Monthly Archives: August 2011

Are Guelph’s civic workers paid too much?

It’s the dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about: Why are Guelph’s top 25 civic staff managers receiving the highest salaries among eight comparably-sized cities? These figures are not the latest but the trend is ever upward and onward.

City                   Average pay                   Average pay                      Average pay             Population

Top 5 managers            Top 10 managers             Top 25 managers

Guelph            $168,081.20                     $167,994.18                   $142,088.59               116,000

Belleville          $132,224.99                    $124,764.77                     $115,428.50                50,000

Sarnia               $122,461.48                    $127,897.70                    $117,048.56              100,000

Brantford          $219,777.38                   $146,830.29                     $129,967.36                 90,000

Kingston           $144,815.95                   $139,517.87                      $124,795.43               109,000

Thunder Bay    $123,580.15                    $138,576.26                     $121,083.77               122,000

Sudbury             $181,000.88                  $160,685.89                      $137,116.54                157,857

Barrie                 $166,240.02                   $154,992.39                      $133,693.17               177,000

Source: Province of Ontario

Brantford pays its top five managers an average of $219,777 to lead the group. Isn’t that where Guelph’s CAO, the retiring Hans Loewig, was previously employed?

When Human Resources Director, Mark Amorosi, recommended to council that the new Chief Administration Officer should be paid at the 60 percentile level, one should consider that his recommendation is self serving. Council rejected the proposal and settled for 55 percentile. The agreed level allows the headhunter to offer a salary and benefits package that would be higher than that paid by similar-sized cities.

An independent body appointed by council should oversee the hiring of senior managers. Otherwise the perpetual increases in pay and benefits for senior city staff will continue to escalate.

The fact that more than 289 fulltime equivalent employees were added to staff from 2006 to 2009, only reinforces the danger of uncontrolled staff growth. The staff count rose 8.1 per cent annually in the same period, far exceeding Guelph’s population growth.

Note: the official 2010 audited financial statements for the city have yet to be released.

Guelph’s civic staff salary and benefits totaled $139,400,000 of the 2009 budget of $157,300,000 or 88.6 per cent. Staff costs rose by 47.2 per cent in three-years.

One must be cautious about allowing the fox among the chickens.


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New Guelph bus logos unneccessary

I am not only alarmed, but totally disgusted with the way City Staff are spending my money.  How dare you fritter it away on totally unnecessary things like new logos on buses when there are so many other things that are necessary in the City.  And where are the controls on these spendthrifts?  Where was the Mayor or the CAO of Guelph?   I know that this decision was not made by Council, so who is running this City?  I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind would do anything like this when the City is in the financial bind that it is.
With the way this City (staff) is spending money (which belongs to you and me) quite frankly it makes me extremely nervous.  The thought has occurred to me that it might be wise to leave Guelph entirely before this City totally self-destructs.
A Concerned taxpaying citizen,

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How Guelph taxpayers subsidize the University

You may not have a student attending the University of Guelph but you are helping pay for one. The city supplies subsidized transit, sewer and water plus emergency services to the university. In return it receives a payment in lieu of taxes that is outdated and underfunded.

An analysis of municipal financing in the Globe and Mail recently, blamed the Mike Harris government for the failure of property taxes to pay for the services that had been downloaded in the 1990’s. The provincial government once covered these services included welfare payments; daycare, court costs, senior services and social housing.

In particular, the cities of Ontario faced a 10-year cash crunch as they absorbed the provincial services downloads. With only property taxes as a basic source of income, Ontario’s cities have endured a 14-year shortfall that has been ameliorated by some adjustments by the McGuinty Liberals.

But a recent report showing the per capita debt burden carried by a group of cities, Guelph’s per person debt is $787 compared to Waterloo’s of $540.

Therein lies the problem. Guelph’s population is 118,000 compared to Waterloo’s 122,000. Both cities have Universities. Here the similarities separate. The University of Guelph is the largest landowner in the city. It has turned some of those lands into profit centres through leasebacks and developments.

In 1983, the Ontario government created a payment system based on the number of students each university or college enrolled. This was to replace property taxes and the figure was $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. That figure has not changed in 28 years.

But Guelph has grown, as has the university that now numbers some 20,000 students. Staff and facilities have grown like topsy. Waterloo has gone through a similar experience but does not have the available land for future profit-making enterprises enjoyed by the University of Guelph.

The university pays some $1.4 million in lieu if property taxes to the city. It’s a drop in the bucket.

With all this opportunity, development and profitable use of the university lands, why is Guelph’s debt burden almost twice that of Waterloo?

The answer lies with the action of councils. The two Farbridge administrations have been responsible for the escalation of debt that has exceeded council’s own mandated limit of 55 per cent of annual city expenditures. Guelph’s problem is spending without regard to future obligations of the community.

And it goes back to the amount of taxes or whatever one might call them that the University of Guelph pays the city. It’s an archaic and unfair system that the new Ontario government must address.

It is apparent that one size does not fit all cities with universities.


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A solution to the Market Square problem


Some business folks on Carden Street met with city officials and Mayor Karen Farbridge, Tuesday August 9, to present their case of business losses due to construction in front of their stores.

Bottom line is they asked for compensation.

It presents a ticklish situation for the civic leaders. Do they give cash to those affected? Does that then set a precedent for other business owners claiming loss due to action by the city? What constitutes loss?

There is a precedent four years ago when council granted the owner of the Gummer building a ten- year tax holiday if the heritage façade was saved after the fire destroyed the building. For good measure, they threw in 100 downtown city-owned parking spaces to sweeten the deal.

That was done primarily to rebuild the building as quickly as possible, (that did not happen), and preserve the façade, a burning heritage issue.

So here’s a solution. Give the operators of the businesses affected the equivalent of a one year property tax holiday. The owners of the properties would still pay the tax. In addition, Marty Williams, Executive Director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association, had a great idea in offering coupons to shoppers to stimulate traffic onto Carden Street once the Market Square construction is completed. The coupons would be focused and available from the Carden Street merchants.

These two steps would give the merchants a helping hand and make strides in getting customers to return to the street.

It solves a problem that has escalated with blame and finger pointing from both sides. Sure, not everyone will be happy but it offers an exit from a problem that has caused great discomfort and foolishness.


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Interpreting the fog of discourse at City Hall


At the August 8 council meeting there were two revelations that demonstrate how your city is managed.

Item one: When Coun. Gloria Kovach asked Chief Administration Officer Hans Loewig if there had been any net reductions of staff following service reviews, his answer was clear and concise. In his four years as CAO he could not recall a single service review conducted by staff that recommended the number of employees be reduced.

Instead, during that period, more than 250 new full time employees (FTE) had been added to the city staff. With a city growing its assessed properties at an average rate of 1.3 per cent per year that would total a four-year growth rate of 5.2 per cent.

Doing the math, the growth in full time city employees during the same period was 20 per cent.

Guelph’s mayor is obsessed with using convoluted policies that mask the relevance of the decision making process. It’s not rocket science to run a city. The fog of crafty obtuse policies confuses not only the electorate but also members of council.

Item two: It costs taxpayers some $625 per parking space to clean city-owned paid-parking facilities. Here’s the kicker, the revenue earned by each space is more than $800. Not included are costs of maintenance, repairs, gate staff, insurance and enforcement.

It’s worth mentioning that civic staff receives free parking as part of their 24-benefit employment package.

By granting free parking in the downtown area four years ago, council gave up some $600,000 in annual revenue. Doing this, it went into competition with its own paid-parking operations. Who wants to pay if it’s free?

Now that’s not complicated.

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Another Armtec Whoops!


Beleaguered shareholders of Armtec received more bad news last Friday with the company announcing it would take a $140 million write down of goodwill, intangible assets and property, plant and equipment in the next quarterly report. Other bad news included negative guidance for margins of two of its business units.

Shares dropped to $2.45 in the August 8 market sell-off.

That must have pleased new investor Brookfield Asset Management who recently closed a borrowing facility of $145 million. In addition, Brookfield received warrants to buy about 4.5 million shares at a strike price of $4.40.

Let’s hope they are patient.

It is difficult to understand how this Guelph-based company managed to drive its share price down from $25 last year to $2.45 today.

That’s a double-double Whoops!

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A fable: The Three Stooges and Marie Antoinette


Marie Antoinette pulled back the red velvet drape and gazed out the window of her Carden Street office. She wondered aloud what all the complaints were about.

“Do these people not realize that progress has a price?” she asked rhetorically.

She glided over to the coloured rendering of her beloved Market Square that would be a living remembrance of her stewardship of Guelph.  She thought to herself how her plan had fallen into place. With an ice surface for citizens in the winter and a water feature in the summer, why were they complaining? The addition of trees along Carden Street and those darling special bricks ordered from outside the country, would be part of her crowing (sic) glory.

“But majesty,” a courtier said interrupting her reverie, “the people are angry that the Carden Market Square project has destroyed businesses and taken far too long to complete. They also say they had nothing to say when the plan was developed.”

Madame Antoinette reared up and stared coldly at the courtier. “How dare they question my Market Square plan. It will make my city the envy of the country.”

“Majesty, they are asking for compensation in lieu of the long term inconvenience the project has caused,” the courtier stated with a hint of terror in his eyes.

“Compensation! Compensation! Do they think we are made of money?” the Mayor snarled examining her freshly lacquered nails done in the exclusive shade of flaming scarlet with gold appliqué.

“Majesty, there are many complaints and calls about this project and other unfinished ones around your city,” the courtier said. “What should we do? Your royal legal secretary has advised that they are calling your managers who are responsible the Three Stooges.” We must defend our staff.”

“Why must you bother me with such matters. What matters most is my afternoon tea with lemon tarts,” her majesty replied.

As she headed to the underground parking lot to drive to her summer palace, she said: “Let them eat dust. I’m outta here.”

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Is Toronto the perennial graveyard of professional sports?


Pro Sports in Toronto is like an ongoing athletic soap drama. Long on drama and short on winning.

Can anyone remember the last time a Toronto team made it to the play-offs?

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s (MLSE) stable of Leafs, Marlies, Raptors and the non-name soccer team is long on sports and woefully short on entertainment.

Rogers’s ownership of the Blue Jays has not provided fans with a run for the pennant for years. Despite having Jose Bautista, the best slugger in baseball, the Jays win one and lose the next. The startling stat is when they play in daylight they lose 27 while winning only 15. Maybe it’s time for the team ophthalmologist to check the eye-to-hand coordination of the Blue crew. Guys: It’s pitching, catching and hitting with the occasional burst of speed.

For some weird reason, the Toronto Maple Leafs fill the rink every game despite some of the most dreadful play that make fans want to throw up. But they keep coming back for more although most of us couldn’t afford a seat in the A-C.

Blush! I am an original long-time Leafs and Argonaut fan. I’m old enough to remember Argo all stars Joe Krol and Royal Copeland. I bleed blue.

It saddens me to see the Argos blow game after game because the team lacks a sustaining offence. So, what do they do, they fire the defensive coordinator. I don’t see a turn around this season without better quarterbacking and an O-line that hold the rush for the three-steamboat count.

So, MLSE brings in Brian Burke at Leaf’s GM. It’s announced that last year was a rebuilding year. The Kessel trade turned out to be a dud because they couldn’t hire a centre to feed him the puck. The back-story is the kid they sent to Boston for Kessel was Tyler Seguin who played great in the Bruins Stanley Cup wins this spring.

This is the year Leaf coach Ron Wilson has to produce. There are still a lot of if’s and what ifs on the table and ice.

To make matters gloomier, the Buffalo Bills don’t look any more promising than the Argos.

Sigh! It’s a sad day for Hogtown. Go you ‘Cats!

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The Three Stooges would have finished the job by now

In the weekly tabloid, writer Alan Pickersgill tut-tutted about the Three Stooges affair. In low dudgeon, Alan, a card-carrying member of the Free Lunch Party, aka the NDP, opined “the city has an obligation to defend the integrity and reputation of the people who work for it.”

Oh, so that rule went out the window when former financial chief Margaret Neubaur was frog-marched off the good ship Guelph escorted by CAO Hans Loewig and Executive Director Mark Amorosi. Her messy dismissal sure emphasized the city defending her integrity and reputation.

As it turns out Mr. Loewig is pretty good at firing people. His most outstanding dismissal was firing the original contractor of the new city hall. Council was never consulted nor authorized that firing. It could end up costing the city $19 million if it loses the lawsuit launched by the contractor.

Here’s a light-hearted quiz about the ethics of city employees.

Should the employee be allowed to eat ham sandwiches at his or her workstation?

Answer: Yes so long as the ham came from pigs grown within a ten-mile radius of Guelph. Sorry Schneiders.

Can an employee leave early Fridays?

Answer:  Of course, just tell your supervisor your other supervisor gave permission.

Top ten excuses for an employee to miss a deadline.

Answers:       If it interferes with the employee’s vacation

The dog ate the blueprints.

The computer crashed while watching porn.

That lobster lunch paid by a supplier caused heartburn.

Was busy cutting the Mayor’s lawn.

I had to attend a convention in Banff Springs

I was up all night with the baby.

I bumped Hans Loewig’s car in the parking garage.

I fell off the roof at my summer cottage.

I accidently shredded the contract.

Yes, Pickersgill may be right. City employees need protection because of the dangerous work they do. Trouble is when does the work get done and on time? When there are no consequences in performing one’s job, you get what is happening in the streets of Guelph today.

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Guelph’s Armtec loses share price again

As a former investor in Armtec, I note today that stock price has lost another dollar to sink below $3. Despite the restructuring of its senior financing bringing Brookfield in for $125 million to replace the previous senior financing, the problems persist with this Guelph-based company.

It’s not the product babe, it’s the operational problems that have handcuffed the company following its dazzling acquisition binge of the last three years.

The solution? Dump the under-performers, cut staff, reduce the debt and raise prices.

Easier said than done. But the alternative is already here and threatening.

Does Brookfield know something that the shareholders don’t know? Just asking.

This is a textbook case of taking a $25 stock and managing it down to under three bucks.

As Anthony Newley used to sing: What kind of fool am I?

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