A comment from the editor of guelphspeaks.ca

For the past five years, I have been closely following the operations of our city. And, I have been critical of decisions made without regard to the unintended consequences.

Because I am critical of the operations of the city, I am not popular with the Farbridge administration or senior members of the city staff.

I have been critical of the policies of the Provincial government that has allowed the University of Guelph a cushy ride in regard to the property taxes. The provincial mandate of $75 per student in lieu of property taxes has been in place for 29 years. Who wouldn’t like to have their property taxes frozen for 29 years?

I am a taxpayer and love this city. I love the facilities and voices of the citizens.

But I cannot understand why the taxpayers continue to support an administration that is focused on building monuments and not controlling costs.

In five years, this administration’s spending has grown exponentially and not in keeping with the growth of the overall population of the city. With an average assessment growth of 1.3 per cent annually, hitting taxpayers with annual increases averaging 3.5 per cent is a recipe for distress to overall city finances.

Coun. Leanne Piper last year pooh-poohed complaints about increasing property taxes by stating there was $83 million in the reserves. Reserves are specific to meet unexpected or planned spending. They are not to be used to reduce taxes. This is exactly the kind of mindset that has brought our city to the brink of being unable to meet budgetary and capital spending.

In Guelph, 115 civic employees earn more than $100,000 a year. Can our city with a population of 120,000 with one of the highest tax rates in the country, afford to maintain this top-heavy class of public servants? This includes police officers, firemen, EMS personnel and management.

The way this works is the executive staff, all earning more than $160,000 review all staff compensation and make recommendations to Council. This exercise is funneled through Executive Director Mark Amorosi’s human resources department.

Now this could be politely called the fox among the chickens. The salary reviews for city staff are passed through, in camera, to council. There is no public input to consider the proposed increases. Three years ago huge increases were awarded to senior city staffers. Police, fire and EMS managers soon followed to a lesser degree.

The gravy train has left the station.

Why are Guelph civic servant costs so high? When compared to the per capita debt of Kitchener, a larger city and Waterloo, Guelph’s debt per person is almost twice that of those communities.

I’m that last guy to complain about salaries and the responsibilities with which they are associated. But I’m also concerned that taxpayers have been whipsawed with union and white-collar personnel demanding higher wages and benefits, based on other jurisdiction settlements.

I believe we’ve reached the max … time to say “no” to staff demands for increases.

The Farbridge administration has presided over unprecedented increases in civic staff personnel not only in numbers but also in cost per employee.

The public service is no different today than those working in the private sector. The responsibilities are similar. The old argument that they get less pay than the private sector is nonsense. Public sector employees, particularly in Guelph, enjoy not only job security but also a plethora of benefits that any private sector worker would envy. Those workers at Linamar are an example.

If we citizens have to tighten our belts to meet our expenses, why can’t the city of Guelph?

The ludicrous staff proposal of an annual 5.6 % per cent property tax increase is a make believe ballroom dance. Council always scales it back year after year to a much lower percentage tax increase. Again this is what I call voodoo economics. It’s a game and it is so inside that taxpayers are misled year after year.

But there is no justification other than to cater to the personal interests of the majority of council members. It’s the little Jack Horner syndrome: “What a good boy I am.”

With the cost of living increasing at a 1.5 per cent average since 2008, and a number of Guelph residents still hurting from the recession, why is does the Guelph Council keep jacking up the annual property tax rate?

The answer my friends, is for the past five years the Farbridge majority of Council have controlled the agenda. They are impervious to real public input. Oh, they talk a good game but the taxpayers of Guelph have little voice over the city’s business.

This is because we have elected a majority of Council that has controlled public business by spending on pet projects and instituting social engineering policies that run counter to most tax payers sensibilities and reason.

The problem facing the electorate is that it cannot be changed for another three years. Meanwhile, spending will go on and Karen Farbridge’s administration legacy will be leaving a massive debt and unfunded liabilities that will curtail growth for years to come.

Why? Because this majority of Council stopped growth in the city with their antipathy towards “urban sprawl.” The new imperative has become the gentrification of downtown Guelph and already activists’ arguments are advanced to restrict the height of new residential buildings.

The unfunded liabilities and deferred projects facing the city total $150 million.

Here are the details: The Urbacon lawsuit – $12 million; The Public Health HQ – $10 million; Wellington County lawsuit – $4 million; Civic Museum – $5 million; Purchase of green bins and trucks to collect waste -$15 million; Downtown Library – $53 million; South side Recreation centre – $35 million; Wilson street Parkade – $16 million. Not included are the operational costs associated with these capital expenses including consultants and lawyers – estimated $5 million. The wrongful dismissal suit of former Chief Financial Officer Margaret Neubaur has yet to determined.

I love my city, but this cannot continue. Watch guelphspeaks.ca on how to fix it.

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6 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

6 responses to “A comment from the editor of guelphspeaks.ca

  1. R&J

    We have just joined Guelph Speaks, thank you for giving us your insight. We always looked forward to your Mercury column,since you are not there anymore we have stopped the paper.
    We look forward to your comments.

  2. Linda

    Love your website and look forward to your future posts. Thank You!

  3. geo

    Your column was the one thing I actually looked forward to reading in the Merc and now that it’s gone so is my subscription. Take no prisoners and keep on rocking in the free world.

  4. dumbass

    lol, i’m pretty sure you wrote the past comments. check your facts, compare city of guelph salaries to other municipalities and you will see they are significantly lower. And anyone working for the city would make a lot more in the private sector, they do it because they love their city, even if they have to put up with the BS you put on your blog.

    • Aw Gee! Feeling downtrodden bunkie? Guelph’s staff salaries and perqs are higher in some respects to the peer group. To suggest that private sector employees make more money is ludicrous and uninformed. Whoever you are, it is obvious that binding to your city job is love of the city. Bravo! The grass is not so green on the other side. By the way, do you live in Guelph?

  5. Booker

    Has anyone taken the time or made the effort to look at the proposed 2012 budget page by page ? I have, and if you are at all interested, look at each department’s salary changes. The majority are increases, some up to 8%. It reports that the “average” household income is $84,666.00 DOWN from it’s stated 2010 “average” household income of $85,054.00 For me, this does not compute. Salaries are decreasing, citizens are struggling with no raises or minimal ones, BUT, let us not have that reflected in the tax bill. Up and up it goes. I am telling you, if I lived beyond my means like I believe the city is, I would be living in a box under an overpass on the 401!
    As for getting any information from city hall as far as detailed expenditures, good luck. Full disclosure of the use of MY hard-earned money, please. Such as…how much was the cost overrun for the construction of the Museum, City Hall, and the list goes on and on. These reports should be posted on tthe city’s website for all to see. IMHO

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