Monthly Archives: December 2011

Stinger – Check out Dubious Distinction Awards

Guelphspeaks 2011 post afflicting the comfortable: Guelphspeaks’ annual Dubious Distinction Awards.  Not for the faint of heart. Scroll down for the action.

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What didn’t work in Hamilton’s compost plant doesn’t work here

The compost plant plot not only thickens but also quickens.

Hamilton City Council adopted a report in 2010 regarding a $1.1 million fix of problems in its compost plant designed and built by Maple Reinders. That’s the same outfit that Guelph Council signed up to build its “state of the art” $33 million biomass compost plant.

Guelph’s shiny new plant, after two months of operation, was closed to waste product November 25 because of odour complaints.  Instead, it was diverted to a landfill in St. Thomas. It was revealed that some $76,000 was added to the contract for two key rough-ins: A generator for the stack and an acid scrubber. Neither component was installed.

It was noted in the Hamilton report that operating costs would increase by $1.95 a tonne once the retrofits were completed. On the surface it does not appear to be much but it adds up over the years.

Another error in judgment by those responsible for the Guelph plant, was over-building. It is estimated that Guelph wet waste amounts to about 10,000 tonnes per year. Our plant has a capacity of 20,000 tonnes.  So a Maple Reinder subsidiary negotiated a deal with Waterloo to take its wet waste –it is now going to Hamilton – at a cost that is less than the predicted plant-operating costs.

Guelph apparently followed Hamilton’s experience with Maple Reinders and awarded into the largest capital contract in the city’s history to that company..

It is self evident that the contractor may have sold Guelph a bill of goods. Not only to lock up the design and construction elements, but to receive the right to operate the plant and sell that right to outside municipalities. Maple Reinders controls the two subsidiary companies, Wellington Organix (plant operator) and Aim Environmental, (who cut the contract with the City of Waterloo) to process its wet waste in the Guelph plant.

This arrangement is called a sole-source provider in contractual circles. Guelph’s last experience in allowing a sole-source provider occurred during Mayor Farbridge’s first term in office. This was giving a company the rights to operate the new Memorial Arena. The owner of the right to operate the facility, a Calgary firm, did not live up to the terms of its contract with the city and eventually was turfed out during the Quarrie administration.

That episode cost taxpayers an estimated $4 million to clean it up.

It is troublesome that a company such as Maple Reinders, with alleged experience in building these plants, would make the same mistakes that occurred at a similar plant in Hamilton built seven years ago.

It was revealed that this system of composting wet waste in not new. It has been used in many parts of Europe where, apparently, the tolerance of odours is higher than those allowed in Ontario.

So city staff and council went along with this system and Maple Reinders proposal, despite the experience in other jurisdictions.

The questions the Public Advisory Committee will be asking in mid January could provide greater clarification of what went wrong and who was responsible.

Unfortunately Guelph is stuck with a wet waste operation that was inadequately designed. It was built in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stay tuned. This opera is just in the first act.

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Guelphspeaks’ annual Dubious Distinction Awards

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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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The truth of the Piper power play

Dear Addressees:The following is an excerpt from the Subject meeting which bears on the question of Councillor Kovach’s summary removal from the Police Services Board:

“23. Moved by Councillor Laidlaw
Seconded by Councillor Furfaro
THAT Mayor Farbridge and Councillor Kovach be appointed to the Guelph Police Services Board for a four
year term expiring November,2014.

VOTING IN FAVOUR:Councillors Bell,Findlay,Furfaro,
Guthrie,Hofland,Kovach,Laidlaw,Piper,Van Hellemond,
Wettstein and Farbridge (11)

VOTING AGAINST: (0)

Does this not make it clear? Even Coun. Leanne Piper voted in January 2011 to appoint Coun. Gloria Kovach to the Guelph Police Services Commission for four years.

Why did Mayor Karen Farbridge allow this to be changed? A legally appointed member of Council was prevented from performing her appointed responsibilities. She was deposed by an 8 to 5 vote to satisfy the pure political lust of another councillor. Coun. Piper manipulated deposing a veteran and accomplished councillor. Then, was voted in by an 8 to 5 margin to replace Coun. Kovach

As the Late Ronald Reagan used to say: “There they go again.”

Shame.

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Disturbing new questions about Guelph’s compost plant

Thanks to Public Advisory Committee (PAC) member Ken Spira it appears that there are some glaring questions raised about contract changes.

One was a power booster rough-in costing $59,500 that was not part of the original contract.

Another was an acid scrubber that was not part of the original Maple Reinders proposal, but $25,000 was added to the budget for a rough-in of the equipment.

In both cases, the actual cost of the power booster and acid scrubber was not included and the units were not installed.

This is part of the information the PAC will have to parse and comment on in its effort to examine and determine the causes of the plant’s failure to meet environmental standards.

Bill Bardswick, Ministry of Environment Director of West Central Region, was asked if the Certificate of Approval allowed for a “ commissioning or phasing-in period” after the September start-up. He responded NO.

This is only the beginning of the investigation into why the plant failed to curb odours.

Questions citizens should ask include:
Who was minding the store during the run-up of the contract before awarding it to Maple Reinders?
Who in the city administration was overseeing the contract and construction?
Who ordered the change notices?
Who was responsible for due diligence during the design and construction phase?
Who decided to go with a design and construction company that employed two subsidiaries to sell capacity
and operate the facility?

This situation is no trivial matter. There are millions invested in this plant and the PAC has its hands full to discover what happened.

Three citizens of the neighbourhood most affected by the outflow of the plant serve on the PAC group composed of seven members. Two members are employees of the Peel Region waste operations.

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The empire strikes back

In her blog, Mayor Farbridge cites “naysayers” who are critical of her administration as “hurting the community for their own personal reasons”. Your Mayor is appalled that critics are allegedly badmouthing the community to people looking to do business here.

Blaming unidentified critics and holding them responsible for her administration’s shortcomings is a tactic well honed in fascist regimes. If you lie often enough then it becomes fact. It’s unbecoming for the head of the municipality to blame nameless critics to avoid taking responsibility for her administration’s missteps and mismanagement of finances.

It took two independent, taxpayer-funded consultants’ reports in the past five years to tell the Mayor that Guelph was not a friendly place to do business. Not to mention the number of complaints made by prospective businessmen about how they were treated.

Mayor Farbridge has surrounded herself with self-serving sycophants who do her bidding. Don’t blame those who are critical because her administration created the anti-business atmosphere. Instead it might be useful to listen once in a while.

Buried in the Mayor’s blog is the announcement of a company buying 12.7 acres of public land for $3,238,500 and bringing 100 new jobs to the city. Great news! That money will go toward the development costs, incurred in the Hanlon Business Park.

What is left out of the statement is the number of private sector jobs that evaporated in the city as a result of the economic meltdown in 2008. It should be noted that the number of public sector jobs actually increased in the same period.

This city has a growing sour feeling toward this administration that is palpable in its intensity. Why is this? In five years the Mayor’s majority in council has made decisions that have thrust the city into debt that far exceeds its own guidelines. It has raided reserve funds to complete major projects, many of which are still not operating.

The Mayor brags that Guelph has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada but fails to mention that it also has one of the highest per capita comparable debt rates in the country. And most distressing, Guelph’s municipal taxes are one of the highest in Ontario.

The average homeowner has seen municipal taxes grow by more than 17.5 per cent in the past five years. Using an average increase of 3.5 per cent per year, the exponential growth of the increases amounts to more than 20 per cent.

During that same period the inflation rate in Canada averaged less than 2 per cent per year.

To suggest that Guelph is now “repositioned as a premier business investment location” is ludicrous. Did it take five years to come to this conclusion? Because during that time there were members of her caucus who did not want the city to attract more business. They did not want so-called urban sprawl ergo, no commercial development to support such development.

But hey! Despite all this Council and staff managed to get the City Hall skating rink open before Christmas.

As for not naming any of the “naysayers”, Gerry Barker puts his name on everything he writes and accepts accountability.

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