The dog ate my homework or how council shifts the blame for high employee costs

Posted November 30, 2012

There were two presenters among more than 17 at Thursday night’s council meeting to hear 2013 budget presentations by the public. The two were the only one’s presenting facts and figures critical of the administration’s handling of the city’s business.

Separate from those groups asking for money, Sue Ricketts and Bill Tufts of Fair Pensions for All, seemed to get some members of council’s attention. The duo in their five minute presentation attempted to demonstrate how staff costs had grown exponentially faster that the actual city growth of population. Further they predicted that staff costs will double every five years.

So Coun. Karl Wettstein mounted the first line of defence claiming the 68.1 per cent staff cost increase in the past five years was due to the province downloading jobs to the city. He’s kidding, right?

He neglected to mention that every municipality in the province also received downloaded jobs, not just Guelph. Later Coun. Todd Dennis made the same claim. It was countered by saying the only jobs downloaded was a small group of EMS personnel.

Coun. Lise Burcher added that the Association of Municipal Employers and the Canadian Federation of Municipalities should be responsible for urging employee cost changes.

Does the councillor really believe that? Does she think that Guelph’s serious over-staffing problem is going to be resolved by other organizations? No one on council would admit that it was their responsibility to curb growing employee costs and the future costs to taxpayers.

But it was Guelph citizen Milton Burns who laid out the facts of the high growth of staff and benefits that met stony silence from council. Using their own 2011 Human Resources Report  (HRR) figures, Burns laid out the frightening scenario of how city employee costs have exploded in the past five years. In 2006 the staff cost totaled $92,369,323. In 2011, the staff costs were $155,215,713 averaging annual increases of 10.9 per cent. In the same period Guelph’s population grew by 5.8 per cent. Or just over 1 per cent per year.

To bolster his revealing presentation, Burns compared Guelph’s 68.1 per cent increase of employee costs, over five years, to that of four neighbouring municipalities including: Cambridge, 29.6 per cent; Kitchener, 35.4 percent; Waterloo, 46.6 per cent; Waterloo Region, 42.8 per cent.

They all had provincial jobs downloaded over the five-year period. That being the case, why is Guelph’s cost of employees far greater than that of its peer cities?

If any private business allowed this kind of growth of employment costs without supporting revenues to justify it, it would be out of business and the board of directors fired.

He pointed out the effect of the difference in terms of money to the Guelph budget. It means applying it the city’s cost structure, would result in an additional $26 million being available for the benefit of taxpayers in a single year.

As Burns admonished council: “You heard that correctly, the amount would be $26 million.”

So Thursday night, when all those organizations lined up to ask for money from the city, they can look at the civic staff whose bloated salaries, wages and benefits are taking 89 per cent of the city property tax levy.

It is a delicious irony that two representatives of the labour movement claiming at the meeting that the privatization of city work would be less productive than the regular staff. They praised the Farbridge administration for the great job it is doing. The Farbridge majority is dependent on the city union workers for support. It now appears that they have been amply rewarded.

What’s the old story? “Ya gotta dance with the one who brung ya.”

Producing figures from the City’s own annual HRR on page 7, Burns said the combined benefits are 14 per cent higher than the benchmark. Assuming that the standard benefits ie dental, medical, insurance and OMERS pension contributions are in line, there are $17 million of undocumented benefits that are 35 per cent higher than the benchmark. In just five years, benefits rose by 81 per cent or 12.5 per cent per year.

Yet only Coun. Andy Van Hellemond asked Burns if he had any suggestions to change the situation. The rest sat, stony faced and did not challenge any of Burns’ figures.

Mayor Farbridge put the wagons in a circle and defined council’s response to this damning indictment of mismanaging staff costs in stunning silence.

And we’re going to get another two years of this cockeyed mismanagement of our city. Silence indeed, secrecy abounds, transparency left the station six years ago and the staff laughs all the way to the bank.

Shame on them and shame on us for letting it happen.


Filed under Between the Lines

4 responses to “The dog ate my homework or how council shifts the blame for high employee costs

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    I would have enjoyed seeing Mr. Burns laying out the details of council’s financial mismanagement, the legacy of which all Guelph citizens will bear the brunt for years to come. The mayor’s and council’s silence speaks volumes as any bafflegab they could have mustered would not have changed the stark reality of their dismal financial stewardship and complete absence of any semblance of responsible leadership.

  2. Tom

    Absolutely disgusting and scary at the same time, they keep hiring employees then hire consultants to do the employees jobs! Being a Guelphite all my life and now having 3 children growing up in Guelph, I feel things have gotten a lot worse for the taxpayer under Farnbridge, she and our taypayers money is out of control

  3. Sue Ricketts

    Thanks for your encouragement & for publishing this information. I will do my best to ensure that the word keeps getting out.

    • Sue Ricketts: Our council has been brainwashed to believe the soaring employee costs are not a problem. The blatant ignorance of this serious issue is unbelievable. Keep up the good work on the pension issue that threatens to bankrupt many municipalities in Ontario in the next 10 to 20 years. By that time the architects of this growing debacle will be long gone but always remembered.

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