The Guthrie record: Now are you better off today than in 2014?

By Gerry Barker

October 15, 2018

Mayor Cam Guthrie published a full-page advertisement in the Tribune this past week, just ten days before the civic election extolling his virtues, track record and, regretfully, dodging the vital issues facing the community and lying by omission (LBO).

This is a classic deja-vu of his election in 2014 in which he was the default victor over a Mayor who the public decided was not worthy of re-election. And, with good reasons.

The vast majority of the voting public understood there had to be change at the top. And Cam Guthrie filled most voter’s hopes and expectations beating, Ms. Farbridge by more than 5,000 votes.

The left progressives, who had dominated city council for eight years, were dumb- founded.

As an incumbent candidate, Guthrie campaigned on keeping property taxes at the same level, as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) at the time was 1.95 per cent.

In March 2015, the new council approved a 3.96 per cent property tax increase accelerated by the previously frozen increased assessment on property that was not included in the 2015 budget as presented to the public.

In his four years as mayor, Mayor Cam Guthrie presided over more than an 18 per cent increase in city property taxes.

So, why would citizens believe him now?

So, early in January 2015, guelphspeaks.ca published the fact that Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert’s, contract was being reviewed by city council. This resulted in an investigation of who had tipped off guelphspeaks.ca?

The Mayor, enraged over the leak, even sent out an e-mail to an undisclosed group of people, presumed to be his supporters, that Barker was not to be believed as he always got his facts wrong. Really? Prove it!

The new Mayor even threatened a Guelph citizen who published the four-year track record of the CAO’s performance in not balancing the city books and resorted to taking money from reserves to meet the provincial regulations that no municipality can carry a deficit into the new year.

For her trouble, Mayor Guthrie said he would take legal action against this citizen’s accurate analysis of the Ms. Pappert’s five years on the job. That threat disappeared for good reason.

But the Guthrie defence of the former CAO continued

In December 10, 2015, city council met in closed session. The purpose of the meeting was to approve some $98,202 increases to four senior staffers for the fiscal year 2015.

The main recipient was CAO Ann Pappert. Her increase included: A retroactive performance bonus of some $27,000. It also unclouded payments for unused vacation and sick leave credits that totaled a $37,000 increase in her base pay for 2015. This took her remuneration to $253,000 not including her taxable benefits.

None of this was made public until March 31, 2016 when the provincial Sunshine List was published, naming all public servants in Ontario earning more than $100,000.

Comparing her remuneration for 2014 ($219,000) to the 2015 provincial list, demonstrates a 17 per cent increase.

Mayor Guthrie presided over this December 10, 2015 closed session when council awarded these senior managers the huge increase. Guelphspeaks attempted to obtain the minutes of this meeting and was denied after a four-month wait for an answer from Amberlea Gravel, the council-appointed closed-session investigator on retainer by the city.

To this day, Mayor Guthrie has not acknowledged the details or rationale of that closed meeting.

The result was the people of Guelph paid Ms. Pappert in the first two years of the Guthrie administration some $463,000 for 17 months work.

This meeting was just one of 82 closed session meetings the Mayor oversaw in the first two years in office.

In his full-page ad, the Mayor lists the “Community Assets” of the city. These include: Breaking ground on the South End Community Centre ($63 million); Ensure the $350 million (in today’s dollars) Baker Street redevelopment project moves forward (including the $53 million Downtown Library); Setting aside funding for the “much needed” hospital expansion; To protect and promote the tree canopy of Guelph; Create fenced-in dog parks.

As the late Peggy Lee used to sing: “Is that all there is?”

Let’s dissect this “Community Asset” run for the roses by the Mayor.

Let’s start with the fenced in dog parks across the city.

This is not an asset; it’s an operational wish list. But let’s address the real poop problems that pervade our parks, Canada Geese. It’s not pleasant to enjoy our parks when there is a proliferation of geese chomping on the grass randomly pooping wherever they feel. And they are so content most stay in Guelph for the winter. You can fence in dogs but cannot handle the bigger problem of goose infestation. Sounds like a plan, priority dogs. How about goose-control pills?

Aside: Whatever happened to the tax on cats?

The declaration of setting aside funds for the Guelph General Hospital is an important issue. But where is the money coming from? The Guthrie administration has not only followed The Mayor’s campaign promise to maintain property tax increases to the CPI but has socked property owners with a two per cent surcharge.

The money allegedly is to go toward repairing and renovating neglected infrastructure but half of it goes to “city buildings.” Those levy funds go for financing the proposed $63 million South End Recreation Centre in which the Guthrie council has already quietly committed $3 million for preliminary architectural planning.

This is the first major community recreation centre to be funded by a property tax levy of 1 per cent across the city.

At this point you have to wonder where the priorities are.

The Mayor has proclaimed that a new downtown Library will finally be part of the Baker Street redevelopment. This is nothing but an empty promise. It will be ten years before a new Library is open. The mayor and most of council will not be in office because the shovels don’t go into the ground until 2024. Many are frustrated supporters of a new downtown library. It’s just Cam promising anything to pander to their hopes and dreams after 20 years of promises by various administrations.

This is what didn’t show up in Community Assets

The Mayor neglects to reveal his role in the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Inc. The crown jewel of real assets has been given away for a pittance.

The proposal has yet to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board.

He must feel vindicated and confident that his support of this multi-million dollar asset giveaway was best for the 55,000 customers of Guelph Hydro.

As the saying goes: “It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

For these reasons my wife and I did not vote for either Mr. Guthrie or Ms. Mlyarz.

If you have not done already we urge you to vote Monday, October 22. Eligible voters have already received their voter card with the location of the poll in each ward. Along with the official voter card, be sure and bring some ID such as driver’s licence, health card, utility bill or your Canadian passport.

Contact the City Clerk’s office. They will be happy to assist voters with information if required.

It’s your city and your vote.

 

 

 

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That nagging flaw acquiring the 1,077-acre Reformatory property, AKA Guelph Innovation District

By Gerry Barker

October 8, 2018

(revised)

There was a flurry recently on Twitter about the Guelph Innovation Secondary plan that was to create a green city in the middle of our city. The plans are detailed and claimed it would house 7,000 residents and provide 9,000 jobs.

City council approved this project May 13, 2014. It was a pet project of former Mayor Karen Farbridge. City staff planners were engaged to develop the detailed layout of the site including housing and commercial development and a street pattern that almost eliminated fossil-fueled vehicles.

The theory was that residents could walk, roller skate or ride their bikes to work right in their own neighbourhood.

Seven years later, the traffic in Guelph is congested twice a day on all major streets and roads as a result of the former administration’s ant-vehicle traffic policies of shrinking vehicle lanes on many major streets to allow bicycle lanes.

In 2011, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FOCM) gave the city a $142,252 grant toward developing the plan. The Guelph planning staff led by General Manager Todd Salter, and General Manager of Economic Development, Peter Cartwright, swung into action employing city staff to work on the project.

It is safe to assume that $142K FOCM’s green grant would not last a year scoping out the project now called the Guelph Innovation District.

But here is the nagging problem

The city does not own the land on which all these development drafts represent an expensive exercise in futility. It is compared to the $16.5 million spent on the Civic Museum built on lands owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

A plan of this magnitude would cost some $300 million in today’s dollars not including the cost of purchasing the land. The PC government has said it wants to dispose of provincial lands no longer needed. The Reformatory lands are a rich plum for the province to sell to the highest bidder.

What role would our newly elected Green Party leader, Mike Schreiner, play in this game? Here’s an important local issue that has a full development plan for the 1.077-acre property sitting in the city-planning department

It begs the question: How much has the city spent in seven years on this project that is no closer to realization than it was in 2011?

An educated guess is that the province could value the property at $200,000 per acre and that amounts to $215,540,000. The city could engage in some creative scheme to line up some builders to financially participate. Servicing that debt could cost $7,539,000 @ 3.5 per cent in interest alone and no reduction in principal per year. A revenue source would be the property taxes assessed for the development. However, the carrying costs alone would never be supported by property taxes.

Based on their design they could lease the land to the builders, a la Arboretum, and pay down the costs. This would include servicing the property, plus what has already been spent to prepare the site with the necessary infrastructure and facilities such as police and fire stations, and services buildings.

But in view of the city’s maxed-out financial situation, is it prudent to go into large-scale property developments?

The Guthrie administration has already agreed in principle to spend an estimated $350 million renovating the Baker Street parking lot. This is a ten-year Public Private Participation Plan with long-term liability to the citizens.

For the record here are capital projects already under construction: The Guelph police Services headquarters $34 million renovation; the $22 million Wilson Street parkade next to city hall; the $63 million south end recreation centre; the $53 million new downtown library integrated with the Baker Street redevelopment, the cost to citizens has yet to be revealed; the windup up of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc multi-million financial disaster, the cost of which we may never know.

It’s egregious for the mayor to claim that a new downtown library is a major component of the plan that will not open for ten years, according to reports. Construction is not scheduled to commence until 2024.

It is important that the new council carefully examines these various plans because the city’s growth of debt and liabilities is being placed on the shoulders of future councils.

Mayor Guthrie declared in his Sate of The City address to his friends at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce last February that he was “a numbers guy” who drills down to check the details of a proposal.

His statement that the city was not giving Guelph Hydro away regarding the merger with Alectra Inc. is patently untrue. Perhaps the Mayor should check the batteries in his calculator before making such a claim.

There’s a simple explanation Mr. Mayor, if the Ontario Energy Board approves this deal, name the owner of the assets of Guelph Hydro and holder of the title of that corporation.

Less than two weeks left to Election Day. Please make the most of it and vote for change.

Check out guelphtomorrow.ca for commentary on the election October 22 and post-election news and coverage.

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Glossy magazine Vital Signs takes a statistical peek at us and ignores key financial data

By Gerry Barker

October 1, 2918

With a civic election just three weeks away a consortium of the University of Guelph, the Guelph Community Foundation and the Oaktree project funded by the Mactaggert family, has produced a book of numbers that are interesting but missing the real numbers.

The real numbers? They are the financial data of the two municipalities that are measured and their ability to meet the demands of the people, the province, plus controlling debt and partnership obligations.

What puzzles me most is, what is the objective here? The data includes percentages of the two municipalities in area including crime, trees planted, waste diversion, mental health stats, obesity, median household income and unemployment stats, to name a few of the plethora of data. In fact some of the data was dated, it was taken more than four to five e years ago.

Who is the audience for this? Will it be delivered to all households in both municipalities?

I must say it is a interesting effort to inform people who love statistics. What it fails to do is interpret the data in relationship to today’s community needs and costs. Nowhere does it mention property tax rates that represent the largest portion of revenue to the municipality.

What about the $23 million spent on new City Hale over-budget?

Missing are the facts of mismanagement in Guelph’s case that has cost the city many millions of dollars.

It is a classic academic social study that has little relevance to those earning a living and able to afford living in Guelph. For 12 years this has charged annually, on average, increasing property taxes by more than three per cent. Just two years ago, Guelph council imposed a two per cent special levy on property taxpayers to pay for neglected infrastructure needs.

City staff estimated the infrastructure renovation and replacement costs to be more than $400 million.

But to everyone’s surprise, half of that levy was spent on “city buildings.” It went toward building a new $63 million south end recreation centre. There is no denying that such a project is needed but when the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, says the ten-year capital spending budget is $170 million in the hole, you won’t read about that in Vital Signs.

Then Mayor Guthrie announces that the city is getting a new downtown library. Here’s the problem. The mayor says the city has entered a Public Private Partnership (3P) agreement with an Ottawa developer. The library is part of an estimated $350 million project to redevelop the downtown Baker Street parking lot. Here’s the hitch: The shovels will not go into the ground until 2024. It will take four to five years to complete the job.

Still to be negotiated the city’s share of the 3P deal. Do you think this project is a Vital Sign? Did not read anything about that in the magazine.

That construction time frame is based on the renovation of the downtown police headquarters that is now entering year five and is still not complete. Nor do we know what the end cost will be on the $34 million project approved in August 2014

So the friends of the library should tone down the happy talk volume. It is difficult to figure out why this massive project makes sense when the city could build a new downtown library for $53 million.

The city building projects in the past 12 years have been over-priced and under- performing.

So the feel good publication Vital Signs omits the key element of accountability and transparency. Too much city business is done in closed sessions. In the first two years of Mr. Guthrie’s leadership there were 82 closed session meetings conducted by council.

The Mayor was handed a rock concering the GMHI debacle

Mayor Guthrie inherited a monumental mess concerning the operation of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc involving the Distruct Energy plans. That operation, headed by the former mayor, has cost the city millions and is still running a deficit of $17 million as of 2016. It is estimated that current deficit may exceed $20 million

In 2017 the Mayor announced the merger of Guelph Hydro and Electra Inc. A majority of council approved the deal December 13, 2017. The Ontario Energy Board has yet to approve the merger that will turn over a going, profitable and successful city-owned power distribution system in exchange for a tiny 4.63 per cent of Alectra Utilities profits. Did I mention it only shares, along with other municipalities connected to Alectra, 60 per cent of those Alectra profits?

As I have said, Vital Signs is a shotgun example of a lot of data that does not directly affect the citizens of Guelph and Wellington County. Much of it is history and in many cases not applicable to the needs of today’s populations.

While the Guelph Community Foundation and the Mactaggert family had good intentions, the publication missed the mark of not including the financial impact on the people that pay the bills.

Again I ask the question: Who was the target audience? What is the expectation of benefits to the people who live in these two communities?

Is this the purpose of the Guelph Community Foundation, an organization I personally trust and believe?

I would describe Vital Signs as a “justification” publication sponsored by the University of Guelph. Lately there has been a concentrated campaign by the University to justify its economic impact on the City of Guelph.

In my opinion, this signals an attempt to derail a growing demand to replace the property tax in lieu present system, to have the institution pay its fair share of property taxes. Statements have been made that any increase would be passed through to the students.

This is a huge corporation that owns millions in properties and rents back to users.

At the same time it is reported that the University’s endowment fund is worth some $100 million.

The result is the property taxpayers are subsidizing the University supplyong services the cost of which go far beyond the estimated $1.7 million the city received in lieu of property taxes.

The property tax deal has not changed in 31 years, Here’s how it works: For every student attending the university, it pays $75 in lieu of property taxes. Considering the holdings of the University of Guelph that has to be the bargain of the century.

You won’t read about that statistic in Vital Signs.

BREAKING NEWS!

guelphtomorrow.ca

The new website guelphtomorrow.ca is now live on the web. It concentrates on commentary and news about the civic election campaign and the players. It’s different and stresses informing citizens and promoting public participation including voting October 22. Enjoy!

 

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How Mayor Guthrie interfered in the Guelph P.C. campaign

via How Mayor Guthrie interfered in the Guelph P.C. campaign

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September 23, 2018 · 11:23 pm

How Mayor Guthrie interfered in the Guelph P.C. campaign

By Gerry Barker

September 24, 2018

A year ago, guelphspeaks.ca received a tip that the P.C party was interested in having Mayor Guthrie as its candidate. Mayor Guthrie denied he was available and the matter disappeared. Until that is, when the election Writ was dropped by the Liberal government slated for June 7, 2018.

Prior to that, in Late January, the P.C. Leader, Patrick Brown, who Mr. Guthrie, is alleged to befriend, was forced to resign over alleged sexual misconduct. Across the province, P.C. riding associations were thrown into a tizzy as the party leadership had to redefined and hold a leadershuo convention that Doug Ford won.

In Guelph, there was a crisis in selecting a candidate because of interference from the Tory team inToronto.

And now, for the rest of the story.

I like to call it Pizza-gate for reasons soon to be revealed.

Guelph PC Riding Association President, Bob Coole, and his campaign team were interviewing and seeking candidates to carry the PC banner in the June election. A front-runner at the time was lawyer, Peter McSherry who dropped out. While the Association was working to set up a nomination convention because there were other candidates interested in running, a message came from P.C. headquarters in Toronto.

The gist was not to proceed with the nomination meeting because, without identifying the individual, team Toronto said they had a candidate and the nomination convention would possibly not be necessary.

The Tory riding association was confused and concerned about losing time to get a candidate nominated and organized for the June 7 election.

There was speculation of who the pre-selected candidate would be.

When asked, Mayor Guthrie steadfastly denied he was the one because he loved his job as Mayor and would be seeking re-election.

What the Mayor never revealed was the secret recruiting campaign that along with Coun. Dan Gibson worked to nominate candidates to support him if elected Mayor.

If this was a horse race, this action might be compared to hedging your bet.

Some of those team Guthrie candidates allegedly are members of the Lakeside Evangelical Church. Both Mr. Guthrie and Mr. Gibson are members of that church.

It is still perfectly legal but not above board.

Mr. Gibson admitted to this writer that he had spent weeks talking and recruiting candidates although their religious affiliation was not included in discussions.

Nor should a candidate’s religious affiliation be a factor in any election.

Unknown to the voting public was the Mayor’s political stick handling to become the P.C. candidate in the June provincial election while publicly denying he was seeking the nomination.

Unfortunately, the question of religious affiliation pointed out by some opponents of Mr. Guthrie, who charged him with creating a slate to favour his mayoralty.

What these people are claiming is nuts and blatantly untrue.

For eight years, the progressives left in Guelph ran a slate of supporters of then Mayor Karen Farbridge.

In my opinion, the chickens have come home to roost. The NDP slate of candidates are facing imminent defeat, based on the record of wasted millions on projects such as the new City Hall and the GMHI debacle, to name two. But in the past four years the progressive’s Bloc of Seven, held a majority on council and played a role of obstructionism and stalled necessary reforms.

Playing both sides of the street

Let’s return to the Mayor’s sabotage of the Guelph P.C. Riding Association’s abortive attempts to conduct a legal nomination convention. The P.C. headquarters team was complicit in creating the delay because it refused to confirm the identity of their chosen candidate. And they never did.

As a result of the Mayor’s action behind the scene, a nomination meeting was never held.

In the midst of the P.C. Association turmoil of uncertainty, Mr. Coole received a telephone call from Mayor Guthrie asking him to lunch and suggested they meet at a pizza restaurant located in a Stone Road plaza. In the course of that meeting, Mr. Guthrie said he was interested in receiving the P.C. nomination but only by acclamation.

Mr. Coole advised him that the nomination process involved other candidates and he could not recommend to his board the request by the Mayor. By now, some weeks had gone by and the P.C.’s had no candidates.

To fill the gap, the riding association attracted two candidates, former city councillor Ray Ferarro and a Rockwood veterinarian. The PC headquarter’s team interviewed both. But time to hold a nomination meeting had almost run out.

The new PC leader, Doug Ford, on a Saturday three weeks before the election, named Mr. Ferarro as the Guelph P.C. candidate among 18 others in ridings across the province.

On May 1st, nominations for city council opened with Mayor Guthrie and four new individuals signing up for council.

It became apparent that the Mayor was setting up a slate of supporting candidates who shared similar interests and beliefs.

But in doing so, he sabotaged the Guelph P.C. Riding Association’s efforts to run a fair and open nomination convention.

Unfortunately for Mr. Guthrie, blind ambition led to the P.C.’s getting hammered in the June provincial election. As a member of the Conservative Party, he is now considered persona non grata.

Voters have no choice but to elect Cam Guthrie as our mayor. If he struggled in the past four years dealing with a strong opposition, this next four years will not be any easier.

He must speak truth to power.

 

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Why is the city wasting staff time planning the Reformatory lands?

via Why is the city wasting staff time planning the Reformatory lands?

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September 19, 2018 · 11:31 pm

Why is the city wasting staff time planning the Reformatory lands?

By Gerry Barker

September 20, 2018

Last week, Coun. Bob Bell persuaded Mayor Cam Guthrie to attend a squatter’s campsite in a forested wood located on the provincially owned Reformatory lands. It was a site of tents and litter including drug paraphernalia.

Mayor Guthrie responded saying the property management outfit, hired by the province, said it was the planning to clean up the squatter’s campsites on the property.

Let’s drill down and check out the background of these lands that the city has been lusting for.

Lusting you say? Yes, for the eight years of the Farbridge administration, city staff spent multi-hours designing a satellite city on property the city does not own. The project was named “Innovation Guelph” and the design model includes all aspects of planning such as infrastructure, street layouts, zoning of lands, residential density.

There is no doubt that this ongoing effort by city staff was costly and we will never know how much because the YTD staff costs are buried in the city’s financial statements.

Staff resources wasted on sketchy Innovation Guelph dream

Further. the Guthrie administration that has no jurisdiction of the Reformatory lands is still continuing the planning exercise according to a staff recommendation made last winter.

This is a huge investment of public funds on someone else’s property. In present circumstances, it is not possible that the Ford administration is in any way ready to give the asset away to the city or anyone else. It has been on the market with no apparent takers.

So what’s going on? Again, the citizens are left out. Best guess is the city is hoping to secure the property using a Public Participation Plan (3P) with a private partner. That partner would benefit with full access using the development plans already paid for by the citizens.

This way, the city would get its satellite city with little further funding and gain a boatload of new property tax assessment.

Hold the phone! The Guthrie administration has already announced the Baker Street redevelopment project, another 3P deal with an Ottawa-based developer that currently has an estimated $350 million price tag.

The city claims it has already invested $29 million in the Baler Street redevelopment. The proposal lumps in the $22 million Wilson Street five-story parkade adjacent to city hall and now under construction.

It appears the only way to pay for all this is to approve the sale of recreational pot that becomes legal October 17. The Ford government says it will be up to the municipalities to decide whether to allow it.

Baker Street redevelopment is 10 years from completion

Trouble is that shovels don’t go in the ground for five years (2024). The estimated construction period is four years. For those folks cheering the announcement that a new downtown library is the main tenant in the project, have at least ten years before the doors open, if ever.

On top of that, the cost to the public side of the Baker Street 3P is unknown. The staff can only guess about the cost to citizens and they’re not telling because they cannot estimate costs five years from now.

This comes at a time when the Mayor is also promising, if elected, that ground will be broken next year for the $63 million South End recreation centre. More than $3 million has already been spent by the city preparing the design and facilities site plan.

Finally, there is the problem in Guelph of a volatile soup of booze, drugs, violence, filth, and sex mixed with immaturity and irresponsibility. This has been escalating for the past 12 years with three administrations, dominated by leftist progressives who have failed to provide affordable housing for the poor, homeless and working Canadians living under the poverty line.

One of the problems is that County Wellington administers social and affordable housing. This has not worked out over the years as statistics show that Guelph has not provided the necessary affordable housing or social support for the growing numbers of members of our society. These are the forgotten people, living under often-awful conditions in our city, who have been virtually bypassed in terms of proper housing and shelter.

The effort of the NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) has been the chief refuge for many of these folks but municipal government has to step up to stop the lawlessness, crime and social disrespect.

The Mayor wants to hire more police. It’s only a piece of the puzzle to solve a serious problem. And who would know and understand the problem better than our police who deal with this 24/7.

The new council should make solving this problem a top priority. Assemble a fact-finding task force composed of councillors, NGO representatives, emergency first responders including police, fire and EMS, University of Guelph, Service club members, Guelph General Hospital, development industry and Wellington County.

It is important from the get-go that the problems must be identified then prepared for an action plan based on real-time information and make specific recommendations.

Finally, raise the money. Guelph has always been a city of generosity toward causes for those less fortunate.

It will take time to complete the task but with patience and clarity of the issues there will come resolution.

When that happens, citizens will be proud to call Guelph, The Royal City.

 

 

 

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