Monthly Archives: June 2012

Welcome to guelphleaks

Posted June 26, 2012

Outline for a screen play titled: “As the Guelph turns.”

HE: Wow! Is the Mayor ever mad.

SHE: (Sigh), what is it about now?

HE: Seems she heard there was some laughter by staffers over the Mayor’s plan to build a municipal fish hatchery behind the Sleeman Centre as part of the new downtown strategic plan.

SHE: That’s a funny place to have a fish hatchery. There’s no water there. And it’s pretty noisy in the winter.

HE: the story is that staff wanted to put it behind Angel’s deli on Wellington Street. You have to agree it is a little closer to water.

SHE: Yeah, then she could walk upon the water while she eats a smoked meat sandwich. Yum!

HE: You got it! That’s what the staff is laughing about behind her back.

SHE: About what? The walking on the water bit or the pastrami sandwich? This is a joke, right?

HE: Well, the story goes that the Mayor put her ace investigator on the case, the chief administrative officer,, to ferret out the jolly staffers who are spreading the story.

SHE: At least we now know that the Mayor can walk upon the water and chew on a sandwich at the same time…kind of like multi-tasking in a weird way, don’t you think?

HE: It’s probably part of her new 10-year strategic plan. It is described as a world class fish hatchery that will attract “tousands and tousands, maybe even a hundred,”remember it’s an old Newfie expression. You know it’ll get about as much attendance as the Civic Museum.

SHE: I think it’s kind of cute. I can see the headline tomorrow: “ Mayor walks upon water, staff doubles over in laughter.”

HE: Nah, don’t think the Mercury will run it. It’s too, too unbelievable.

SHE: Oh! Ye of little faith. What will we do for entertainment around here? Dodge the bicyclists careering down Norfolk Street? Or check out the salamanders at the Hanlon Business Park? We can always watch them dig up Speedvale for the third time.

HE: Sarcasm will get you everywhere. I’m going to jump in the car with my favourite book and read it in the Baker Street parking lot where the new downtown library is supposed to be built. The excitement of it all sends shivers down my spine.

SHE: Speaking of shivers, did you know it costs more than a million bucks a year to maintain the ice rink in front of city hall?

HE: Really! I heard the new compost plant still isn’t working. Guess our wet garbage is still going into landfill.

SHE:  My aunt Millie called to complain about these big new bins they want us to use instead of plastic bags. She said she can’t manage getting her bit of garbage to the curb, especially in winter.

HE: Well, they are providing three sizes of bins.

SHE: Honey, aunt Millie is in a wheelchair. What’s she supposed to do, put a motor on the bin and drive it to the curb?

HE: Maybe she can get a handy man.

SHE: She wishes!

HE: Is this a great city or what?

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Is this a contract with the devil?

Posted June 23, 2012

Janet Laird, Executive director of Planning, and Building, Engineering and Environment informed Ward 1 Coun. Jim Furfaro of the cost of the 900 tonnes of wet waste from Hamilton.

You remember the stuff had to come from Hamilton, why?

Doesn’t Guelph have enough of the wet waste to feed the operational test to begin in July? Guelph’s wet waste collected in plastic bags is a no-no.

Consider that the amount of wet waste coming from Waterloo also does not meet the feedstock requirement for the crucial test. The test will determine if the plant meets the capacity level contained in the contract.

So, here’s how it works. AIM Environmental, general contractor Maple Reinders’ division, in charge of negotiating supply contracts, is paid $79 a tonne to deliver the Hamilton waste to the compost plant. However, the real cost is a $60 per tonne tipping fee paid to the city.

So the cost of this test, experiment, or whatever, to the city is $17,100.

Why is the city paying anything to confirm the plant is meeting its operating projections according to the contract? It is up to the contractor to deliver a plant that meets the terms of the contract.

Apparently not, as this break-in period has lasted 10 months.

To put it in plain terms, the cost of carrying a $33 million project is $1,650,000 per year at five per cent.  During the time this plant has not performed since last September it has cost an estimated $1,370,500 in interest.

Are we getting nickel and dimed because the contract to build the plant was mishandled and oversight ignored?

The reasons for bringing waste from Hamilton for this test is unclear.

It fits into the murky world of the real operating costs of this $33 million project. The city has steadfastly refused to disclose the operating costs of the plant once it is fully operational.

It has been estimated the real cost of operating the plant is $340 a tonne. That’s a long way from $79 a tonne for tipping fees.

Then Ms. Laird revealed the terms of the contract to receive wet waste from the City of Waterloo.

The contract called for Waterloo to deliver 20,000 tonnes of material to the plant.

AIM, the general contractors sales arm, negotiated the deal and it contains a “put or pay” clause. This requires Waterloo to pay for 20,000 tonnes whether they use it or not.

Here’s the stickler. Waterloo is only able to contribute 10,000 tonnes currently. The “put or pay” clause doesn’t kick in until next year.  It seems the supply of feedstock is uncertain and the City of Guelph must guarantee the required flow of wet waste to the plant.

And that supply contract is held by AIM Environmental, not the city.

Here’s the kicker:  The city is contractually obligated to supply adequate tonnage so the plant can operate at full capacity. And to whom are they obligated? Aim Environmental, the subsidiary of Maple Reinders and operators of the compost plant..

It appears that Maple Reinders has a grip on the compost plant that taxpayers own but cannot control.

It’s time for the city to reveal all the terms and conditions of this multi-corporation waste management contract. Burying the details among a select group of elected and non-elected officials is close to demanding an independent inquiry.

What are the plans to dispose of the tonnes of composted material the plant is supposed to manufacture?

Here’s a suggestion. When the automated waste pick-up truck comes down the street emptying the curbside bins, another truck follows and fills the bins up with fresh compost.

Soon Guelph would be the most composted city in the world. Another first!

Miz Laird, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.

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Should city staff’s free parking perk end?

Posted June 21, 2012

It was reported in the KW Record this week that the Region of Waterloo is cancelling free parking for its 1,050 employees..

This is a gnarly issue that has plagued Guelph for more than a year. City staffers, some 1,300 of them receive free parking as a perk, one of 24 freebies enjoyed by city employees..

Last year, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) declared the parking perk was a taxable benefit. Not admitting any liability, the city sent more than $450,000 to the CRA, but challenged the ruling.

It appears that appeal has not been settled but the amount owing is increasing daily.

Currently, the city does not deduct the free parking benefit when income taxes are withheld from the employee’s pay cheque.

Instead, the city is gambling the CRA will agree that the benefit is not taxable.

The chance of this happening is akin to the sun entering total permanent eclipse.

Regardless, the taxpayers who have already ponyed up the $450,000, could be stuck with an even greater amount if the city loses the appeal.

Other municipalities have agreed that employee free parking is a taxable benefit that the employee must pay.

This is yet another example of mushroom politics practiced by the Mayor and her dominant majority of seven supporters on council who vote in a bloc.

The people who pay the bills are left in the dark, again.

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There they go again, putting the cart before the horse

Posted June 20, 2012

First. they built a $33 million wet waste composting plant that has yet to reach operation.

Then they announced the residents would start using carts, bins, whatever current bureaucratic nomenclature calls them, to collect their waste instead of the three-bag plastic bag system.

Now the planning and building, engineering and environment committee of Council has amended the bylaw stating the bins may be stored in any exterior location except in the front yard where they must be located adjacent to a building or fence.

Maybe you could put your bins on the front lawn and plant a flower garden around them.

Coun. Bob Bell stated the obvious that row-housing residents should not be forced to store their bins in front of the home. Logic would dictate there is a front and a back of a connected row house and no easy access to the rear to bring the bins around to the front curb.

So there you have it.

The city builds a compost plant that isn’t working after eight months of testing. The province informs the city that wet waste in plastic bags cannot be delivered to the plant. Solution, upgrade the entire waste collection system costing more than $15 million buying bins/carts for every home and business and special trucks to pick the containers up.

Now they figure out that many homes in the city cannot store the big bins due to a lack of garage or front yard space.

Was this huge project really thought out before it was executed?

Citizens are waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Did they consider moving the heavy bins to the curb in winter when snowfall hits the city or temperatures drop?

What about seniors? Can they cope with manhandling large bins to the roadside?

What about vermin getting into the bins and spreading the contents?

How are odours controlled if bins are stored inside?

What happens to those folks who are physically unable to get the bins to the curb?

How is vandalism going to be controlled?

Did anyone on Janet Laird’s staff bring these matters up before the contract was executed?

You can take great comfort in the fatuous statement by committee chairperson Coun. Leanne Piper: “I have great confidence the citizens of Guelph will be great neighbours.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

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The myths surrounding Ronald Reagan

Preamble

A friend of mine publishes the Longboat Key News in Sarasota, Florida. He sent me a column written by Tom Burgum stating the President of the United States was “superfluous”  leading the country. Obviously the column is laced with Republican talking points. The piece included the usual reverent references to former President Ronald Reagan who is lionized today by elements in the Republican Party. Gerry Barker

Posted June 19, 2012

Columnist Tom Burgum reached back to Ronald Reagan to compare the great communicator to President Barak Obama, who he states is “superfluous.”

Republicans keep talking about Reagan as the icon of the party. He was instrumental in stoking the U.S. industrial military complex with billions and left office with the biggest deficit in the nation’s peacetime history. He also raised taxes on the rich to 39 percent, a figure that present day GOP adherents refuse to accept.

That deficit was a fiscal chain around the neck of his successor George H.W. Bush who was defeated after one term by Democrat Bill Clinton. Bush 41 is a decent man, veteran and accomplished businessman. Yet his own party failed to support him for re-election.

Can Mr. Burgum possibly equate the behaviour of the present Congress with Congressional cooperation enjoyed by Ronald Reagan 22 years ago?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in 2009 that his goal was to defeat President Obama regardless of the effect on the American people. The House of Representatives Republican majority elected in 2010, has steadfastly refused to pass the Obama jobs bill and almost took the nation to default by refusing to extend the debt limit last summer.

Then they again threatened in December to shut the government down by denying passing critical spending bills, but blinked in the end.

Is this the spirit purveyed in the Reagan years? I think not.

Like his opponent, the President is entitled to attend fund-raisers to support his bid for a second term. Unlike his opponent, he has a country to run. Among a number of accomplishments, he has reversed the American reputation of being seen as a militaristic bully to one that is starting to be admired.

He has been direct and forceful in seeking out and killing Al Qaeda leaders including Osama Bin Laden.  He has removed U.S. forces from Iraq and is determined to reduce the military budget that has ballooned, due to foreign combat.

Obama is a man of substance and dedicated to bringing America out of the global economic collapse, created by his predecessor’s administration.

Now we have Mitt Romney advocating a fuzzy economic program that is mainly a repeat of the policies of former President George W. Bush. Do you really believe that is the solution to America’s economic condition?

Really Mr. Borgum. “Superfluous?” Mr. Obama is a patriot and he is dedicated to reviving a politically punch drunk America.

“Superfluous” more appropriately describes the GOP dominated House of Representatives whose obstructionist tactics have contributed little to pulling the U.S. out of the recession.

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Liz Sandals, tell us it’s not true

Posted June 19, 2012

I was sent an email the other day about a Toronto doctor saying the McGuinty budget includes a dangerous provision. It is one that forces anyone 75 and older to submit to Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan (OHIP) “public ethics committees” before being treated.

If true, “da preem” can start planning his retirement.

appears ludicrous that our aging population would be forced to submit to some nameless committee that meets twice a week in order to receive OHIP benefits. Imagine a senior whose physician has ordered a series of tests, presenting his or her medical treatment requirement to a group of stony-faced bureaucrats.

The stress alone would shorten their life span.

But wait? Supposing this report is untrue. Supposing the doctor, who claims it to be true, is an agent provocateur of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).  You will recall there is a pitched battle going on between the Provincial Health Ministry and the doctors.

A lot of propaganda has been exchanged between the parties. Separating the truth from the hyperbole remains a daunting task for the taxpayers who pay the bills.

The language of the bureaucracy defeats understanding the aspects of the squabble. The result is it spreads confusion and misunderstanding together creating distrust on the part of Ontario’s health services consumers.

This is unlike any trade union dispute.

The protagonists are highly trained professionals who are also highly paid for their services.

That’s as it should be because everyone in the country is entitled to healthcare. So states the Canada Health Act that has been around for almost 50 years. The result is that Canadians are collectively among the healthiest in the world.

So why are consumers entitled to health treatments being threatened with drastic measures that go beyond reasonable rationing of those services?

Most consumer/patients are tolerant of wait times and minor inconveniences.

Some abuse the system through over-use of emergency services for treatment of minor ailments.

But subjecting seniors, almost 30 per cent of the population of Ontario, to have treatment approved by so-called ethics committees, is not only an affront to seniors but also a breach of the Canada Health Act.

Ontario’s doctors are quasi civil servants. They are paid from the public pot and the McGuinty government in the past nine years has been generous in dealing with the doctors.

But like many Ontarians who are feeling the effects of reduced pay and benefits due to the economic conditions, the provincial government has to tighten its belt. The budget document reflects that necessary reduction in spending.

The argument may be made that the McGuinty government has mismanaged the province’s economy in such a way that revenues are not meeting expenditures.

Nine years in power can create a malaise, a softening of resolve. This minority government is tired and overdue for a change.

Meanwhile the doctors should get back to the table and bargain in good faith. The government should look for other avenues to reduce or cut costs in order to maintain our cherished public health system.

 

 

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Turkeys coming home to roost?

Why was I not surprised to hear a news item on the local radio station that Guelph was paying Hamilton to  ship their green bag compostables to Guelph? Apparently, Guelph doesn’t have sufficient green bag volume to commission the new wet-dry facility.

The reason being given for this waste of money is that the projected compost material contracted from Waterloo, which was touted as a cornerstone to  ensure the plant viability, is less than planned. Guelph had the opportunity to contract with Hamilton for green bag composting but in a misguided ego trip decided to  build its own facility.

It would appear that the numerically and financially illiterate mayor and her merry band of tax and spend councilors are seeing the turkeys come home to roost.

Wait until the less than hoped for efficiencies come to roost when the 3 bin waste collection comes on stream.

Another turkey circling city hall.

The whole $50 million waste management (that’s an oxymoron if there ever was one) plan will be recognized as a white elephant with the Guelph taxpayers being on the hook for it. What a legacy!

Glen N. Tolhurst

Editor’s note: guelphspeaks welcomes contributions from viewers. Make your voice seen   and heard. Be a Guelph speaker. Send your commentary for publication to: gerrybarker76@gmail.com

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It’s time for the good guys to stand up

Posted June 15, 2012

Since the beginning of the year there has been a series of revelations in the management of the city of Guelph that would curl the blood of Rasputin.

The ongoing saga on a $33 million compost plant that is yet to work, is money already spent.

Intrigue and conspiracy floats through the halls of power in 1 Carden Street with the Mayor and her sidekick, Chief Administration Officer Ann Pappert conducting inquiries as to who, how and what is being leaked. The civic plumbers are hard at work.

Meanwhile the Chief Librarian announced that a new downtown library would open in 2017 costing $63 million. Her announcement added that a fund-raising specialist is being hired to raise another $10 million to equip the new mid-town edifice to literacy.  Is it perhaps true the ancestors of the Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal were hired to design the new library?

Then the Mayor got huffy with Coun. Cam Guthrie, who persuaded his fellow opposition councillors to file a freedom of information request. It started when a staffer refused to give Guthrie a copy of an air quality report from the Ministry of the Environment regarding the new compost plant.

Enter the Integrity Commissioner to investigate how the story got into the public prints. His report was so sanitized as to be laughable. Can you image John Stewart of the Daily Show getting his hands on that situation? The wags at the Hall are speculating on how much the Commish charged for his one-sided report.

Along comes the proposal to create a river side park at  the intersection of Gordon and Wellington streets. There are several businesses currently operating on the proposed site including my favourite, Angel’s Diner (the smoked meat is to die for). That proposal is projected to cost $9 million. Lawyers, man your wigs, this is going to be a bonanza for you when expropriations start.

What is it with Mayor Farbridge and her council supporters? They seem bent on calling in the legal beagles when they don’t get their way.

The lawsuit count includes the new City Hall with the fired contractor suing for $19 million; Fighting the Wellington-Dufferin- Guelph Public Health board over spending $10 million (Guelph’s share of the $17 million cost) for a new headquarters on Stone Road; the $233,000 spent on outside counsel to get rid of a lawsuit launched by the relatives of Lt. Colonel John McRae over his World War I medals.

These examples are only a handful of how your money is being spent, or, will be spent. The noose of financial ability of the city of Guelph is being tightened.  The collective arrogance of the Farbridge coalition of sticking more than $90 million of added debt on future councils presents unprecedented fiduciary irresponsibility.

Now is the time for good men and women in this administration to stand up and refuse to allow any more reckless spending.

This party’s over.

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Laugh-in at City Hall

Posted June 13, 2012

It was reported in the local tabloid that the sale of the former civic museum property on Dublin Street is imminent. So says Jim Stokes, the city’s realty services manager.

The property was listed more than a year ago for $942,000. But while Stokes says he is hearing about interest in the heritage-designated property, there have been no offers.

Warning to buyers:  If considering purchasing this property, you will be facing microscopic overview if you attempt to renovate or change anything. The Guelph administration is obsessed with preserving designated properties at any cost.

It was revealed when the city was doing the budget in 2007 for the new civic museum it was estimated the sale would earn $500,000.

With a reported chuckle, the realty manager said: “the amount that was budgeted wasn’t based on anything. I think somebody pulled a number out of the air and said we should be able to get that at least.”

Wonder if that kind of thinking went into estimating the cost of the new museum? The figure established in a staff report said the cost would be $12.7 million. And the city has been sticking to that number for five years despite cost overruns due to foundation and faulty design problems.

It would appear that there was precious little investigation by those charged with the task of estimating the cost. Outside estimates today place the real cost to exceed $20 million by the time the landscaping is completed.

The project is reminiscent of the city take-over of the new city hall and firing the contractor for failing to meet completion deadlines. The fall-out of that exercise is a $19 million lawsuit yet to be resolved.

Details of these projects are beyond the reach of public scrutiny.

But think of the yuks generated when the city responds to enquiries.

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The numbers game

Posted June 13, 2012

This is what happens when you bring CBC comedian Rick Mercer to town.

Page one of the Mercury’s black line is proclaiming: “City ends year with a $6.9M surplus. Move to the first paragraph and the word “almost” in reference to the $6.9 million is used.

It’s a dilemma every headline writer faces: How to write a head that pulls the reader in without distorting the facts. In case you haven’t read the story, the surplus was $6.8 million according to the acting treasurer.

Details.

Then the infighting starts when you turn to page two. There was reference to an unnamed council committee accepting a staff recommendation that the surplus be directed to replenishing reserves. Also accepted was placing $1.1 million in a new reserve entitled “Strategic Reserve.”

Coun. Gloria Kovach complained that the spending was being approved before council had approved the new strategic plan.

You get the drift. It’s the way our business is conducted at 1 Carden Street… spend first and account for it later.

But a more interesting story on page three of the same issue reported the status of scofflaws – those who avoid paying fines to the city. In 2000, the Province downloaded operations of the provincial courts to the municipalities. That year there was $5.6 million in defaulted fines in Guelph.That number grew to $11 million by 2008, when city council wrote off $5 million in defaulted fines.

It now appears there is some $6 million in defaulted fines still on the books today. This was despite efforts by Brad Coutts, the city’s courts manager and his staff, to get people to pay.

The manager said the amount of revenue has remained relatively static for the past decade, despite the huge write-down of uncollected fines four years ago.

Coutts suggested more staff could reduce the outstanding fines. There’s a solution, hire more people to increase revenue.

Isn’t it odd that the city can write off $5 million when the economy is going into the ditch and boast about a $6.8 million surplus in 2011?

That’s either dumb management or good luck.

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