An open letter to Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson

September 26, 2016

Dear Mr. Thomson:

In the next five weeks, your office will be responsible for creating and guiding a new city budget for the fiscal year 2017, for council’s approval.

Let’s face it. Last year’s budget process was a disaster, culminating in council conducting a nine-hour, free-for-all marathon. Over two days, the performance by the elected officials, can best be described as a bidding war to preserve the remnants of the former regime’s failures and mismanagement.

In fairness, you were not in charge when that 2016, $385 million budget was finally approved December 10.

Little did the public know about the ultimate fall-out. The former CAO resigned. The former Chief Financial Officer left for greener pastures; a newcomer, Scott Stewart, taking over waste management and environmental services, ultimately replaced him. You turned in your resignation in May and accepted a new job with the Town of Caledon. In the wake of the departure of Ann Pappert, you were persuaded to be Guelph’s new CAO.

You have inherited a staff that is demoralized, bloated and distrusted by the people who pay the bills.

But let’s hear from columnist Robin Sears, former national director of the New Democratic party who wrote in the Toronto Star:

“Professional progressives ruefully admit that voters’ lack confidence in the ability to spend prudently and effectively.

“On ensuring that public expenditure is well monitored and that outcomes are fairly measured, there is a widening credibility gap between political promises, performance and public perception.

“Too many progressive activists sneer at this challenge as merely the product of right-wing attacks on the role of government.”

Those comments describe the schizophrenic contradictory political world in our city, between its citizens, administration and lifestyle.

It’s no secret now that an independent management consultant BMA has stated that Guelph’s operational costs are much higher that similar-sized cities in the province. They have also questioned how reserves have been used to balance the city books every year for the past five years. In fact they raised a red flag about the diminished financial condition of the reserves.

Two things, bad forecasting and failure to control its own budget by consistently overspending has caused this situation.

Six years ago, there was $77 million held in 92 reserve funds. Today there are 26 reserve funds with less than $10 million and dropping. Your predecessor failed to balance the city books for five years making up the shortfall using funds from the reserves.

So, you have inherited a mess. The public feels that trust in the operation of the city is at a dangerously low level. While responsibility to restore public confidence rests with the elected members of council, the professional staff must share the public protest and distrust.

To be positive, you now have the opportunity to restore the city operations by rationalizing the staff functions to reduce operational costs. The city staff, over which you have control, according to independent analysis, can be reduced without impairing essential services.

According to the Sunshine List, more than 90 Guelph staff with the title “manager” earned more than $100,000 in 2015. It is apparent, based on comparative costs with other cities, there is redundancy and duplication of staff responsibilities that can reduce operational costs without service cuts. Reduction of administration costs is not a cut to services but overhead.

This is an area where you can show leadership.

For openers, tell your staff that the city budget must be reduced by 5 per cent by across-the-board layoffs, attrition, elimination of contract workers, and realignment of responsibilities. This will be a daunting task as 80 per cent of city staff is unionized, covered with collective agreement contracts. The staff reduction should not just fall on the shoulders of the lower-level employees.

The number of staff employed in the communications department total 15 full time employees including a general manager, three supervisors and a special communication specialist assigned to your office, plus nine communications specialists.

It appears the city has four times the communications employees than the local twice-weekly newspaper that has four covering the city, not just the administration. Perhaps indirectly, the publicly paid city staff may be feeding material to the newspaper owned by Metroland Publishing, a division of TorStar.

Also why are public funds being used to publish City News pages in each issue of the newspaper? What is that costing taxpayers when the majority obtain their news from electronic sources and the Internet?

The 2016 budget of $385 million is the baseline and should not be exceeded for three years until the next council is elected in October 2018. This will offer an opportunity to restore public trust in the administration to bring costs under control and invest in infrastructure, plus replenishing the reserves.

Most importantly, such action will make any proposed special property tax levy to taxpayers unnecessary. The Consumer Price Index for 2015 was 1.1 per cent. In 2016, council approved a 2.96 per cent property tax increase, a 4.11 per cent increase in water use; a non-tax base added cost to consumers. Add in the increase in property assessment by the provincial Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) now engaged in mandatory increases until 2020. Regardless of the property size or use, the MPAC automatic increases of property assessments in Guelph will add millions in property taxes.

Mr. Thomson, this presents an opportunity to reduce expenses, coupled with the tools that you possess to invoke financial recovery.

Other touchy areas include dismantling the Community Energy Initiative that has no future without massive investment of capital. Then there are the costs associated with subsidies to operate Guelph Transit (est. $16 million), the RiverRun Theatres ($531,000 annually), the Sleeman Centre ($250,000 annually), bicycle lanes ($300,000 annually), the wellness handouts ($155,000 annually). These total $17,236,000. We both know that’s only the tip of the iceberg. All these areas should be audited, and directed by you using inside audit staff to reduce costs.

Remember, there is no harm in being frugal with the public treasure.

The subject of capital spending is another tough issue to get under control.

We both know there will be political protest if any operating costs are reduced. It will not be easy, but you have been given power to flatten out the organization and treat the public money like it is your own.

By freezing the city budget, reducing city staff numbers over the next three years thereby reducing operational costs, will lead to savings that can be applied to infrastructure repairs and maintenance, replenishing reserves without cutting essential services.

As I understand it, your mandate as CAO is three years. You can accomplish a lot to improve staff efficiency and performance, public pride and trust. When the time comes to leave office, enjoy the feeling that your leadership and action changed the course of the city to being a model of civic pride and responsible administrative management.

Thank you,

Gerry and Barbara Barker

Guelph residents and taxpayers

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Memo to city administration: It’s about the spending, stupid

By Gerry Barker

September 22, 2016

There was a guy named James Carville who, in the 1992 Presidential election, coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Carville was a political agent for Democrat candidate Bill Clinton who was facing George H.W. Bush. That one sentence galvanized the U.S. electorate to elect Clinton their new president.

It doesn’t take much more convincing that Guelph has not only a spending problem but the problem of carrying the baggage of money wasted on various schemes initiated by the former Farbridge administration.

There have been a number of revelations of money wasted. The Urbacon city hall contract lawsuit added an additional $23 million to the original cost of the building, taking the cost to $65 million. An impatient mayor triggered the firing of the general contractor, when the building was 95 per cent finished, caused this. That led to the defeat of the former mayor. She has yet to apologize for that mistake in judgment.

Did the public approve of this?

In her eight years in office, the former mayor and her council majority of supporters, allowed the number of full-time city staff to balloon by more than 35 per cent. The population increase during that period was 6.5 per cent.

Along comes the $37.1 million spent by the city-owned Guelph Municipal holdings Inc. (GMHI). The board was chaired by the mayor and four members of council, giving the chair absolute authority.

She exercised that authority behind closed doors without any public participation or input. Last May 16, we learned the truth about her secret project to develop two District Energy Node pumps, powered by natural gas and through a complex underground co-generation system, supplied hot and cold water to nearby buildings.

The Node located in the Sleeman Centre, supplies the co-generated hot and cold water to the two, new hi-rise Tricar Condo buildings, Sleeman Centre, RiverRun Theatres and St. Mark’s church.

Pankaj Sardana delivered the bad news to council in an open meeting. He said the project was started with a bad business plan and should never have been started in the first place. His presentation to the GMHI shareholders, aka city council was supported by the former CAO, Ann Pappert, who had served a Chief Executive Officer(CEO) of GMHI for four years.

If anyone knew of what GMHI was planning, it had to be her. But no one, the former mayor, the four councillors or Ms. Pappert serving on the GMHI board, said a word. Mr. Sardana’s presentation was the first indication of trouble with this project.

The devil is in the details

On July 13, the staff presented a detailed report on how the project failed and the associated costs. Those costs included the sum of $68.5 million an “impairment” asset on the city books. What is the interpretation of an ”impairment” charge? If the recoverable amount of an investment is less than its carrying value, then the asset is deemed to be impaired. The value must be written down to the recoverable amount.

Now most people know that the city must balance its books every year.

But because Farbridge persuaded her city council comrades to form GMHI in 2010, as a separate corporation, the finances went off the city books. This clandestine approval allowed her to pursue her dream of energy sustainability and reduction of carbon.

This $68.5 million is impaired because the cost of carrying the asset is some $3.5 million and exceeds the revenue. But there is no provision in the city income to pay these interest costs annually. The result is the so-called “asset” becomes a liability on the city books. In other words, the citizens have to pay for this colossal, multi-million dollar mistake. Yet Mark Amorosi keeps saying the city finances are in solid condition.

The mysteries remain: How was that impaired investment money spent? Was it a term loan? Who guaranteed it? Are there hard assets to provide collateral under-pinning the funds?

Mr. Sardana only mentioned that there were investors bankrolling the funds. It now appears that those “investors” were Guelph Hydro through it subsidiary, Guelph Hydro Electric Services Inc (GHESI). This is the billing and collection department of Guelph Hydro. The cash flow from some 55,000 customers each month is estimated to be more than $20 million or $240,000,000 a year.

The next question: Did the former mayor use that cash flow to finance her abortive Community Energy Initiative (CEI)?

And did her demands for GMHI financing, impact the Hydro costs of the estimated 55,000 customers in the past four years? During that time consumer Hydro charges increased by 42.5 per cent in Guelph.

If you can’t use it, pay someone else to take it off your hands

And what is the provincial electricity system doing during that period? Among other things, it is paying U.S. Border States to take its excess power off its hands. That indicates that since 2006, power consumption has dropped in Ontario by 13 per cent. Yet, the province continues to expand wind, solar and natural gas fired generators adding another 1,300 megawatts (MW) this year. The province’s supply of power now has an installed capacity of 40,000 MW.

The highest daily peak demand was in 2006, during the summer, when demand reached 27,000 MW. This year, during a severe drought for most of the summer months, the peak demand exceeded 23,000 MW for just one day.

Despite these facts of provincial power capacity and usage, the former mayor amalgamated Guelph Hydro that is owned by the city, with GMHI. She gained complete control, using the utility as her piggy bank to fulfill her CEI dream of power sustainability and climate control.

Mr. Sardana says that neither GMHI nor the Guelph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Corporation, is financially viable.

With what we know now, I feel the police should investigate this whole GMHI/Guelph Hydro failed plan. If for no other reason, the public needs assurance there is no evidence of fraud, misuse of public funds, failing to disclose GMHI financial data of the operations to citizens. There should also be an investigation into complicity on the part of the former mayor, members of council serving on the GMHI board of directors, and Guelph Hydro.

We know that the Bloc of Seven majority supporters of the former mayor will never agree to any investigation of the CEI despite the evidence, that is now public that they tried to suppress. In fact, the city is advertising for people to apply for the CEI public advisory board, despite the history of CEI and the financial mess that remains.

By failing to accept their responsibility to effectively represent their electors, they face a backlash, if not next year but the year after, when they must answer to the voters in the October 2018 civic election.

In Guelph, preparations are underway to create the staff’s 2017 budget recommendations to Council sometime in the next few weeks. Rumours have been flying about the financial condition of the city.

Citizens who will be able to make presentations during the process will closely follow this procedure to finalize the next city budget.

There is a viable cost-cutting alternative financial plan on the table prepared by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA. It will be interesting to discover how this plan will affect the outcome. To obtain a copy, go to www.guelphspeaks.ca and it is available for downloading.

Please participate, it’s our future.

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

When personal greed and ambition supersedes responsibility

By Gerry Barker

September 19, 2016

There have been two events that have destroyed any semblance of public trust of senior administration staff and majority of council. And the Urbacon $23 million debacle is not one of them.

These events have bubbled to the surface since the 2014 civic election.

The first event is the 2015 secret salary increases awarded by council last December to four of the most senior city staff. The increases were approved by council in closed session and were not revealed until March of this year when publication of the Provincial Sunshine List of all public servants in Ontario earning more than $100,000 was revealed.

Because the salary increases were approved in closed-session, the question now is which councillors voted to allow the huge bumps in pay?

The Sunshine list contained more than 400 civic employees in Guelph earning in excess of $100,000 a year. The most interesting was the $37,591 increase awarded to former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert for 2015.

When asked about this 17.11 per cent increase for the CAO, Mark Amorosi, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO), head of Corporate Services, said the reason was the CAO did not receive any increase in 2014. In fact, she did receive a modest increase of $5,052. So Mr. Amorosi lied and for good reason.

A case of double dipping

Amorosi actually paid himself two increases in 2015. The first was in November 2014 when the senior management was reorganized within three weeks of the civic election, creating the new position of DCAO. The new title increased his salary to $182,761 from $176,400 in 2013 to cover his new responsibility. This turned out to be exactly the same job he was performing before the civic election and senior staff reorganization.

Then came the December 9, 2015 closed-session meeting that gave Mr. Amorosi another $26,868 increase or 14.7 per cent. This brought his 2015 salary to $209,629.

As for CAO Derrick Thomson who joined the staff in 2014 as Executive Director of Operations, his intial salary was $173,720. In 2015, his salary as a DCAO, jumped by 19.48 per cent or an increase of $33,834 and a salary of $207,554

Talk about a meteoric rise. As the new CAO, Mr. Thomson’s new salary level will not be known until next March when the 2016 Sunshine List is published. In addition he received a taxable benefit of $6,472.

In our present economic circumstances, why does Amorosi, the man in charge of reviewing and approving staff salary increases, believe those increases are fair considering the competitive positions in other municipalities? . Is he out of touch will reality??

Did I mention that Mr. Amorosi is responsible for city Finances and Human Resources? Did he use his position to better his personal income? He also receives an additional $6,472 in taxable income apparently to cover his travel expenses because he lives in Hamilton.

We get a CFO who is on maternity leave until next year

A month ago, Amorosi announced that he appointed a junior financial analyst in the finance department as the city’s new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), General Manager of Finance and Treasurer.

Now I happen to know that Amorosi hired a headhunting firm to search for a CFO. I also know of one highly qualified candidate who was rejected by the headhunter.

Instead, we have Amorosi’s third attempt to control the city finances using subordinates to carry out his reckless management decisions. The first lady lasted about two months. The second lady left last March after a year on the job. The advertised position represents the third choice in the past 22 months.

Last month, Amorosi announced that Tara Baker won the CFO job but won’t report for duty until next year as she is on maternity leave. So much for spending money advertising and hiring a head hunting firm, when an allegedly suitable candidate was sitting right in the city finance department.

The fact is that the city has been without a CFO for 22 months as Amorosi has acted in that capacity. If and when Ms. Baker is able to return to work, that gap will increase to 27 months with Amorosi in charge of city finances.

Ann Pappert was the second senior officer of the city staff to resign in May. Deputy Chief Administration Officer Derrick Thomson resigned and that left just DCAO Mark Amorosi, remaining of the senior staff members hired by the former Farbridge administration.

Thomson was persuaded to return to the city as CAO replacing Pappert.

One of his first announcements was the nine-year capital spending plan has a shortfall of $170 million after only one year of operation.

Comforting words from the man in charge of finances

Amorosi quickly announced: “The city was in sound financial condition.” He lied.

If anyone should know about city finances it should be Mark Amorosi. He has control of the city finance department that has not had a General Manager of Finance and treasurer since last March when Janice Sheehy left to take a job in Peel. He also oversees Coun. June Hofland, the robot chairperson of the finance committee, for the past four years.

The Fung Report on city management paints a smeared picture of financial incompetence that has shoved Guelph’s operating expenses to a point of being 50 per cent greater than either Kitchener and Cambridge.

If you live here and own property, you know why our costs are so high. Check your annual tax bills and user fees including water and electricity. The city’s operating expenses have skyrocketed in the past seven years by 56.2 per cent compared to the Consumer Price Index of only 11 per cent.

The second costly event of examples of greed in high places, is the creation of the Community Energy Initiative. It was the brainchild of the former mayor who manipulated staff, city council and Guelph Hydro, to support her dream of establishing two District Energy Nodes. The pumps were located in the Sleeman Centre downtown and Hanlon Creek Business Park. The pumps are coupled to provide underground co-generation system supplying hot and cold water from each Node pump to nearby buildings and electricity to the provincial power grid.

At least that was the plan. Instead, we learned this year, specifically May 16, that the project was seriously flawed and unable to supply power to the grid as planned. The Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), Pankaj Sardana, said the business plan failed to obtain sufficient customers to be viable.

In fact, Mr. Sardana said the project should never have been started in the first place.

But they went ahead anyway blocking public input

The underlying reason for this was that all the planning and development meetings were conducted in closed sessions by the former mayor, chair of GMHI. The chair suppressed the public’s view. The silence was exacerbated by four city councillors who were on the board of GMHI and did not break the code of conduct as developed when the mayor was in office. These include Councillors June Hofland and Karl Wettstein and two who have departed, Lise Burcher and Todd Dennis.

The councillor’s code of conduct prevents councillors from revealing decisions and comments of closed sessions. However GMHI was a stand-alone separate corporation but secrecy of its operations prevailed.

But the senior city staff had to know what was happening at GMHI because CAO Ann Pappert was the CEO of GMHI for four years. Then there was Envida Community Energy Corporation, operated by Guelph Hydro. It was responsible for installing the two District Energy nodes and several solar panels installed on public buildings.

A city staff report in July showed that Envida owed $11 milliohm to GMHI. There was also the matter of $68.5 million, on the city books as an asset. The problem is that it is impaired; meaning the cost of carrying this asset exceeds the revenue, if any, so it gradually becomes a debit.

This situation could go on for years unless the $68.5 million can be written off, worse case scenario, or pay the interest due to maintain it as an asset on the city books.

The Bloc of Seven on council in July voted to keep the Community Energy Initiative operating until the first quarter of 2017. They disregarded the warnings of the Deloitte consultants and the staff that to keep it going, will cost an additional $60 million unvestment of our money.

The public pot is now empty

Mr. Sardana has stated that GMHI or Envida haven’t any money to invest in this failed project that so far has cost taxpayers $37.1 million.

Did we really need to pay that money when the staff, in detail, reported the financial situation with GMHI and where the money went? It was classic Amorosi to order an independent consultant to review the situation. Deloitte admitted its fees will range from $130,000 to $160,000 to report their recommendations.

This situation is showing little sign of correction.

Indeed, the city is now advertising for candidates to join the Community Energy Initiative public advisory board. There are several categories in which persons may apply. There are only four positions available for citizens.

Again it’s a move to give the appearance of thoughtful public contribution to the success of an initiative.

Except in this case there is no foundation. It remains a sinkhole of public money based on a flawed project that the majority in our city didn’t ask for or need.

The terrible situation is that it will cost the city several million dollars just to exit the Community Energy Initiative because of the contracts that were signed with suppliers and customers without any oversight by GMHI and Envida.

This is another expensive remnant of the Karen Farbridge legacy.

5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Minister hands off Guelph’s financial and operational crisis to the same people who created it

By Gerry Barker

September 15, 2016

You will recall that my wife and I sent an open letter to Bill Mauro, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, detailing the several decisions and events that clearly bypassed the Ontario Municipal Act (OMA). It is an Act that lays out the regulations under which municipalities must conduct their business on behalf of those citizens who elected them.

It is the job of the MMA to oversee and ensure that the terms of the Act are being adhered to in Ontario’s 445 municipalities.

Mr. Mauro, in his response today ducked his sworn responsibility as Minister of the Crown in charge of enforcing the provincial rules concerning the management of municipalities.

Here is an extract of his response: “The government of Ontario views municipalities as accountable and responsible governments, with the authority to make decisions within their own jurisdictions based on local values and goals.”

Tell us Minister, how do you determine local values and goals, accoutability and responsibility?”

It gets better: “The concerns you have raised are related to the general administration and financial management of the City of Guelph, which are local matters.

Well, what are your standards of intervening in local issues, such as fiduciary responsibility failure, dereliction of duty, cheating and other human frailties?

“Therefore it is not appropriate for the Province to Intervene in local matters within the City of Guelph and they are best dealt with at the municipal level”

Minister, you have missed our point. How can we trust our council in view of our proven information?

We requested an investigation to confirm the validity of our claims, not an intervention. The City of Guelph is a creature of the province and is created and supervised, to a point, by your Ministry. But you fail to even investigate the situation in which the people are extremely concerned.

We have presented clear evidence that there are serious abuses of the city operations and breaching of the OMA regulations and public trust. Your suggestion to take this matter to the Ontario Ombudsman is a cop-out.

Did you or your staff consult with the Guelph Member of the Provincial Parliament, Liz Sandals? This situation is occurring in her riding. As such, she should be aware of general feeling of distrust by the majority of people of their city administration. Concern in the city over the management of the people’s business and public funds are real. One would think that Ms. Sandals would see the merit in a fair and balanced investigation of the matters raised.

Her silence may be determined in the spring of 2018.

To suggest that my wife and I take our concerns to members of city council for their consideration is ludicrous. The current majority of council is perpetrators of the serious financial and operational management of our city.

You obviously are unaware that along with many other citizens, all of us have been unsuccessfuly stemming the wasteful spending, holding closed-door meetings and creating major capital projects rarely without public input. This controlling group is rooted in New Democratic Party principles to which the majority of the current council adheres.

You have sidestepped a very serious situation that has existed for the past nine years and now refuse to take responsibility. Our case is not political but based on financial analysis by a qualified accountant using the city’s own Financial Information Reports submitted to the province. When analyzed, these audited statements reveal the mismanagement and cover-up by the majority of city council and senior staff, past and present.

And you want us to sort the issues out with these guys?

Your former colleague and MMAH minister, Mayor Linda Jeffrey of Brampton, recently requested a provincial investigation into the affairs of that city’s administration. Did you deny or approve that request, Minister?

Is the Ontario Ombudsman an extension of your Ministerial responsibilities to uphold the OMA, or is his department independent of government?

Minister your response to our request is confusing.

But why are we not surprised?

Sincerely,

Gerry and Barbara Barker

Editor’s Note: To read the original open letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs dated August 22, 2016, please go to the guelphspeaks.ca archives.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Why Guelph’s bureaucratic costs are crippling our city, because staff won’t listen

By Gerry Barker

September 12, 2016

On August 22, My wife and I sent an open letter to the Hon. Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs. In the letter, the details of mismanagement of our city were outlined and we asked a reply to our request for an investigation of city operations.

That was three weeks ago and we are still waiting.

Premier Kathleen Wynne appointed Mr. Mauro in her recent cabinet shake-up. He has experience on this file as he served in the job before. Our MPP Liz Sandals was moved in that shake-up from Minister of Education to President of the Provincial Treasury Board, a less onerous cabinet job with little or no public exposure or consequence. That’s the equivalent of a “D” in politics.

Meanwhile Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi disagreed with his new boss, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Derrick Thomson, about the state of city finances. His statement claiming the city was in “sound financial condition” contrasted with the CAO’s statement that the nine-year capital expense plan was underfunded by $170 million after just one year in operation.

Believing today that this city can afford a new Downtown Library, South End recreation Centre, the Wilson Street parking garage and redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot, is pixie dust and impossible.

It is now open and transparent about how public money has been wasted by a staff in concert with council in the past nine years.

It is not Mayor Cam Guthrie’s fault. He, unknowingly in taking office December 1, 2014, inherited a financial cesspool of millions spent and wasted on self-serving policies of the previous Farbridge administration. You remember them and all their self-promoted awards. To read a recent column written by one of her supporters, the writer painted her as Saint Karen, the revered leader of Guelph. Yikes! Is there no limit to their arrogance?

The problem today is the rigid control of council. They regularly support the senior staff that has seen a CAO and DCAO leave the city because of the revelations of mismanagement.

In his fine analysis of the bloated city operational costs, Pat Fung, CPA, CA, outlined why the city’s operating costs were growing at an unsustainable rate that lasted seven years.

Here is a telling chart of Pat Fung’s analysis

Guelph’s Operating Costs 2008 to 2015 (source: Audited financial statements)

($ thousands) 2015 2014 2008   $ ’08 to ’15 per cent
           
General government 27,070 25,136 18,891   8,179 +43.3%
Protection services 79,550 75,506 51,855   27,695 +53.4%
Transportation services 60,381 57,405 43,380   17,001 +39.2%
Environmental services 76,238 72,697 35,035   41,203 +117.6%
Health services 29,180 27,522 18,524   10,656 +57.5%
Social and family services 43,601 52,280 51,183   -7,582 -14.8%
Social housing 21,372 20,444 n/a   21,372  
Recreation and cultural services 40,906 39,481 23,947   16,959 +70.8%
Planning and development 7,313 6,155 3,986   3,327 +83.5%
           
Total Expenses 385,611 376,626 246,801   138,810 +56.2%
Consumer Price Index 126.6 125.2 114.1   12.5 +11.0%

Guelph should reduce its operating expenses by $20 million and freeze taxes and fees at current levels to fund the capital/infrastructure gap. We cannot continue to increase spending on operating costs on top of increasing our spending on capital and infrastructure.

The Fung Solution: It can be done by freezing revenues at 2016 levels and reducing expenses by $20 million annually. It can be accompkised by freezing expenses at $365 million for 20 years, allowing for increases for index of inflation and assessment growth. City reserves would be built up to $200 million in 10 years. This would be reduced by whatever is spent in the interim on capital and infrastructure. This has the same financial effect as increasing taxes but is funded totally from within the current taxation, user fees and spending.

Will Guelph do the right thing and reduce staff and operating costs?

Guelph’s current financial situation is close to what the City of Brampton faced last week when it terminated 25 senior managers. Mr. Fung pulls no punches in his analysis saying in order to reduce operational expenses, the city will have to lay off staff, reduce salaries and reduce management personnel. According to the provincial Sunshine List there are 92 city staff positions with the title “ manager.” That’s one for every 22 full-time equivalent employees

Regardless, the new CAO is quoted as saying that: “One option the staff will not present to council this fall as a solution to its capital funding woes is drastic cutting of services.”

That’s the usual claptrap excuse that has enveloped thinking of both city staff and leftist members of council.

Mercy me. We can’t cut services as the runaway train of financial mismanagement plunges off the cliff? Thomson disregards the Mayor’s request to investigate funding alternatives other than another property tax increase.

With that thinking by the CAO, who heads the 2,100 member of staff, get ready for a recommendation by staff to approve a 2 per cent special levy of property taxes for more than five years. Or, perhaps a longer period. It remains a sloppy and quick fix to the deep financial problems existent today and are not hoing away. It’s just another way to extract more money from the property taxpayer.

Do these deep thinkers on staff not understand why Guelph’s operating costs on a per person basis in six active operational areas, far exceed the average of the rest of the municipalities in Ontario?

According to the independent BMA consultant report, every person in the city pays $836 for the operational costs of six defined areas. The average in Ontario is $586 per person. That’s a 42.66 per cent difference, or total excess spending by Guelph of $30 million per year.

Now let’s take the General Government’s cost comparison. Guelph spends $229 per person in this category. The Ontario average cost per person is $104. The difference is a whopping 120 per cent additional cost to every resident of the city. Further, General Government expense is not a service but overhead. It can be reduced to meet needed cost cutting measures to bring the city government costs in line with what most Ontario municipalities are currently paying, based on a per capita population.

Now current acting CFO, DCAO, Mark Amorosi, doesn’t like to talk about this per captia cost. He says it’s irrelevant. What doe he care? He lives in Hamilton.

The present senior staff management and the Bloc of Seven on council, show no signs of acknowledging the growing financial problems being foisted on the taxpayers year after year. Plainly the staff is bloated with too many managers, high salaries and benefits, plus in some cases, two high priced managers doing one job.

Mark Amorosi’s crowning triumph was getting council, in closed session, to approve a 17.11 per cent increase for his then boss Ann Pappert and his three DCAO colleagues between 14 and nine per cent increases for 2015.

The public found out about it in March this year when the provincial Sunshine List of every public employee in Ontario earning more than $100,000 is named with taxable benefits five months after the fact.

Mark Amortosi was in charge of the city finances and Human Resources when council approved those increases December 9, 2015. Why is this man still working for the City of Guelph?

We urge folks to read the complete Fung Report. It can be found in the guelphspeaks.ca archives – Part One was posted August 29, 2016 and Part Two was posted September 1, 2016. If unable to locate the report, please contact Pat at pat.fung@sympatico.ca or guelphspeaks.ca

 

10 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Karen Farbridge sticks it to our city like peanut butter in a mutt’s mouth

By Gerry Barker

September 9,   2016

Despite rejection by the people she disrespected for eight years, the former mayor’’s influence remains intact.

After almost 22 months of a new council, the administration of the former mayor has created a debt load that will take years to reduce, if ever.

The real debt of the city lays in the deals the Farbridge administration approved, binding Guelph to off-the-books debt that must be repaid or written off.

Examples include giving the Tricar condo projects a ten-year, complex benefits that defy interpreation as inducement to build condos in the downtown area. The fallout of this is the administration then induced Tricar to participate in the Farbridge dream of co-generation of power and hot and cold running water to their buildings.

How smart was that?

Now Tricar is stuck with a co-generation project that faces immanent collapse. Yes, they agreed to hook up to the District Energy Node in the Sleeman Centre to supply their condos with hot and cold water. But the project, according to Pankaj Sardana, the CEO of the project, is crushed by a bad business plan (a Farbridge historical failing) and should never have been started in the first place.

Taxpayers meanwhile, are stuck with bills totaling $37.1 million plus a $68.3 million impaired asset on the city books that is rapidly becoming a debit due to the failure of the former mayor’s co-generation dream. Add to that, in order to keep the Farbridge Community Energy Initiative (CEI) alive, Mr. Sardana and the Deloitte consultants are stating it will take another $60 million to make the cco-generation, District Energy system work.

Now enter the present city council dominated by the leftist Bloc of Seven. They voted as a bloc to continue to support the District Energy system until the first quarter of 2017. They did say there was to be no further investment until the project is reviewed,

The Bloc of Seven drop-kicks the District Energy debacle to 2018

That decision was another example of this group to drop kick contentious projects into the 2018 budget year to avoid including it in the 2017 budget. It’s off the table for a year thanks to this vote.

Here’s another debt of the Farbridge long-range commitment club. Remember that last minute decision in August 2014 to approve spending $34 million on the proposed Guelph Police Headquarters renovation? The Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) in January, asked for $13 million. The added $21 million dollar upgrade went through council within days of the lock-down of approving capital projects before a civic election.

Here’s how the pro-Farbridge council at the time financed that project. A Police reserve fund provided $3 million, some $14.8 million is to be collected from future development fees and $16.3 is supplied by going into more debt. So the Farbridge administration mortgaged the police project by using the shaky collateral of fees yet to be collected from unknown future development to cover the cost. But for how long?

It was a compromise made by the devil, the devil you say! Yes we now know why CFO at the time Al Horsman, left Finance for the tranquillity of Waste Management and Environment Services in the November senior management realignment. He left the city last August for greener pastures in Sault Ste. Marie.

This is only one example of how the Farbridge administration and to a lesser extent the Guthrie term, has pledged taxpayer money to pay for projects over the distant future.

The net effect of this financial baggage is to bind future councils to set aside direct or indirect funding of past projects before taking care of the needs of the people they serve.

This is exactly what is happening in Ontario where successive Liberal governments have dumped a debt load of billions onto taxpayers. It is disaster ranking up there with the sinking of the Titanic. The people of Ontario face an almost insurmountable recovery under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne. Her personal approval rating has now dropped to 24 per cent.

It’s amateur night at 1 Carden Street

City council and its senior staff, uses kitchen table financing by taking from one (reserve) account to pay for the overspending of its own budget each year since 2011. These are known as negative variances.

In 2010 the city had $77 million in 97 reserve funds. Today, there are 26 reserve funds with an estimated value of $10 million. The reserves have been tapped out, in order to balance the books as required by provincial law. Because of the excessive spending, led by the Urbacon lawsuit cost the city more than $65 million. The reserves have not been replenished despite the high property tax and user fee increases during the Farbridge years.

This is another legacy left by the former mayor. She not only emptied the reserves’ pot but forced long-term debt of an estimated $250 million onto the shoulders of those who are responsible for paying the bills. That group of stakeholders includes past, present and future residents.

Then consider the new nine-year capital budget, starting this budget year that already is underfunded, according to staff, by $170 million. That means there is no possible way that there will be a new downtown library or south end recreation centre in the foreseeable future. There just isn’t the money or method to finance each of those long-promised projects estimated to cost $105 million at today’s prices.

Ms. Farbridge and her elected progressive supporters have made sure of that.

No amount of new development can possibly repair this egregious abuse of the public purse. Likewise, property taxes already among the highest in the province, cannot meet the demands of needed capital prjects that serve the people. Too much has already been wasted on esoteric environmental projects such as road dieting, bicycle lanes and waste collection. Oh! I almost forgot, climate change. The dominating progressives have pursued their own personal agendas for nine years and have turned our city into one of the most expensive municipalities in Ontario in which to live.

On a personal note, our two-month hydro and water charges topped out in August 2014 at around $620 for two months. Today, hydro is billing monthly along with water charges. Comparing the equivalent period of two drought-affected months in 2016, the billing is $752 or an increase of $132. Same house, same two occupants and we are paying a 21.29 per cent increase.

Blame the Wynne government for our soaring Hydro rates

This is a trend that began five years ago in which the cost of electricity has risen 42.5 per cent. Starting in January, the Wynne government will be adding a carbon tax to hydro customer’s bills. Adding insult to injury, we will also be charged HST on the new tax.

So when the Ontario Minister of Energy claims that Ontario has one of the lowest electricity costs of any province in the country, has he checked them all? Does he explain that under the Liberal government’s energy sustainability program, Hydro is paying U.S. Border States to take our surplus power. That means Ontarians are now subsidizing the electricity needs of foreign states.

Ms. Wynne says relief of high hydro bills is on the way. Here’s a top Premier: Stop expanding our capacity to produce power such at the planned expansion of 1,300 megawatts this year. Also stop paying for private wind and solar producers to generate power that is not needed.

Wonder when that deal trickles down to Ontario consumers?

Toss in the cost of annual subsidies spent on Guelph Transit – $15 million; the Sleeman Center – $249,361; the RiverRun Theatre – $531,440; a city staff numbering more than 2,100 full time equivalent employees (FTE’s) who are paid by tax-funded revenue, representing 80 per cent of the total property taxes collected from some 55,000 households and businesses in the city.

For details on how the city staff has among the highest managerial costs in Ontario, go the guelphspeaks.ca archives and check out Pat Fung’s excellent analysis of Guelph costs compared to other cities.

The math indicates that future staff pension liability, directs the municipality to guarantee each employee upon retirement. The exponential growth of the Guelph civic staff and remuneration has steadily increased that liability and the costs of carrying it. Think about this: We are living longer and city employees, on average, are retiring at 55. Can you imagine that 20 years from now the City will be guaranteeing the indexed pensions of hundreds of former employees. It is possible that we could be guaranteeing the pensions of three former employees at the same time, who retired at 55, lived until 85 and held the same job.

Now add the city’s non-tax funded service increases including city water, Guelph Hydro, parking, storm water usage, $5 dumping fee, use of city-owned facilities including the civic museum, libraries, the Farmer’s Market, donations to 10 Carden Street ($110,000), the politicized Wellbeing give-away operation ($150,000) and a multitude of user fees.

Next comes the annual $300,000 support to build bicycle lanes on major roads that is funded by property taxes.

That’s what we do know. The problem is that there is a lot that we don’t know because of the closed-door meetings of council and its side corporation, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI). For breaking the Code of Conduct, council members can be investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Councillors are forbidden to reveal the discussions, details, decisions and opinions to the public under a bylaw passed by the previous council covering closed session meetings.

Since 2007, everything has been done to deny information to the stakeholders. City communications are nothing but propaganda pieces instead of explaining the issues concisely, warts and all. Instead, the closed session meetings held by elected officials and selected staff, on and off the premises, hides the truth, thwarts public access and has placed our city in a dire financial situation.

As a sidebar, There are 11 employees in the city communications department. In contrast, the lone print media outlet, the twice a week Guelph Mercury Tribune, has four editorial staffers including the editor, two general reporters and a sports reporter.

If the Tribune can produce news reports with basically two reporters, why does the city need 11?

What a terrible miscarriage of responsibility inflicted by an ideologically dominated group on the people of this city.

Late breaking news.

Former Guelph councillor Maggie Laidlaw writing in the Mercury-Tribune Thursday, September 8, said the Money Sense magazine dropped its rating for Guelph from 15 out of more than 200 cities to 32. Maggie blamed it all on Mayor Cam Guthrie. She crowed about all the awards the former mayor had won and how she was well known nationally and internationally. But Maggie, she was defeated by more than 5,000 votes and you also lost your bid for re-election. Which only proves the adage by the late Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, that all politics is local.

 

16 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

A – The Liberal’s double standard handling municipal residents’ complaints

By Gerry Barker

September 6, 2016

Editor’s note: Today, guelphspeaks.ca is posting its first Two-For, two, back to back, separate postings of public interest are contained in a single edition of guelphspeaks.ca. Post A is the first and Post B is the second. Each is different in terms of subject matter. Meanwhile, tell your friends and colleagues to drop into guelphspeaks.ca and discover the truth about those issues that affect all of us.

 

In September 2012, a Guelph civic action group, Grassroots Guelph (GRG), made an official complaint to Linda Jeffrey, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), requesting a provincial audit of the City of Guelph’s finances.

The request was backed up by financial data obtained from the city’s Financial Information Reports over the previous four years. These are the audited statements that the city must file annually with the provincial government.

Financial and legal professionals prepared the supporting GRG documents.

A week prior to the presentation to Minister Jeffrey, I and another member of GRG met with Liz Sandals MPP Guelph, to present a copy of the complaint as a courtesy to be embargoed until the Minister received the complaint. She agreed.

We requested the use of the Legislature press gallery to reveal the complaint data. We were informed five days prior to the Minister receiving the documents, that we had to have permission from the Speaker to use the Legislature media room. Three calls were made to Liz Sandals office prior to release date asking her to request using the media room on the day of the announcement.

GRG received no assistance from Sandals after three requests to fulfill this need. Instead, as our delegation was standing in the press gallery office, three security agents ordered us off the premises and said we had to hold our press conference on the front lawn of the Legislature. Good thing it was a warm fall day.

Then we learned that an hour after that, Mayor Farbridge was reporting we were ordered out of the Legislature. It was apparent we had a member of our delegation who informed the Mayor of what happened. We know who the betrayer was.

The CAO claims the GRG complaint was “a waste of time”

Ann Pappert, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer, said the GRG report was “a waste of time.” It was obvious that our embargoed report was sent to Mayor Farbridge before the GRG delegation went to Queen’s Park.

Four months later, Minister Jeffrey sent a delegation of three Ministerial employees from London to my home to discuss the complaint. Included in the delegation was a financial analyst. He was asked if our numbers in the complaint were inaccurate or incorrect and he replied they were correct.

In a couple of months, Minister Jeffrey sent a letter thanking GRG for its efforts and said the “two parties should sort it out.”

Within a month, Jeffrey resigned as Minister of MMAH and member of the Provincial Parliament representing Brampton. This occurred about a year before Ms. Wynne won the 2014 provincial election.

Now comes the delicious irony. In effect, what is bad for the goose is great for the gander.

First, some background of the linkage between Guelph and Brampton and how Linda Jeffrey is now involved as Brampton’s mayor.

Ms. Jeffrey defeated Susan Fennell, the former Mayor of Brampton in the October 2014 civic election. In Guelph, after eight years, Karen Mayor Farbridge lost to Cam Guthrie.

Both the new mayors inherited financial and legal messes.

In Mayor Jeffrey’s case, there was evidence that former mayor Fennell had consulted with two major Ontario developers to build a $500 million downtown centre including a refurbished city hall. Brampton has a specific bylaw that prohibits elected officials to discuss developments prior to the final outcome of the application. It is an important check and balance of the public’s money to avoid unwarranted favouritism.

Oh! Do we ever need one of those in Guelph?

According to a report in the Toronto Star: “The allegations of bias on the part of senior staff and the former mayor have left city hall, in the words of current Mayor Jeffrey, “paralyzed.”

Is this starting to have a familiar ring about it? The Brampton Mayor’s word aptly applies to the problems Guelph is facing with its council dominated by supporters of the defeated former mayor, “paralyzed.”

But here comes the kicker. Last year, Mayor Jeffrey called for a provincial inquiry into the project to find out if procurement rules, designed to protect taxpayers, were violated in one of the largest deals in Brampton’s history. It’s not clear whether Jeffrey’s Liberal colleague, the Minister of MMA, concurred with her request or is letting the courts decide the outcome of the resulting lawsuits.

Instead, in Guelph, council is imprisoned with procedural bylaws that protect the staff and elected officials from public scrutiny through the use of closed-session meetings of the public’s business.

One of these bylaws gives the power of hiring all staff to the Chief Administrative Officer without council’s approval. Councillors are forbidden to discuss the details of a closed-session or they face an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner.

That’s how, on December 9, 2015, in closed session, council approved the salary increases of four top city managers ranging between 14 and 19 per cent. The people did not discover this until the provincial Sunshine List came out in March 2016. It revealed that the CAO was given a $37,500 increase for all of 2015. Large increases were awarded for the three DCAOs including Derrick Thomson, Al Horsman and Mark Amorosi, boosting all their salaries to a level of $207,000.

Guelph doesn’t follow the Brampton experience but hides public business behind closed doors so the people don’t know what’s going on.

Do we really want this movie to continue?

*            *            *            *

B –Why our electricity costs are soaring due to failed Liberal energy policies

By Gerry Barker

September 6, 2016

So you wonder why your Hydro bills are soaring. What follows is based on a commentary in the National Post written by Jon Kieran, a Toronto-based renewable energy consultant.

Ten years ago, Ontario’s demand for power peaked at 27,000 megawatts (MW) during the summer months. This past summer, one that had continuing days of temperatures exceeding 30C degree, the peak demand exceeded 23,000 MW for just one day.

Today, Ontario has an installed capacity of 40,000 MW despite a steady reduction in demand of power consumption in the past 10 years that has dropped by 13 per cent. With an annual reduction in power consumption this year, the province will consume less power than it did in 1997.

This reflects the losses endured in the manufacturing base in Ontario since the Liberals introduced their new green energy policy to close down the coal-fired electricity generating plants. It was replaced by the Large Renewable Procurement (LRP) plan.

The Liberal government used the LRP to procure large wind and solar installations. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, in ten years mismanagement of the program including intrusive policy and implementation are mostly responsible for the energy market debacle Hydro consumers face today.

Ontario has a huge glut of power generation regardless; the Liberal government is adding another 1,300 MW in large wind and solar generation under the LRP plan.

The Independent Electrical System Operators (IESO) reinforces the unnecessary need for this addition to the provincial energy plan stating: “Ontario will have sufficient supply for the next several years.”

While, the government offers sweet contracts to renewable energy developers during a period of demand stagnation, it has contributed to pushing consumer Hydro bills higher. In the past four years Guelph Hydro charges to consumers have risen by 42.5 per cent.

Ontario’s electricity rates have increased faster than any other jurisdiction in North America.

We are generating too much electricity

Part of the problem is that electricity, once generated, it cannot be stored. Ontario’s surplus power is given to U.S. border states and Hydro pays to take the excess power. It’s called “negative pricing”. Combine this with “curtailment,” paying the wind developers for energy production even though the grid cannot use the power, and it exacerbates the waste of public money.

Worse, these two problems have cost Ontario’s electricity consumers billion-dollar burdens.

Add to this the cost of continuing to build out wind and solar generating systems, and you can now understand why your hydro bills are climbing every year.

This is a critical situation for the province that already is preparing to introduce a carbon tax to be added to your hydro bill, starting in January.

Using the LRP to continue building out more renewable generating capacity must be stopped. The Wynne government’s handling of the energy file has been a disaster, starting with the destruction of the two gas-fired generating plants in Mississauga and Oakville. The price tag on that one was $1 billion, according to the Auditor General.

The former mayor to partner with her plan called the Municipal Energy Initiative (MEI) used the city-owned Guelph Hydro. Part of the plan was to create, through Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI), a $37.1 million District Energy system that combined electricity and co-generation to supply hot and cold water to nearby buildings.

The cost of this failed, massive project was not made public until May 16 this year, following four years of operation and development, and conducted in closed session meetings of GMHI and city council.

The complicity of Guelph Hydro in this convoluted secret project is apparent and contributed to the soaring costs of electricity to its more than 55,000 customers.

Because the city owns Guelph Hydro, it had no choice in the former mayor’s decision to amalgamate it with GMHI, of which she was chairperson until just before her defeat in 2014.

What this council must do is dissolve GMHI, suspend the MEI and District Energy system and have an independent committee composed of citizens, examine the operations and make recommendations.

With the failure of city councillors who were appointed to the GMHI board to inform the people as GMHI planned and executed MEI, councillors, with the exception of Mayor Guthrie, should not participate in the committee deliberations. The committee would be given power to subpoena witnesses and consultants.

We are now 20 months away from a provincial election and 26 months from a civic election. It’s time to organize and stop the waste and spending.

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines