A letter to Uncle Dan about Guelph

Dear Uncle Dan:

It’s been a while since I wrote you about what’s happening in Guelph.

The picture is confusing. People are realizing there are serious financial problems caused by some dubious decisions by staff and council. Just this week the Mayor said that the starting point for the 2012 tax increase is three per cent. Yikes! That seems to be the order of the day at City Hall, spend or you won’t get re-elected.

The usual suspects toe the Mayor’s line so she holds a slim majority of adherents. There are some crossovers. The big surprise is how the Mayor wooed rookie councillor Todd Dennis, who ran on reducing taxes, to her side. It tipped the balance in her favour in most votes.

Uncle Dan the real problem the city faces is one that no one wants to address. It’s the enormous growth in staff across all departments and the rich contracts and salaries that have been awarded.

One area is the redundancy in administration of police and fire units.

New Councillor Cam Guthrie suggested that an outside consultant be hired to review all city operations. The majority of council quickly shot down that proposal as they don’t want the operational warts revealed, especially by an outsider. Shades of the Cuff report in 2004!

Let’s look at the fire services. The actual number of fires they fight is way down due to advances in construction and safety devices. But the number of firemen keeps increasing. More than 90 per cent of fire calls are for non-fire occurrences. Does it make sense to have fire fighters answer a call for a heart attack or someone in a car collision? Every time that fire truck leaves the station costs soar.

More than half of fire calls are medical responses that the emergency medical service should be attending. Yet the two services often arrive at the same occurrence. Duplicate staff, dispatchers and costly equipment make the system expensive.

Shouldn’t fire and medical emergency services be merged and reduce overall operating costs with one administration and budget? What politician has the cojones to propose that? At least Cam Guthrie took a stab at it.

The recent announcement that Guelph had the lowest crime rate in specific crimes in the Country was followed with a request for two additional officers next year. If crime is dramatically lower than just a few years ago, why is the force being expanded?

I’d be interested Uncle Dan, in learning just what the police do to keep law and order. One thing is clear there are a number of fire and police personnel who are making more than $100,000 a year. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. When you factor in overtime, sick leave and paid duties the cost of policing and fire protection there is need of a stringent review.

Uncle Dan, I know these employees are folk heroes who, on occasion, face life and death situations.  Their leadership will argue that merging these two departments will result in unintended circumstances such as someone needlessly dying.

The bottom line Uncle Dan, there is a huge administrative redundancy between Fire, Police and EMS services. They all want to retain their cachet and run their own show, but is it in the best interests of their employers, the taxpayers?

Uncle Dan, here’s another example of how money gets foolishly spent.

Executive Director Mark Amorosi, in charge of human resources and legal services, told the governance committee of Council (chaired by the Mayor) that the new Chief Administration Officer should be offered a salary level in the 60 percentile range. Translated Uncle Dan that means our new guy is going to be offered a base salary higher than the Ontario average salary for that job. The Committee said no and reduced it to 55 per cent. Big deal.

Hey! It gets more interesting. The city hires a headhunter (HH) to search for Hans Loewig’s replacement, spending between $40,000 and $45,000. That does not include extra costs such as advertising and other expenses incurred by the HH.

Uncle Dan, I have to wonder why any qualified management person would want to join the poor morale atmosphere at 1 Carden Street. There is dissension in the ranks. The majority of staff with union contracts sits back and waits for the next contract and those without, churn with resentment.

Hans Loewig, the absentee landlord earning $212,000 a year, is sticking around, but with his spotty attendance record, are we sure?

Now the staff has announced that it needs $80,000 to renovate the new City Hall to accommodate additional staff. The guy in charge says he hopes it will come under that figure but neglects to mention that the cost of furnishing the workstations is not included.

Gotta close uncle Dan.  It’s not yet Guelphageddon but stay tuned.

Say hello to cousin Vinny.

Your nephew, parsimonious Phil

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