This is an essay on how your tax dollars have been squandered to meet the closed-door agenda of the Mayor and her majority supporters on city council.
What most taxpayers don’t realize is their money has been spent on projects to aggrandize the personal agendas of members of the Farbridge majority.
Let’s start with the mistake on the hill also known as the Guelph Civic Museum that was built not primarily to house and display the historic artifacts of our city, but to preserve a pre-Confederation convent building on land the city does not own.
Even the owners of the building, the Roman Catholic diocese of Hamilton, wanted to tear it down to create more parking space for church members. It had not been occupied for 10 years and was in derelict condition.
But the Guelph Heritage group led by now Coun. Leanne Piper fought to restore the building. In 2007 council approved the deal to restore the building and use it as the new home of the Guelph Civic Museum.
The cost to date is a deep secret. Best estimate of money spent since 2007 is close to $20 million. While the original estimate made by city staff was $12.7 million, costs soared when serious structural defects had to be fixed so the public could safely use the building.
Over the five-year construction phase, funds were transferred from the city’s general account to meet the unintended costs of shoring up the old structure.
Any resemblance of the original structure that the Heritage people wanted to save is purely coincidental. The front of the building now has a soaring glass enclosure that was not part of the original structure.
As a result, the decision meant that at best, the new museum would attract an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 visitors a year. Compare this to the number of people who use the facilities of the existing downtown library – some 400,000.
We know now that the new downtown library project was cancelled for lack of capital funds.
Here’s the skinny on the city debt.
The 2012 budget totals $174,629,567. By council rule the maximum debt that can be issued by the city is 55 per cent of the total budget. That’s $96,046,258.
Trouble is the actual debt exceeds $118,000,000.
Not included are some $15 million capital costs to pay for garbage green bins and special automated trucks to pick them up. While this expense will be phased in over three years, the money has to come from somewhere.
This current Farbridge-dominated council has spent the city into a dangerous debt situation with which future council’s will have to deal. It will be a tough job that could require severe cuts in services and increases in taxes to return the city finances to the point where debt servicing will be reduced.
This will eventually free up capital to match the needs of a growing and prosperous community.
Among the financial problems the city faces is the method in which the University of Guelph pays a fixed amount per student in lieu of property taxes. The Provincial Government mandates that the university is to pay $75 per student in lieu of property taxes.
That amounts to $1,650,000 that the University pays the city in lieu of property taxes. To put that in perspective, the U of G pays just .09448 percent of the total 2012 city budget.
Now compare that to Guelph’s largest employer, Linamar manufacturing. That company pays the rate that all industrial organizations are required in terms of property taxes plus business taxes and user fees as well.
It is an unfair advantage that the university has when paying its fair share of property taxes. The university is the largest landowner in the city and operates a lucrative side business leasing portions of those lands to non-university organizations.
The result is the taxpayers of Guelph are subsidizing the University that is expanding facilities to meet the growing demand for post secondary education. Expansion brings additional costs to Guelph taxpayers who are required to bump up infrastructure and services to meet the demands of the expanding university.
Did I mention that that $75 per student is called the bed tax and was set in 1983? There has been no increase or adjustment, even for inflation, in 29 years.
Taxpayers are seduced into believing that city council has control of our finances. The lack of accurate accounting and stonewalling of information is designed to lull us to sleep.
Indeed, beware of the lullaby of Carden Street.