor Guthrie, Councillors Allt, Gibson, Goller, Gordon and Hofland (6)

AGAINST: Councillors Bell, Piper and Salisbury (3)

ABSENT FOR VOTE: Councillors Billings, Downer, MacKinnon and O’Rourke (4)

That’s 46.15 per cent of the 13 members elected to council making this decision.

Considering the outcome, why was it so necessary to hold the meeting on federal Election Day?

It happened last Monday night when council met to approve spending $197 million on a new consolidated operations complex next to the Waste Resources Innovation Complex, aka the city dump, off Watson Road.

Council voted to proceed with preliminary planning. It is remarkable that six councillors voted to spend $197 million by 2045. If by some miracle there will be seven successive councils elected and each agrees to continue this plan.

But here is the kicker. Coun. Mike Salisbury seconded the motion to proceed with the project moved by Coun. Dan Gibson. When it was time to vote, Salisbury was one of three councillors voting against the motion.

What happened? Did some councillor say they would second the motion but failed to turn up?

Here is the actual amended motion approved by six councillors:

That staff be directed to proceed with planning and design for a consolidated City Operations Campus consisting of operations facilities for Transit, Operations, Fleet Maintenance, and Corporate Building Maintenance located on the City owned Dunlop Drive property and that the final decision on a new city operations campus be determined following the presentation of a detailed business case and staging plan being provided to Council.

Not even the Government of Canada would commit that amount of money on a single-fixed service facility to be completed in 25 years.

Of course it has been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Get out the Togas staff; looks like you will break the Guinness World Record for long-term planning.

Next, a staff proposal to apply another tax levy on taxpayers

I predict the cost will zoom in the next 25 years if all seven successive councils go along with it, based on just inflation to an astronomical $400 million. The affect of inflation impacts on increased labour costs, materials including cement, steel, bricks, lumber, tools, consultants, vehicles, fuel, insurance, finance charges, change orders.

The special levy is estimated to provide $50 million in capital to help pay for the project in the next ten years. This is beginning to smell like that $350 million Baker Street renaissance Private and Public project to include a library. That was a proposal Mayor Guthrie announced before last year’s civic election.

Is this a moon-shot by council?

In view of this latest display of staff self-serving planning, after 18 years when former Mayor Karen Farbridge announced council would build a new downtown library, it appears council has benched it again.

Those six councillors won’t be around to witness the ribbon cutting in 2045. So why would they approve a 25-year project of such magnitude? Is this some magical municipal financial proposal that would be created by David Copperfield … now you see it, and now you don’t?

The preliminary plan, authorized by the six coucillors, focuses on building a new Guelph Transit maintenance and operations facility. That is only estimated to cost $80 million.

How will the administration finance projects already in the pipeline?

What about those two capital projects including the downtown library, ($68 million), the South End Community Centre, ($68 million). That adds up to $136 million. The new well construction project, ($30 million) adding two new deep wells is included in the 2020 capital budget. Not in this list is the $450 million for infrastructure that is currently being financed by one per cent levy on property taxes.

A report published in the Mercury Tribune outlined cost of the South End Community complex of $68 million. In 2021, $58 million will be available chiefly from development charges. That leaves a gap of $10 million. Some of that missing amount has already been spent from city operating funds passed by the previous council. In the 2022 capiital budget there is another $587,140 for maintenance equipment.

Now there is wind of another property tax levy. Pardon my cynicism but when the administration blows $66 million on Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc and gives Guelph Hydro away for pennies on the dollar, what do we expect?

Staff predicts another 60,000 new residents by 2045

Does this group of six councillors seriously believe this is even remotely possible?

They decided these long-range capital projects to justify their egos, loyalty and survival. The city staff is also married to senior management who know what they are doing. Or more likely, are some members of council listening to their supporters and ignoring the financial requirements of such a huge project.

The process started Monday without analysis of how all those other capital projects will be financed. They made a decision that did not include a business plan.

It’s time to serve the people’s immediate needs

I can think of immediate needs for a new dowtown library, plus a major construction of two new wells to supply future needs (already in the 2020 Capital Budget). Is the Guelph Innovation District plan still alive?

The 2020 capital budget is $151.6 million subject to public and council review. The ten-year capital spending forecasts that by 2029 the total will be $1.7 billion.

According to DCAO Trevor Lee: “The ten-year plan is funded based on asset management principles that lays out the long-term investment needs for our city.

Our General Hospital is asking the city for $4.7 million to expand to meet the needs of a growing population.

These are a few of the pressing issues that affect all citizens, not just the working conditions of the staff. Spending $22 million plus on a parking garage next to city hall will basically serve the city employees. More than two-thirds of the parking spaces are only available to monthly users. Guess who they are?

City council has continued to ignore the downtown area. despite the promise by the former mayor that the downtown would be a vibrant and exciting place for everyone.

How did that turn out?

The property tax deal is a hidden subsidy to the U of G

I’ll wrap up this pet beef. When is city council going to influence the provincial government to amend the 32-year property tax deal granted to all post secondary institutions? They only pay $75 a year per registered student in lieu of property taxes.

The University of Guelph has a huge advantage under this outdated plan because it is in the property land rental business, obtaining income from properties it owns along Stone Road plus hundreds of acres currently not in use. That acreage can be leased to developers with no impact on the city property tax deal with the province.

Bottom line is the city receives approximately $1,65 million per year based on 22.000 students in lieu of property taxes. Meanwhile, the University leases it land to developers and the city receives no property tax assessment income.

How does this compare to Linamar’s property taxes with 19 plants operating in the city?

Yet citizens owning property receive annual tax bills that in recent years increases by an average of 3 per cent. In 32 years how much of an increase has the University paid in lieu of property taxes? Zero.

It has been going on for years and Guelph residents are subsidizing city services pertaining to the University and the community college.

This is iniquitous and has not been upgraded since inception to even allow for inflation.

This places a huge burden on city residents who must subsidize transit, infrastructure, police, fire and EMS services to the growing city and university/community college population. In the 2020 budget, the police services board is requesting a 10 per cent increase in the police budget.

By 2045, the staff estimates there will be 60,000 new citizens living here.

It’s something to think about.

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Sometimes the writer has feet of clay

By Gerry Barker

October 24, 2019

Opinion

Well, some days are better than others.

This week it was the federal election in which the Liberals won 157 seats but not a majority.

My prediction that Mr. Dyck of the Green Party, would be elected was not only way off the mark but letting instinct dominate instead of trusting the polls. Mea culpa!

Green Party leader Elizabeth May now had two new MP’s to join her caucus of one.

I totally misjudged the power of the Green Party in Guelph that I felt would be a major factor on election day. Actually, Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Part in the Ontario Legislature was a runaway victor becoming a surprising factor in the 2018 provincial election. I presumed it would be a major factor in the Guelph federal election.

Dyck was matched against a Liberal incumbent, Lloyd Longfield, who spent a ton of money and the Green factor vanished.

It baffles me how the political pendulum swings in Guelph. First, the city voters are chiefly interested in progressive issues. Accordingly, the party candidates have owned Guelph federally. For 14 years now, the New Democrats and some Liberals have dominated our municipal administration. .

The loser on Monday was Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, the first member of that party to be elected in Ontario. One would think that he would be busy recruiting candidates and raising money to support National Green Party leader, Elizabeth May. I lost interest when about 11 p.m. I was tired of staring at the TV and the little green box that had the number 1 in it. .

It’s okay Mr. Dyck, my wife and I voted for you.

The NDP pushed hard again along with the Greens for proportional voting that incorporates a ranked ballot where voters select their one, two and third choices. You will recall that the Liberals said they would reform the first past the post system of electing a candidate federally, provincially and municipally.

For four years, it never appeared on the House of Commons order paper.

I believe only British Columbia uses proportional voting. With the current controlling party in B.C. is the minority NDP supported by two elected member of the Green Party.

This minority government is the official opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline to move Alberta crude to new markets rimming the blue waters of the Pacific.

Makes one wonder what Prime Minister elect, Justin Trudeau, will do to get his pipeline built, seeing the party failed to elect a member west of Manitoba.

 

 

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This poll giving the Liberal candidate a 44.1per cent lead lacks the elements of authenticity

By Gerry Barker

October 21, 2019

Opinion

Having being involved in a number of elections, this poll published two days before Monday’s Federal Election, leaves out some fidelity of who ordered it? Who paid for it? Who conducted it?

To be sure, it wasn’t the campaigns of the Green Party, (23.3 per cent) The Conservatives, (21.9 per cent) The NDP, (6.2 per cent) The People’s Party of Canada (3.8 per cent). The opposition parties would never publish this result, if it were true.

The pollsters were IPolitics and Mainstreet Research. Neither appears to be incorporated. Who are the polling employees involved in making the 630 calls on September 30? That was three weeks ago.

That, in itself, makes this poll result useless and inaccurate today.

That’s a long time to publish this alleged data two days before the election.

The poll operators claimed to have a plus or minus error margin of 3.9 per cent.

Okay, how many Guelph voters were called September 30? How were they selected?

It is obvious that the Liberal campaign was in trouble just before election day and asking the Mercury Tribune to publish the result of the poll.

Here’s a personal memory. In 1968, I was the campaign manager for Liberal, Jimmy Walker, who was the party whip in the Pearson government. Jimmy narrowly won in two elections, defeating the NDP in York Centre. The previous win he only won by 33 votes.

This time was different as the NDP nominated newspaper columnist Doug Fisher.

We organized a potent ground team across the riding. Jimmy received a call from Keith Davey, the National organizer for the Liberal Party now led by Pierre Trudeau. We had lunch in a quiet restaurant in North York and Keith swore us to secrecy not to reveal what he was going to tell us. My heart sank but Keith smiled and said: Jim, you’re going to win by more than 30,000 votes according to our polling data.

In fact he won by 33,000 votes. When you are ahead you don’t talk about.

It seems this poll supporting the Liberals in Guelph is deliberately self-serving.

I believe that the electorate in the city has high numbers of progressive supporters. The Liberals have benefited by influencing some of those progressive supporters to vote Liberal. It’s been like that for a long time.

In last year’s provincial election, the Liberal candidate ran fourth in a five-candidate race as the majority of the progressive supporters migrated to the Green Party.

The remaining question about the Liberal campaign supporters is will the Green Party repeat that performance today?

Final Thought: Tonight, Guelph council is holding an emergency meeting starting at 6 p.m. to consider a staff recommendation to spend $197 million on a new consolidated operations campus. Estimated completion time is 2045.

The administration’s response was that it was too difficult to hold it at any other time.

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