A Four Part series
Note to readers: This is the first part of a special guelphspeaks exclusive series on the state of the city and the many unanswered questions that taxpayers are asking. As usual, guelphspeaks urges all viewers to tell their friends and family to follow the blog that works to keep citizens aware of how their city works. No smoke and mirrors, just the unvarnished commentary and facts.
Posted September 19, 2012
In July, Guelph council called on staff to report back with a draft budget that limited the property tax increase to 3 per cent in 2013.
This was the response to a draft proposal by city staff to increase property taxes by 8.5 per cent.
This week the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) described council’s stand as a “regressive decision.” Ann Pappert went on to say that there had been “incremental scraping” of the operating budget in the past few years.
But she didn’t stop there. She stated she is “seeing things that I’m not finding palatable.”
Well Ms. Pappert has only been on the job for some ten months so perhaps she may be overreacting a bit. It’s obvious that the senior staff members who closed ranks behind their leader could not care less about the ordinary taxpayer and his or her ability to pay.
This group includes the same top guns earning in some cases, $166,000 a year plus benefits. They are not going to lose their job unless they commit some egregious act that would result in being fired. This would include a hefty severance allowance.
To have the effrontery to threaten council that there could be $15 million in services cuts if they failed to accept the staff 8.5 proposals is beyond reason.
Ms. Pappert claimed the budget should balance affordability with sustainability. To be truthful, I think Guelph should rein in the multi-million capital projects aimed at sustainability. Now we are told that approval has been granted to build two biosolid holding tanks at the sewage treatment plant costing an estimated $20 million.
Already some $50 million has been spent on an organic composting facility that is six times greater than the current needs of the city. Add on another $15 million for a bin collection system. The plant, after opening a year ago, has still to be approved by the MOE and process an once of Guelph wet waste into garden-ready compost.
Coun. Jim Furfaro said council had to be cognizant that there has to be the ability to pay for services. He added asking citizens to pay more than the three per cent would “be devastating.”
The battle between ambitious elitist city staff and the taxpayers finds council caught in the middle.
They enrage voters with passing a budget with an 8.5 per cent tax increase or they cut expenses with almost the same effect.
This all didn’t happen this year. The Farbridge administration has been juggling costs and revenues, while continuing with aggressive capital spending now running over an estimated $100 million. This represents capital funds spent to date. Planned future projects include $63 million for a downtown library, $16 million to create a riverside park on the site of a thriving commercial area. Also missing from the list of past projects are the $16 million Wilson Street parking garage and the south end recreation centre estimated to cost $37 million.
This city cannot sustain the escalating spending of this administration.
It is only a matter of time before the party is over. That time is fast approaching.
Unless council has the political will to create a realistic budget that can be managed by taxpayers, there will be a new council elected in two years that will take action to rein in the spending.
It’s interesting why Ms Pappert chose this time to become very aggressive about maintaining the 8.5 per cent staff-sponsored increase. Two accountants could chop $15 million from the budget in a New York minute. But this is about preserving the cushy status quo.
So staff puts the wagons in a circle and defends their position with passion and thunder.
My guess is the budget will increase property taxes by 3.5 per cent.
It’s still too much.
Part Two tomorrow. How council has turned the city into the lab rat of waste management.