How to reduce city-spending in 2013 and not on the backs of the taxpayers

Posted November 22, 2012

As a public service, guelphspeaks offers the following suggestions to lower city spending and costs. Adopting these suggestions will result in a more reasonable property tax rate for 2013.

The Mayor recently bragged about the great credit rating the city has. She said it was recognition that city’s finances are in great shape. Note: Two “greats” don’t make it right.

Apparently the City of Guelph has a lower credit rating than that of the United States.

So where does the credit agency place Guelph with its lower rating than America?

Probably in the nervous ward.

On November 29, the public will have its chance to comment on the upcoming 2013 city budget discussions. It will be difficult for council to ignore the array of protest that will be expressed. Why? Because of the nutty staff proposal of an 8.5 per cent 2013 property tax increase made last June.

Council countered requesting a revised plan limited to a 3 per cent increase. The Chief Administration Officer, Ann Pappert, called the council request regressive and unpalatable.

Unpalatable for whom? Ms. Pappert doesn’t even pay taxes in Guelph because she lives in Waterloo.

If Guelph were a business, as the majority of council often believes, the task of balancing the budget is straightforward. It’s not Master of Business Administration 101.

First, examine and consider the cost of the City’s overhead. It includes those items that must be paid regardless. What the staff did was counter-propose to slash some popular and public services without touching the biggest budget component, employee costs.

Biggest item is staff salaries, wages and benefits. Currently it consumes 89 per cent of the total tax levy. No business can survive with labour costs gobbling up that portion of the total budget.

That percentage figure should be reduced by 5 per cent per year for the remainder of the council’s term in office. That would reduce staff costs to 79 percent by 2014. The task of performing this necessary surgery should fall on the executive team. The end savings could be $17,400,000.

Next, impose a hiring freeze for 12 months with an extension of another 12 months at council’s discretion.

With just these two directives, the city budget is on track without reduction of services.

Suspend all capital projects exceeding $5 million in 2013.

Beef up the internal audit staff to review key city services. While this runs counter to the hiring freeze, it is necessary to strengthen the internal audit role to reduce costs of operations.

Institute a review by the internal audit staff of the operating costs of the Guelph Civic Museum, River Run Theatre, Sleeman Centre, Victor Davis and Westside Recreation Centres, public libraries, plus all city owned property.

Take charge of Guelph Transit to lower costs. Cancel all passes. Cancel service on Sunday and designated holidays. Renegotiate union contracts to reduce operating costs. Change configuration of the fleet equipment to using more economical smaller vehicles to service low rider routes. Freeze the city subsidy until an independent citizen’s committee can review and recommend on all transit operations.

Charge water usage and waste treatment based on demand. The more you use the more it costs. The golf course exemption of water use, regardless of source, will be charged as any other property tax user.

All matters of waste management are to be reviewed by an independent committee composed of only Guelph residents and led by the independent Guelph Waste Management organization. The committee will have total access to all documents pertaining to the organic waste facility, the dry recyclable plant and the sewage treatment facility. It will report its findings to open council within eight months.

Reduce downtown Guelph development spending by 50 per cent. Instead, redirect such funding to serve the needs of other parts of the city.

Introduce a new plan to cut the cost of development in the city. Particularly to those developers bringing jobs to the community. Incentives should be carefully applied so that the entire city benefits.

Pledge to process development applications within three months.

Hiring outside lawyers and consultants must be accompanied by a business plan and approved by council as a whole in open session. Staff can recommend but council must approve any outside hiring.

Public support of community groups and the arts is to be eliminated. If a group has a cause, then they should finance it, not the taxpayers.

Instruct the staff not to approve any University of Guelph building plans or proposals without review of council. Such plans must be accompanied by an independent expert impact report on city-supplied services.

Finally, review the entire governance system employed by the administration to simplify procedures and expedite public input and understanding of the city’s business. This includes clarity in all financial statements.


Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “How to reduce city-spending in 2013 and not on the backs of the taxpayers

  1. Cheryl Schmidt

    To Whom It May Concern: The best article I have ever read and I have been reading Guelph Speaks from conception and Gerry Barker editorials in the Guelph Mercury. Surely to God the Mayor and the City Councillors will wake up and do what is necessary for a wonderful City prior to Farbridge and the councillors elect. Wake up Guelph including the South End of the City which is mostly newcomers. You have a lot at stake and if you do not act it will be too late. I have lived her my whole life and I am just sick to see what is happening. I have not visited downtown for over 15 years. I would much rather spend my money elsewhere.

    • Cheryl Schmidt: Thank you for the kind words.The response to the blog and the comments astonishes me and reinforces that I’m not the only one in the city that figures our city is in a financial mess. The facts are there and yet our Mayor keeps proclaiming that Guelph is one of the best run cities in the country. This administration has little regard for the stakeholders who supply 94 per cent of the city revenue through property taxes. They have featherbedded hundreds of employees with above average private enterprise wage levels. The defined pension plans for city employees are guaranteed by taxpayers, forever. The city is run be a slim majority of council whose pet projects have soaked up millions in the past six years. Is it any wonder that citizens are upset? Tell your friends and neighbours to drop into my website for regular news and updates of a city gone rogue. We may have been asleep in 2010 but the sleeping giant is awakening and there will be change.

  2. geo

    These suggestions are clear ,concise, easy to enact and will really save us a significant amount of money.
    Run for Mayor Gerry and put these measures in place. Just keep an eye on any Farbridge supporters, if there are any still left on council, because the day these changes are voted in they may have a stroke.

    • geo: The city’s 2013 budget proposals, all 300-plus pages are posted on its website. As well has being laudatory about the great job they are doing, the document defies interpretation. It is a typical Farbridge administration smokescreen that follows the old adage that “BS baffles brains”.
      To most people in town this document is only understood by those who created it. It is pure obfuscation lacking transparency and clarity. But don’t worry there are those among us that have peeled back the layers of baloney and their findings will be clear and concise concerning the state of the city and the operational mess we are in. Stay tuned.

  3. geo

    Gerry I wonder what it costs to create a 300 page document that is purposely unreadable? You could probably fill multiple wading pools.

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