Posted May 4, 2012
In the past five and one half years, Mayor Karen Farbridge has ruled the city supported by a majority in the 13-member council. Some in the public prints claim that she has done a great job. It is a point of view not shared by many taxpayers.
So we thought we should pick ten decisions ratified by the Farbridge council that you can judge as being: Wasteful, wonderful or whacky.
The important aspect of this exercise is the cumulative effect of policies introduced in the almost six-year time frame. The result will be higher costs in the city that are passed on to future generations.
There is ample history of this happening. After Kate Quarrie defeated Ms. Farbridge in 2003, council inherited a load of debt and mismanagement that required some drastic changes. History has shown that the Guelph taxpayers are not comfortable with aggressive changes in the administration of their city. The result was Mayor Quarrie and most of her supporting councillors were defeated in 2006 and Karen Farbridge was returned as mayor with a majority of nine supporting councillors.
This is a lesson that should not be forgotten. The following top ten decisions are just a few of the decisions that the Farbridge-controlled council has imposed. Be forewarned, they will not disappear two years from now when the next city election is called.
The Top Ten
Number 10 – The civic museum has cost $16 million so far, including $6 million in government grants. The taxpayer’s share of this project located on private property is $10 million and counting. Like many capital projects the city never reveals real costs. This was passed off to the public as saving a pre-confederation building owned by the Roman Catholic diocese. In barging ahead with the project. Council sandbagged the case for a new downtown library. Mayor Farbridge promised to build a new downtown library in her election pitch. It is still doubtful due to the high debt incurred by the Farbridge council. One of the mistakes made in renovating the old heritage building was ordering custom-made cabinets from a European supplier. Trouble was they were too high and interfered with the sprinkler system. Bottom line: How many visits does the Civic Museum receive each day compared to the number attending the downtown library?
Number 9 – The wet waste plant’s latest price tag is $33 million. The garbage bin collection system is another $15 million. Many close to this project have doubts about its operation. Air quality control remains a problem and, after some retrofitting, the plant is still not operating at full capacity. That’s eight months after the plant was fired up following construction. When does Waterloo’s wet waste arrive daily at the plant when we are unable to process the homegrown stuff?
Number 8 – The Hanlon Business Park – $10 million. The city has borrowed that amount to complete the park. While some property has been sold to developers, not one job has been created in three years. Once again, Guelph’s reputation as a place that is bad for business looms large as a deterrent. Don’t expect the Terry Bradshaw puff video to create an avalanche of new business.
Number 7 – Paying $233,000 to an outside legal firm to settle the ownership of Lt. Col. John McRae’s World War I medals. That exercise took three years to settle. While the medals were on display at McRae House museum, the family launched a lawsuit in 2008 to take possession. The settlement consisted of a public acknowledgement that the family gifted the medal to the museum and a small plaque would acknowledge this.
Number 6 – Firing the new City Hall contractor and renovating the old City Hall for a provincial courthouse, resulting in a $19 million lawsuit yet to be decided. While both sides are exchanging viewpoints it is revealed that the contractor has outstanding subcontractor obligations. The city has agreed to pay these debts presumably because there are liens attached to the new City Hall. The city maintains this action is not part of any future resolution of the dispute. Cost of renovating the old city hall was completed on a cost plus basis. The end cost to taxpayers has never been revealed.
Number 5 – Taking legal action to avoid paying $10 million, its share of building a new Wellington, Dufferin Guelph public health headquarters. The cost of taking this through the court system is unknown. The City lost and must pay its share of the costs. This is another unbudgeted expense that has contributed to the abnormally high debt in which the Farbridge administration has placed the taxpayers. The dispute is one of other cost-shared projects that have caused divisive splits between the city and its country partners. The question remains why the Mayor cannot get along with her partners.
Number 4 – Allowing the amount of city debt to rise to more than $118 million thereby breaking its own debt-ceiling rule by some $26 million. To most taxpayers, their eyes glaze over when it comes to debt of which they are responsible. Servicing that debt costs more than $5 million this year. That’s not chump change. There are only two ways to reduce it: Raise taxes and fees or increase assessment. The latter takes years to impact the average tax bill. The city’s lack of cooperation with development proposals in recent years has resulted in Guelph being not friendly to business or development proposals. The recent flurry of allowing 18 story condos in the downtown area is the result of an awakening by the Farbridge administration to be more cooperative in promoting new development – both residential and commercial/industrial.
Number 3 – The reincarnation of a new downtown library now scheduled for opening in 2017 will cost of $63 million. In addition, the Chief Librarian says a fund-raising specialist will be charged with raising another $10 million to install furnishings etc in the new facility.
Number 2 – The skating rink in front of the new city hall that cost more than $2.5 million, has its own Zamboni that won’t fit in the special garage built for it. City staff informed council the operating cost for the feature would be $1.2 million a year.
Number 1 – Spending $74 million to rebuild some of the city’s infrastructure as part of a senior government stimulus. The city’s share was $24 million. The spending included such items as $2 million for a bicycle lane on Stone Road, $750,000 for a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre. Plus four years of traffic disruption that affected business across the city.
The taxpayer’s future liability is more than $108 million. Add to that accumulated debt of $118 million and the total is $226 million. When the cost of civic staff is taken out of the budget, it leaves less than $45 million based on the total 2012 city budget of $174 million.
The recent announcement of the 10-year plan to spend $9 million converting a commercial node at the intersection of Gordon and Wellington streets into a new downtown park, begs the question: Why now? On must wonder how council can approve such a long-range proposal with such existing uncertainty in the city’s ability to pay for more grandiose schemes.
The point to all this is to alert taxpayers that there is a limit to what the city can afford.
That limit has already been exceeded.