Potpourri – a collection of events and comments

Posted September 27, 2012

The chickens are coming home to roost

When the University of Guelph announces it faces a budget shortfall over four years of $34 million, you know that the city is not far behind the economic squeeze of rising costs and lower revenues.

Some of this is due to unbridled ideological spending. The jig is up when the city staff recommends a 8.5 per cent property tax increase for 2013. When Coun. Guthrie challenges the staff for complaining about invoking a 3 per cent plan, he gets lambasted by Coun. Ian Findlay who suggests it’s a transgression that calls for the Integrity Commissioner to adjudicate.

He’s kidding, right?

*            *            *            *            *

Police crack down on U of G homecoming illegal drinking

It’s comforting to realize that Guelph Police are doing a great job in civilizing the rowdiness of homecoming weekend.  Similarly, the current efforts to curb excessive behaviour downtown, appears to be resolving some of the issues that made the area a hellhole on weekends.

The irony is the University still closes its pubs on weekends. That forces students to express their party animal instincts on the public streets of Guelph.

The effort of the police department is stretching resources to the limit. Busting up the neighbourhood “Keggers” those who sell beer from garages, often in single-family areas, is great police work.

Kudos to Chief Larkin, his officers and by-law enforcement officers.

*            *            *            *            *

City public relations machine working overtime

The bins are coming! The bins are coming! The bins are coming!  This is Guelph 2012 not Lexington 1775. For $15 million the public deserves better. Instead of committing to this costly system, there were other options. Also would it not have made sense to test this system to determine if it warranted the huge expenditure?

Personally, I cannot understand why the city sent us a “bin how to” brochure package when it refuses to pick up our waste. There are areas in the city that pay for waste pick-up through their taxes but don’t get the service.

But we still get the propaganda.

*            *            *            *            *

Things are not going well on the legal front

Case One: The effort by the city legal staff to mediate the $19 million dispute between the city and Urbacon Buildings Group has foundered. After two days of testimony before a retired judge acting as private mediator, the exercise failed. In January 2013, the case will go to civil court for judgment. There is a slim chance a settlement can still be reached, but after two days of testimony it is unlikely.

Case Two: The Ontario Municipal Board hearing, heard from the University of Guelph’s chief financial officer, that the proposed Abode Varsity Living proposal was competition to the University’s housing plan. Further he testified that the university cannot fill its some 5,300 on-campus residences.

So let’s get this straight: the University cannot find enough students to fill its accommodation but wants to buy the Abode site to create more housing for female students. What in heck has this to do with alleged improper planning? The city staff convinced council to oppose the proposed twin-tower development, as it was not a fit for the neighbourhood. Having a motel there is okay, it appears.

Do you get the feeling this has nothing to do with planning but a lot to do with what the university wants?

As manager of U of G residences, is Coun. Leanne Piper in the thick of all this?

Case Three: The Ontario Ministry of Labour is suing the city as a result of the washroom wall that collapsed killing a 14-year-old student. This is a messy business. The city has settled with the family. The architect and engineer have both been acquitted of liability. The Ministry is appealing the judge’s decision in that case.

The basis of the Ministry’s suit is that the city was negligent in maintaining the washroom where the death occurred. Judgment is this case is expected in December.

These are just three legal cases that the taxpayers must cover.  The result can be devastating to the city-operating budget.

It’s your money.

*            *            *            *            *

What are the costs that are buried in the multi-page city annual budget that the average taxpayer does not receive or is unable to digest?

What are the operating costs of the Sleeman Centre and River Run theatre?

What is the total of outside consulting fees paid by the city in 2011?

How much does it cost to operate the civic museum and McRae House?

How much has the city spent developing the Hanlon Business Park?

What is the cost of operating the $34 million compost plant?

These are just some of the many questions that taxpayers have the right to know.

Unfortunately, this administration is expert at lying by omission, failing to communicate facts to the public, producing a financial statement that the public cannot understand, holding secret meetings with the Farbridge supporters without public exposure.

This last critique is that the five members of council who are not part of the Mayor’s majority are not included in these meetings. It is also unlawful under the Ontario Municipal Act.

*            *            *            *            *

Why is the Farbridge administration afraid of Cam Guthrie?

The arguments range far and wide. He’s too young. He’s inexperienced. He speaks before his brain starts working.

All ill-informed and cruel descriptions of a councillor who understands how this city has been mismanaged for six years. He knows now what has happened and how it must be fixed. But the Farbridge majority collective discredit him every chance they get.

Why? Because they see him as the catalyst that will awake the citizens to take another course for reform, responsibility and resolve for change.

Whether it’s Cam Guthrie or a tidal wave of rejection of this majority dictatorship, remains to be seen in 2014.

But the tsunami of rejection is gathering.

And the Farbridge controlled administration understands this already.


Filed under Between the Lines

14 responses to “Potpourri – a collection of events and comments

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Once again you shine light in the dark crevices of the city council and administration. In reference to the 1st topic concerning roosting chickens, the Guelph taxpayers had better be wary. MPAC has released new market based 2012 valuations for residences. Needless to say they are higher than before. Now watch the council pass tax rate increases by stealth wherein they will say the mill rate is kept constant but by basing it on new valuations, property taxes will again escalate to fund out of control spending. If council cared a whit about gouging home owners, the new valuations would only come into play when a residence is actually sold. Otherwise it becomes a tax on an investment, a residence, for which the only true market value is that which a buyer will pay when purchasing it. A long time ago, a finance professor said that “the value if an investment is only what you can get when you dis-invest”. A basic truism that is likely beyond the comprehension of most members of council and especially the CAO. With the CPI now running at 1.1%, city council had better get its ducks in a row and restrict a tax hike to that value or less through real world cost controls.
    Before any bureaucrat brings up the fanciful MPI (municipal price increase) index they had best get their heads around the TPI (taxpayer palatable index) of what is tolerable by the citizens. The chickens are truly coming home to roost.

    • Glen T Tolhurst: I hope that Guelph ratepayers see your logic and react accordingly. Imagine, the senior staff knew the Guelph properties have been re-evaluated after being put on hold for three years, yet they still proposed an 8.5 per cent increase in property taxes. It’s really simple when you think about. Increase the assessment on the property that has the result of a tax increase. Then lob an 8.5 per cent increase on top of that. Voila! Another monumental tax grab from the beleaguered taxpayers in Guelph. We’ll get a good idea next June when the adjusted tax payments are sent out. If the Mayor is smart she’ll get out of town.

    • Jeff Burke

      TPI: love it. Check out a site zillow.com, as yet unavailable in Canada.. imagine having a window in current real estate values… imagine how our taxes will drop when our property values collapse b/c only retired civil servants and teachers can afford homes.

  2. Ruby

    Karen is afraid of Cam because he’s the only young man on council who is quick to speak up about the truth.

    • Ruby: Do you get the feeling that after all her years on council, her act is getting stale? Cam is a guy who is knowledgeable and speaks the truth. These are qualities that are lacking on the Farbridge bench that is now in the third quarter of its mandate.

  3. geo

    The one honest, clear, concise, statement I’ve heard come from Walnut Mcfibby’s administration is “there is no new money for raises”.
    This coming from the most financially inept premier this province has ever had to suffer through.
    He gets it but Guelph’s administration doesn’t?
    Wilful blindness!

  4. Jeff Burke

    There is an anecdote about a councilor requesting an e-version of the 497 page Civic Annual Report— so as to quickly sift through the egregious obfuscation that it is (note: show me a publicly traded company with revenues comparable to the city with such a bloated, yet useless, document).
    After much protestation about how such as request (!) would tie up resources (!!), the information was delivered… 500 pages of single-space, single-sided 8.5 x 11.
    What are they trying to hide? In a word, ‘roll-ups’.

  5. Ruby

    Hi Gerry,
    Cam is a strong, out-spoken, plain speaking young male on council and Karen prefers weak-kneed older males that she can bully.
    Bullies are really cowards and that’s why Ian is Karen’s “pitbull” so he can “handle” Cam.
    Karen is high on the “baffle ’em with b……t” factor and Cam speaks plainly and honestly just like most citizens of Guelph.
    Re: there are several “bafffle ’em with b……t” on council…Piper, Burcher, other than Karen are the most painful to watch/hear.

    If you have to “baffle ’em with b……t”, it means you are hiding something and normal folks know that.

  6. Ruby

    Forgot to mention,the “B……T” crowd don’t have a “clue in a carload” what they are talking about either.

  7. Jay

    Re: What are the costs that are buried in the multi-page city annual budget that the average taxpayer does not receive or is unable to digest?

    Personally, I would also like someone to explain to me why downtown needs a new and very expensive library. In addition, what will the taxpayers share of the proposed Gryphon athletic facility be?

    I hear a lot of talk about Guelph’s AA rating from S&P. Farbridge seems to like to fling that one around. I would like to remind everyone that Standard and Poor’s is the same agency that gave the absolute highest ratings to CDO’s and MBS’s – leading to the 2008 financial crisis.

    A report from the FCIC last year said “The three credit rating agencies were key enablers of the financial meltdown.”

    For those who don’t remember … CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations) are the result of people like us being convinced we needed a sub-prime mortgage for more than we could afford to carry. The banks then packaged that debt up with other debt and sold it to investment banks who, in turn, sold it to investors around the globe. Then, when the day comes that we can no longer afford our mortgage payment for whatever reason, we default on the mortgage, lose our house and cause the entire global financial system to implode.

    Certainly, a credit rating agency who fails to see the problem with this structure will be blind to the problem of a city that exceeds it’s own spending limit and then just keeps on spending, thinking that perhaps an 8.5% property tax increase will get it out of the hole.

    City Hall needs a few people who understand economics. The more money you take out of the pockets of your citizens, the less money those citizens are going to have to spend in your city. In an age where CPI is almost flat and wage increases are non-existent, how can a government even entertain the prospect of such a tax and call itself responsible?

    If the financial prospects in Guelph are so good as to warrant a AA rating, why doesn’t our government just do a bond issue to cover their shortfall and get the books flush? It seems like this government is hell bent on wasting time on stupid ideas like holding companies, etc. — perhaps to make it look like they are doing something productive while confusing all of us at the same time. What they should be doing is finding ways to spend less of our money on projects that can wait. Period.

    I moved here because I wanted a less-stressful community in which to live but Farbridge is causing my temper to return. Maybe I should just go back to Toronto. At least my yard waste would be picked up more than twice a year.

    • Jay: Wow! What a great critique of the debacle at city hall. The trouble is that taxpayers are kept in the dark as these decisions are made, I use the term loosely. I call it mushroom politics because they keep us in a dark, cold place.The Farbridge justification for mismanaging funds and continuing to spend, is the bromide of an slightly elevated credit rating (yawn!); the lowest unemployment rate in the top ten in Ontario (due in part to the high number of civic, provincial, university and federal employees); and the super low crime rate. As the saying goes: Statistics lie.

      But we are still paying a rate of 89 per cent of the city’s total operating budget on employee salaries, wages and benefits (a biggie).This is not sustainable. Particularly when compared to the City of Waterloo’s employee cost is 56.6 per cent of the operational budget.

      The origins of this mess go back to the 2007 stupid decision to dismiss Chief Financial Officer David Kennedy, a veteran and capable civil servant. From that point on, the city has had four individuals acting as CFO’s. One was fired after three years on the job; next was a deputy treasurer in the finance department who has left to join Wellington County; next was a person hired who lasted one week on the job; finally we have the appointment of a new CFO who comes to Guelph from Kawartha Lakes with no formal financial designation. It is unfair to be critical of the latest CFO as he has only been on the job for a few months.

      Nevertheless, there has been long-term damage in managing the city’s finances. There has been little evidence of checks or balances. Also, critical thinking has also been tossed overboard.

      The Farbridge ship is badly listing and no amount of manning the pumps will save it.

  8. geo

    If the rumours that Farbridge won’t run for mayor again are true I believe it’s because there are to many people paying attention now.
    More people are paying attention now because of websites like this.
    So on behalf of all the people in Guelph who have financial obligations other then property taxes I would like to say thank you.

  9. Turningthecurve

    In the end, isn’t the credit rating saying that we the taxpayers will, on the whole, pay what taxes are levied against us? So it belongs to us? Also, without reading the background to it — it’s time not a statement of the impact it will have on individual families?

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