Monthly Archives: December 2011

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

The Guelph Civic League resurfaces claiming it is non-partisan

Taxpayers should pause over the resurfacing of the political machine known as the Guelph Civic League. Remember the role this self-described non-partisan organization played in the 2006 election of Karen Farbridge and her fellow travelers?

The League held a workshop recently to advise citizens how to deal with council and city hall.

Excuse me if I’m skeptical. The League is still partisan dedicated to perpetuating the philosophies of the left-leaning Farbridge majority on city council.

While organizer Dave Sills says the League is non-partisan, he’s playing with the truth. In 2006 the group scared voters with the lie about the “Big Pipe” to bring water from Lake Erie. Further, they demonized former Mayor Kate Quarrie and her council for supporting the Walmart store on Woodlawn Avenue.

Give them their due, they organized labour, dedicated leftists and even imported NDP organizers from British Columbia to mastermind the Farbridge campaign. The 2006 civic election was a tour de force by the NDP and it swept aside a group of dedicated councillors to elect the dictatorial council that has run the city for the past five years.

In the recent provincial election, members of this organization supported defeated NDP candidate James Gordon, the founding president of the Guelph Civic League.

For the past five years, the League has undergone changes. Chief among them was obtaining a Provincial government Trillium Foundation grant of $135,000 allegedly for community work. They set up a separate organization named 10 Carden Street that happens to be the same location of the Guelph Civic League’ s offices conveniently located across the street from City Hall.

During the gestation period of obtaining the grant, the League melted into the background and became dormant so as not to appear to influence the grant application. It was only a matter of time before it came out of the closet.

The mission of 10 Carden Street is to conduct community workshops to assist citizens in matters of civic interest. One of those workshops was to invite a renowned bicycle activist to extol the virtues of creating easier venues in the city for those using bicycles for basic transportation.

It’s different today than it was in 2006. Our city has witnessed huge increases in its debt. The maximum amount of debt the city is supposed to carry is currently $91,850,000. The reality is the debt is reported to be $118,000,000 or $27,850,000 more than the approved ceiling.

All the spending and unfinished projects will not go away and the city is facing a financial crisis due to the recent court ruling it must pay $10 million toward new headquarters for the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health unit.

This was an unbudgeted expenditure and can severely impact the 2012 budget.

A major unfinished project is the $15,500,000 Guelph Civic Museum that is still not completed after four years. The main push to convert the derelict Loretto convent into the museum on the pretext it was a heritage building, was Coun. Leanne Piper’s pipe dream.

To have the Guelph Civic League piously coming forward to assist citizens to deal with council and city hall is beneath contempt. They were partly instrumental in creating the financial mess the city now faces.

It only took five years to discover that spending public money is a sacred trust not an instrument to build monuments for elected politicians.

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

guelphspeaks.ca – the mission statement

Guelph Speaks is the only independent voice in the city.

The website is owned and operated by retired newspaperman and Guelph resident Gerry Barker.

Guelph Speaks is produced for all the people all the time.

Guelph Speaks has no shareholders, sponsors or special interests to influence the content.

Guelph Speaks offers a responsible and unbiased commentary on life in Guelph.

Guelph Speaks welcomes any citizen wishing to contribute in the daily blog.

Guelph Speaks does not belong to any political party, vested interest or is beholden to any corporate owners.

Guelph Speaks content is measured for truthfulness and fair comment.

guelphspeaks.ca

Leave a comment

Filed under Between the Lines

How the gang of eight illegally dumped Coun. Kovach from the Police Board

Who is the “gang of eight”? Here are the names of the Farbridge controlled group on council: Mayor Farbridge, Councillors Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher, Maggie Laidlaw, June Hoffland, Ian Findlay, Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein.

They all voted recently to throw Coun. Gloria Kovach off the Guelph Police Services Board. Ms. Kovach was appointed to the board last January for a four-year term. It was a unanimous decision at the time by members of Council.

Council procedural rules require any change in previous decisions must be approved by at least nine members of Council.

Here’s what happened: Coun. Leanne Piper moved in a striking committee meeting to remove her colleague claiming she was only elected for a one-year term.

When the full Council was presented with the proposal, Coun. Bob Bell produced a copy of the minutes confirming Ms. Kovach for four years on the Police Board, but it was ignored.

Instead, the gang of eight voted 8 to 5 to remove Coun. Kovach.

Immediately, in another 8 to 5 vote, surprise! Coun. Leanne Piper was appointed to the Police Services Board.

But in doing so, Council did not follow its own procedural bylaw.

This should be overturned. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs should investigate this travesty in which a senior member of Council was unceremoniously dumped for pure political vengeance.

Where were the city solicitor and clerk when this was going on? MIA – missing in action.

Let’s check the Baloney Scale: Drum roll, please.

It’s a ten!

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

How Farbridge moves the ball downfield

Here is another example how the Farbridge administration shifts responsibility.

The Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) will evaluate the technical report on what’s wrong with the $34 million compost plant. Maple Reinders, designer and contractor of the plant along with its two wholly controlled subsidiary companies, prepared the report.

I’m informed that this report is of such a technical nature that the average person, such as those on the CAC, will not understand the impact of the suggested remedial changes Maple Reinders is proposing.

Taxpayers should ask why the City’s waste management department isn’t vetting this report and recommending its findings to council – the people’s representatives?

It appears this is not a simple operation problem incurred at start-up. It is most likely a design problem that rests with Maple Reinders.

Council chose to get in bed with Maple Reinders because its proposal claimed to be the latest and most innovative solution converting the city’s wet waste into compost. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way.

Is Guelph the guinea pig for radical solutions to convert wet waste into environmentally safe production of compost?

Stay tuned to this. It’s going to be quite a while before a solution is reached. That is if one can be reached.

Meanwhile our Teflon Mayor shifts responsibility onto a volunteer board of citizens.

As usual, it’s your money.

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

If it’s broke, here’s how to fix it

Let’s start by saying there are a lot of smart people who run our city.

The problem is that the political ruling class – the council gang of eight – has dominated and controlled public business. This has been the case for the past five years.

Under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, programs of grandiose schemes and social engineering policies has brought the city to a state of dangerous financial condition.

There is little disposable cash to meet the growing demands of the city. Assessment is only increasing at a rate of 1.5 per cent per year. Taxes are increasing exponentially at a rate of 3.5 per cent per year. The city has one of the highest per capita debt rates in the entire country.

Spending is out of control as major projects initiated by this council have failed to meet budgets or performance.

So what do we do about it?

1. Demand that council reduce spending by reducing staff in all areas of public employees including police, fire and EMS. Freeze all hiring across the board including part-timers and occasional staff. Specifically, demand all departments to reduce staff in two stages: Three percent in the first six months of 2012 and four percent in the last six months of the year. Total 105 employees.
2. Instruct legal staff to negotiate outstanding legal suits to bring to a conclusion.
3. Do not hire consultants for 12 months. Close out current contracts.
4. Instruct all departments to reduce non-staff costs by 3 per cent in 2012.
5. Have a staff report to the status of all stimulus projects and future cash flow required.
6. Cut city advertising and public affairs budgets by 50 per cent.
7. Require River Run Centre and Sleeman Centre to be self-sustaining within six months.
8. Cancel all financial support to community groups. If you have a cause support it, do not expect taxpayers to do it.
9. Get aggressive with the provincial government to increase the property tax deal enjoyed for 29 years by the University of Guelph to help meet the city’s 2012 financial needs.
10. Review all donations to organizations to reduce spending.
11. Pass a by law to cut the number of councillors to six in 2015 and make the job a fulltime position with appropriate remuneration.
12. Abolish the executive director system. Replace it with department heads reporting directly to the CAO.
13. Curtail all travel and associated expenses. Cancel all staff credit cards.
14. Appoint a cost czar to review all accounts and claims.
15. Appoint a citizen’s committee under the leadership of a qualified and respected library expert to study and recommend a public private partnership for a new downtown library.
16. Form a task force composed of citizens and staff to study a public and private partnership to build the south end recreation centre.
17. Get aggressive to collect taxes in arrears and uncollected traffic fines.
18. Take action to encourage a large grocery chain to establish in the east end of the city.
19. Hold a conference with property developers and builders to explore ways and means to increase assessment through careful planning.
20. Speed up the approval process for developers and new businesses.
21. Provide budget support and incentives to the staff commercial and industrial development team to seek business and encourage candidates to settle in Guelph.
22. Renegotiate the deal with Maple Reinders re operation of the wet waste plant.
23. Invoke a sunshine bylaw that opens all council meetings to the public. Cancel all in camera council meetings held before the public council meeting. Exceptions would be negotiations regarding real estate and problems associated with employees. Council would have to explain to the public why such an in camera meeting was necessary.
24. Invoke a bylaw to publish dates and times of committee meetings with ten days notice on the Internet and public media.
25. Have the Mayor give a monthly status report on the city with an overview of finances and status of major projects. It should be real news oriented and not propaganda.
26. A customer service team should be set up to answer public questions and complaints. This group would follow-up to ensure the query was handled promptly by the affected department.
27. Abolish the present security system at city hall so that any person can enter and access council and staff at any time. This is a public building owned by the taxpayers.
28. Amalgamate the response teams for police, fire and EMS to a singular call centre.
29. Review the operations of the fire department to reduce operations that are often duplicated by other public safety services.
30. Review all bylaws with the city legal team to reduce the obfuscation and redundancy of current business practices.

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

Look for MediaWatch exclusively in guelphspeaks.ca

MediaWatch is a new feature on our website that examines the coverage and editorial position of the public print and broadcast media.

Local print media is owned by Metroland publishing, a division of the Toronto Star and corporate parent, Torstar Inc. That includes the daily Mercury and the twice-weekly Tribune. Both papers’ editorial management report to the editor-in-chief Lynn Haddrell based in Kitchener at the Record.

There is no local ownership of these publications. The community editorial board is composed mainly of supporters of Mayor Farbridge. People such as Ben Bennett, the man who stalled the Walmart store from coming to Guelph; or Susan Ratcliffe, a decent but idealistic lefty; or Brian Holstein, actor and unabashed fan of Farbridge. That board does not reflect the views of the majority of taxpayers in the city.

MediaWatch will comment on coverage of these papers and the broadcast media. MW will view content that is self-serving or slanted to serve the needs of the publisher and or the administration. Many papers have what is charitably called a point of view.

Having worked at the Toronto Star for many years, I am familiar with that paper’s liberal point of view. In the old days, it often influenced the news pages. The paper is now more careful and columnists are free to expound the Star’s point of view.

I have no problem with that.

But what has happened in Guelph is that the print media, in the past year has slowly adopted an unequivocal policy of supporting the Farbridge administration. In the case of the Tribune, it is like the mouse that roared. A good little tabloid that many readers like but it is still under the Metroland thumb which supports the Farbridge group.

Why is that?

Here’s the skinny. The Tribune rakes in more than $500,000 from city-paid advertising. This is an account that most publishers would drool over. The question that should be asked is why is that influencing the news coverage of city hall?

As a former senior manager at The Star, the advertising department was never allowed in the newsroom. It was a metaphor that milk and water don’t mix.

It’s different with Metroland. It’s all about financial performance. The company started in the ‘60’s as a community newspaper group operating outside the Metro Toronto area. It bought papers and then a few years ago The Star bought the Hamilton Spectator, The Guelph Mercury, The Guelph Tribune and the Kitchener Record plus the Cambridge paper that was shut down. This put Metroland in the big leagues. Unfortunately, it maintained its principles that the bottom line comes first.

It is mindful of the late newspaper magnate Lord Thomson who said: “We will print all the news that fits around the ads.”

And that folks is where we are today with a print media controlled from outside the community.

Metroland presents itself as community minded, but eschews controversy that impacts its protective shield of protecting the ad base.

Never fear friends, MediaWatch will expose the cover-ups and obvious slanted news published.

Look for MediaWatch in guelphspeaks.ca.

2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines