Monthly Archives: September 2011

Is Armtek dead?

The share price of Armtek, the Guelph based infrastructure company dropped below $1 on Friday, September 30. It now faces a delisting on the Toronto Stock exchange.

It sets the stage for two events: a reverse stock split or a take-over by another company. The Brookfield Management Group must be nervous after spending $145 million to prop up the once great company.

But perhaps, they saw something the rest of us investors failed to see.

In any event, investor confidence is now a memory.

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Guelph is a haven for endangered species

Reading the papers, it is noted that the nesting place of Chimney Swifts delayed the tearing down of two, derelict city owned properties on Wyndom Street.

The birds apparently have flown the coop, so to speak.

It reminds us of the late lament of the rare Jefferson Salamander used as the reason to delay the city owned Hanlon Business Park development for 12 months. A handful of anarchists, urban terrorists and fellow travelers took the city to court and were subsequently proved to be wrong in their theory they were saving the salamander.

When will this council decide to get out of the rare species business and get on with the public business?

The question begs an answer: When will the city’s industrial development team announce the capturing of a real business with real jobs in the Hanlon Park? Selling land to a developer does not create jobs.

Channeling Chimney Swift migrations and mythical Jefferson Salamanders may in interesting to city staffers but jobs are what’s needed.

With Ontario’s unemployment figures greater than that of Quebec, it’s time to get off the pot and make Guelph a haven for business and jobs.

Council, get your head out of the sand and start working to promote jobs in the city. All the policies of the past are superficial when it comes to building the economic base of Guelph. Let’s hope the majority get it.

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Blue Box for recyclables? What in hell are they talking about?

An insert in the Friday Mercury sponsored by the Association of Ontario Municipalities (AMO) urged Ontarians to “ Keep using that Blue Box and learn what shouldn’t go in.”

Well, that message did not get through to Guelph’s Executive Director of Environmental Services, Dr. Janet Laird who was the author of the ill-fated three bag system of sorting garbage in 2002. In 2006, after the roof of the composting plant was declared unsafe, the material was sent to a New York incinerator costing $85 a tonne.

The Blue Box has bee dead for ten years. Guelph’s new $47 million waste composting plant hits its stride in 2014. The estimated operating costs of the new plant have never been stated by the city’s Waste Management Services. Outside experts estimate the cost of operating the new plant range from $314 to $375 a tonne.

Add to that the 20-year life span of the plant and the cost of paying for it and you have a very long-term financial commitment. Taxpayers can revel in the dubious right of being the “most innovative in waste management in the province.” Not our words but the administration.

So when the friends of the Library protest that the new Downtown library is not included in the 10-year city capital forecast, they can look down Watson Road. That’s where your money went.

As an aside, planning a ten-year capital forecast is a mug’s game. None of the authors will be around to judge whether their forecast was accurate. Clue: it won’t be!

This is yet another obfuscation of the real underlying financial problems this city faces. There is no capacity to borrow money until the present debt ceiling is lowered. Folks, they’ve already spent the money.

To assuage the taxpayer’s anxiety over the elimination of the new downtown library and South end recreation centre, the city announced the removal to two stores on Wyndam Street to prepare for the new downtown library.

This is an example of crass disregard for financial acuity or the taxpayer’s interests.

 

 

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Guelph’s new downtown library is a dead duck

 

On September 14, the Guelph Library Board is holding a public meeting to describe details of the proposed building estimated to cost $53 million that they say is to be completed by 2017.

Guess no one told them that the new downtown library isn’t scheduled in the city’s revised capital planning budget before 2021.

Isn’t a little early to be informing the public of the plans including architectural details?

The best guess is that the Board members are convinced the money is there to build their edifice … it isn’t. Or they are optimists that the Library fairy will make it happen … that won’t work either.

It’s typical of the mindset of the Farbridge administration and its fellow travelers sprinkled among the various public boards and community groups. Public money is there to be spent.

Now there is no money for the major capital projects including the $15 million to be spent over three years for garbage bins and special trucks to load the contents. Sorry council, you can’t turn back on that one as your spanking new wet waste management plant cannot receive material in plastic bags.

Talk about being caught between a diaper and rotten tomatoes.

Estimates of money to be made selling recyclables at the new plant are being challenged by private operators offering more money for the stuff.

So Guelph is stuck with an overbuilt $32 million waste management plant that has a lifespan of 20 years. Plus there’s a $15 million collection system that has an even shorter lifespan.

It’s predictable that the people who made that decision won’t even be around then.

But the taxpayers will. And they’ll still be paying for it.

 

 

 

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Insider Pappert is named Guelph’s new CAO

A five-month search for a new Chief Administration Officer to replace the retiring Hans Loewig, has resulted is the appointment of Executive Director Ann Pappert.

So the $45,000 spent on an executive search firm was wasted. The obligatory line-up of candidates present by the headhunter was seven. But, miracle of the bells! The person best equipped to do the job was right inside city hall. It was necessary to hold this expensive search charade to make it look responsible to the public.

It is obvious the patch was in and Mayor Karen Farbridge has firmly solidified her grip on this administration. If you believe this appointment was above board and fair, I have a Carden Street skating rink to sell you.

To top it off, council had the gall to name Hans Loewig COA, Emeritus and he agreed to stay on the job until the end of the year. This means that taxpayers are paying for two CAO’s for almost four months

So what’s the fallout of these decisions?

With two key managers already giving notice, the exodus of staff will become more apparent by the new year as the news of this appointment already has city hall copy machines humming with resumes flying out the door.

Sources say Ms. Pappert is not the most popular among senior managers. She cannot possibly be any worse that Hans Loewig who turned out to be a part-time CAO taking extended leaves of paid absences during his four years on the job. Emeritus, you say?

The trouble is the new CAO faces serious financial problems as the city’s debt and future obligations extend beyond the ability to pay. Even Loewig acknowledged the debt problem and the high cost to carry it. What does he know and is not telling?

The first crisis will come when the Judge at the September 12 trial will determine if the city must pay capital costs of $10.8 million toward the proposed Public Health headquarters on Stone Road. The other shoe to fall is the increase of Guelph’s contribution toward this exercise from $68,000 to $998,000 annually.

Pappert should look in the mirror. She has been part of the quartet of senior managers, called the executive team, that steered the city into this financial swamp since their appointment in August 2009. This structure was formed because CAO Loewig was not on the job because of frequent absences.

Political power is corruptible.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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Guelph Coun. Maggie Laidlaw does it her way

When elected, Coun. Maggie Laidlaw swore to uphold the law.

Maggie is no ordinary councillor.  She is an ardent cyclist who rides in rain, wind and slush. She works at the University and rides to her Ward Three home eschewing a car or public transit.

Are you getting the picture? This is one dedicated supporter of the cyclists among you.

Maggie is also known as being thrifty and perhaps parsimonious.

She has been elected as a champion of the working folks and the left leaning slant of the British Labour party. She is also a scientist employed at the University of Guelph.

Did I mention that she is highly opinionated?

Maggie Laidlaw stepped over the line recently when she insisted that cyclists should be given an exception to make a right turn on a red light at Macdonnell Street and Norfolk Street. Vehicles are not allowed to turn on a red light. It is for good reason because of obscure sightlines looking left down the Norfolk hill.Maggie insisted that bicyclists should have a sign that exempts then from this rule.

Her request was transferred to Allistair McIlveen, manager of Traffic and Parking for the city. He pointed out that bicycles are vehicles under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and are subject to the same rules as motorized vehicles. He was adamant in his decision.

So Maggie, undeterred, wrote back that the HTA was antiquated and need of serious updating, Then she added that she would continue to break the law and make a right turn on Norfolk Street, regardless of the probation of vehicles.

You have to love the determination of Coun. Laidlaw. She is convinced that cars in Guelph will be history in 20 years. Regardless, cycling in the city is a warm weather thing.  So should the greater majority of residents be bound by the demands of the minority?

Ms. Laidlaw has been an advocate of cycling for many years. Just because she prefers riding a bicycle to work or shopping, does that mean the city must spend millions to accommodate her choices of transportation?

Well, Mayor Karen Farbridge stepped in and unequivocally stated that Coun. Laidlaw was out of line and reminded her that she would be breaking the law. It’s typical of this administration to tut-tut the miscreants.

Using words such as: “It is entirely inappropriate that you will disobey traffic rules.” tells you as lot about keeping the Farbridge coalition intact despite the errant meanderings of its membership.

If Maggie Laidlaw were a ballerina she would be Margo Fontaine.

You cannot ride your way to Nirvana.

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Guelph’s 10-year capital budget dumps the downtown library and more.

Is Guelph a city with conscience?

Examining the capital-spending matrix presented to council covering the next ten years, several capital projects are left out. Despite the promise in 2007 by the Farbridge administration to build a new downtown public library, it’s not gong to happen in 10 years.

This decision was made as the Library Board announces its plans for the new facility. Does the board not understand what the Farbridge administration has done? A promise made but never kept.

But there’s more.

How about the South End Recreation Centre? It is now dead for ten years. Councillor Todd Dennis, a supporter of the Mayor’s majority that crafted this forecast, will have some explaining to his supporters over that decision. Most of the many new resident family’s kids will have their own kids playing before that facility is built, if they still live here.

The proposed fire and police training facility is not in the ten-year capital forecast. This decision was made after the recent upgrade to the downtown fire station. This was money that could have been better spent on training facilities.

Guelph Speaks advocates that fire, emergency medical and police services be amalgamated into one force under command of a director of public emergency services. This will eliminate duplicate administration, training and improve coordination of response.  The goal is to reduce costs, enhance training and performance of responders.

The barriers to this are numerous with conflicts existing between the three services and union contracts. It does not mean that it cannot be accomplished when political will makes it happen then the people will benefit.

Baker and Wilson Street parkades are deferred for 10 years. How does this help the rejuvenation of the downtown retail area? When more than 1,400 civic workers are given free downtown parking it only exacerbates the problem. Where are the people in this growing community going to park? Or will the downtown continue to be a nocturnal playground for the youth?

But the best is yet to come if you are a downtown businessperson. Also shelved for ten years by Council are capital projects to improve downtown roads, bridges and parking lots. How does that decision reconcile with the Mayor’s often said statement to turn Guelph’s downtown into a vibrant and community friendly place?

If supporters of these projects want to see where the money went for their projects, look no further than the $47 million waste management plant and collection system on Watson Road and the new $15.6 Civic Museum on Catholic Hill. When coupled with the $22 million the city had to pay for its share of the $66 million Federal/ Provincial stimulus plan, there is no room for the city to pay for future capital projects.

But there is a tiny irony to all this. The approved capital budget includes $250,000 to landscape to Civic Museum in 2014. To quote the 10-year capital forecast:  “Funding for this project is anticipated to come from donations and fundraising.”

And you believe that this is civic capital forecasting?

There is nothing left in the rice bowl, Guelph. Get used to it.

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