This is how panic mode strikes at City Hall

Posted December 4, 1012

Having mismanaged the city’s finances by loading up staff, multi-million dollar capital projects and specious social engineering strategies, the Farbridge administration has now screwed up its tightly wound control.

Let’s remember that the Farbridge cohorts on council have controlled the agenda for six years. There has been little opposition as it exercised absolute power with the complicity of senior staff.

Their first major mistake came November 29 when council invited the public to present their views regarding the 2013 budget. The usual folks were there wanting more money for their causes. That was duly reported in the paper. Two representatives of labour spoke glowingly of the great job the Farbridge administration was doing.  It was a giant suck up, to say the least.

Then along came three presenters who were critical of the administration’s handling of employee growth and costs since 2006. Followers of guelphspeaks were the first to publicly receive details of those well-documented presentations the next day.

At city hall, the finance department was in full defence mode to check the figures presented showing how the city staff costs had grown by 68.1 per cent in five years. It was revealed that Guelph’s employee costs in the same period, on average, exceeded those of neighbouring cities such as Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and the Region of Waterloo. The difference of more than 20 percentage points was staggering.

The local daily reported none of this. But five days later, the Tribune became the designated hitter, to rebut the claims of a bloated and costly civic staff. It was obvious that the Trib reporter left before Milton Burns and Jeff Burke had presented their well-documented submissions to council.

In the Tribune, here’s how some city councillors explained why Guelph’s employee costs were far higher than the peer group:

Let’s start with human resources chief Mark Amorosi.

He described the problems comparing private sector compensation with that of municipal employees. “There are elements to private sector compensation, especially at the senior level, that aren’t available to their public sector counterparts. In the private sector there are stock options, annual bonuses – it just goes on and on,” he said. Perhaps he should take his talents to the private sector if he believes that.

Oh, wonder how many of Linamar’s 12,000 employees received stock options and bonuses? Wonder how secure their jobs are compared to Guelph civic employees? It’s because in that sector, performance is measured by efficiency and productivity, and you get to keep your job. No offense to most city workers.

The most hilarious comment came from Coun. Maggie Laidlaw who suggested that private sector workers should organize to fight for more attractive wages and benefits, “rather than the city joining a race to the bottom.”

Did Maggie have her bicycle helmet on too tight that night?  As an employee of the University of Guelph, does her illogical statement apply to that public institution as well? No racing to the bottom there.

Coun. Todd Dennis brought up the cause of the high city employee costs as the downloading of jobs from the province. Turns out there were 50 jobs downloaded, not a significant number compared to the 1,500 plus equivalent full-time city staff.

Ward six bench mate, Karl Wettstein, added, “the staff number thing is a bit of a red herring, a lot of that is downloading.”

It obvious that both these guys and a number of their confreres believe that their high employee costs are due to the provincial government downloading responsibilities and jobs. Well, let’s be clear, the same downloading happened to the four neighbouring municipalities mentioned previously. And they still managed their staff costs more efficiently than Guelph, by a broad margin.

That argument is an insult to taxpayers.

It’s easy to blame someone else for your own mismanagement.  The hard truth is that there has been wholesale hiring of city staff to fill jobs created by the crazy quilt of policies that the Farbridge group has inflicted on the city.

Examples abound: Zooming transportation costs, excessive compensation packages, featherbedding of locked-in jobs, opaque secret meetings, no clarity of positions, mangled communications, dodging responsibilities, excessive employee benefits, saddling the taxpayers with unnecessary pension and benefit liabilities, and, finally telling the residents what they want them to hear, but not what they need to know.

When council gathers to complete the 2013 budget, they have one sure-fire way of raising property taxes by just 2 per cent as the Guelph Chamber of Commerce requested.

Stop listening to the senior staff; freeze all hiring and lay-off 50 employees regardless of rank, last in first out.

There! That was easy.

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33 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

33 responses to “This is how panic mode strikes at City Hall

  1. Pingback: This is how panic mode strikes at City Hall - Cambridge Advocate

  2. Jerry

    They have blamed everybody else for the problems at city hall from day
    one.
    The problem now is they got no more holes to shovel the s–t into and
    people of Guelph are finally smelling the aroma over Guelph.And not
    liking it.
    I never voted for the mayor from day one and hopefully more like minded
    people will do the same.
    Big changes in 2014.

    • Jerry: This will an election about the math. The city’s books are so cooked that it would take a forensic accountant to sort it out. Unfortunately, that option probably won’t happen as the Mayor circles the wagons to dispute recent factual financial evidence of gross mismanagement of the taxpayers money. She is backed into a corner as details of tax increases during her recent terms in office, reveal the city being grossly overtaxed when compared to the consumer price index (CPI). In 12 years Guelph property taxes have increased by 80 per cent, most of the increase occurring on Mayor Farbridge’s watch. The CPI in the same period increased by only 30 per cent. ‘Nuff said.

  3. joseph paul phelan

    The mayor and her special cronies continue to be the wart on Guelph’s ass!!!

  4. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Gerry: Your 2nd last sentence drove home the point that staff has to be cut, but it should be taken one step further and that is terminate those whose finger prints are on the documents approving the hiring of the excess personnel. The next step is a 2 term limit for the mayor and councilors.

    • Glen N. Tolhurst: I like the two term limit idea for elected municipal officials. Unfortunately, the province has to make that change and the lobbyists will be out in force to defeat it if proposed. Karen Farbridge will have served as mayor for 11 years by 2014. That’s a solid reason for a two term limit.

  5. Jerry

    Hi Glen
    The problem with your theory of termination of those with finger prints on
    the documents approving the hiring are they are already been terminated with big
    release bonuses(or big pay offs to keep their mouths shut).Or been reassigned to other jobs.
    Too many escape rat holes to follow.I say let them all go (with no big
    bonuses)and start from scratch.

  6. geo

    The fire fighters contract is up. Lets see what the new one looks like. Can you say pay freeze.

  7. Jeff Burke

    It’s a tough thing to rebut, the value of workers who DO put their lives on the line, like coppers and firefighters… the question I am left with is ‘how much is too much?” For a friend of mine who put in piles of (unpaid) OT at Christmas to pursue a homicide investigation— is her worth $65K per year, 130K per year. Is a fair pension 25% of jis last five years? Two percent for every year of services times last five?
    Hard to say, but I gather there are long lines of young men eager to enter these fields… hmmm.

    • joseph paul phelan

      No one forces them into these occupations….it is a choice…but i agreee…it is diffiucult to decide what a fair wage/pension is for those careers where the employees put their lives on the line….

  8. geo

    Soldiers put their lives on the line, what does a Canadian soldier earn?

  9. Glen N. Tolhurst

    I think we are drifting away from the point of civic workers’, unionized and others, pay raises. The military, particularly those who served in Afghanistan and are suffering physical and mental wounds,are treated abominably by the current federal government. The veterans who die destitute are denied a decent burial by the government.

    • joseph paul phelan

      Anyone who serves in the military deserves better wages and pensions and certainly a decent burial by the government…….

  10. geo

    Does anyone know who negotiates with City Staff on behalf of the Taxpayer? Another city staffer?
    I heard Councillor Kovach ask how much debt the City is carrying during Dec 5th’s meeting and I believe the response was $10,000,000.
    Is that correct?

    • joseph paul phelan

      Not sure what the debt is but you can be guaranteed that Farbridge is behind most of it…….citizens should pitch in and send her a one way ticket to Siberia.

    • geo: The formula used by the city is 55 per cent of the total tax levy limits capital spending. My latest understanding of the city’s debt is $119 million which exceeds the 55 per cent limit. Without assessment growth, the administration’s ability to build a $63 million downtown library and $34 million south end recreation centre, is severely impaired. Too much was spent elsewhere in the past six years.

    • geo: i did not hear that comment but the debt load is substantially higher. The city borrowed $10 million to complete the infrastructure at the Hanlon Business Park. This is considered a short term “investment” with sale of property to businesses going to repay the lender. Unfortunately, sales have not met expectations and the cost of borrowing grows.

  11. geo

    City debt confuses me because I thought Provincial policy was a municipality cannot carry any.

    • geo: The provincial government mandates that the annual city budget must be balanced. In other words, the city cannot carry a deficit forward to the next year. Debt is allowed within reasonable parameters. It is interesting that the city in three years – 2009 to 2011, spent more than it took in from its revenue streams of which the taxpayers are responsible for 94 per cent. Those deficits had to be covered in each succeeding year’s budget. That starts to explain why the staff proposed a property tax increase of 8.5 per cent for 2013. Also why the budgeting process is a sham and incomprehensible to most taxpayers.

  12. Glen N. Tolhurst

    The shell game that passes for budgeting indicates a 2.97% tax hike to pay for an operating budget of $185 Million and capital budget of $51.7 Million. Also in the budget is a $500,000 “efficiency target”, which is a monstrous 0.27% of the budget. In the real world that % is a “rounding error”. How can that level of spending be covered by a 2.97% tax hike? The answer is that the phantom tax increase enabled by the nearly 4% MPAC assessment increase compounds on top of the tax hike!! This assessment increase will occur for each of the next 4 years. The tax and spend members of council and the administration’s budget boffins must be salivating so much one might think they should be checked for rabies.

    • Glen N.Tolhurst: Talk about voodoo economics! We poor shlubs are helpless against this torrent of contrived facts and figures. What’s the expression? Garbage in, garbage out (unintended pun). So who IS running the show? Is it the Mayor and her cohorts? Or CAO Ann Pappert who increasingly looks like she’s in over her head. You have to feel sorry for new CFO Al Horsman who unknowingly walked into this gooey morass of mismanagement. Calling management “boffins” is a misnomer.

  13. joseph paul phelan

    I would like to know if there is another city in Canada more poorly managed than the city of Guelph. Since Farbridge has been at the helm the ship has been slowly sinking. Taxes continue to sky rocket and over the top spending….perhaps the tax dollars could be spent on a new pair of spectacles for the Mayor to see more clearly the gross errors she is making….she needs to retire to Florida and get the hell out of municipal politics which she has no clue about.

    • joseph paul phelan: Comments on guelphspeaks should be respectful and not attack people personally. It’s always better to question policies than to resort to name calling.

  14. geo

    Should we get a pool going on when Horsman bails. Watching him on the tube during council meetings, he looks like the guy who just pulled a double shift and when he goes home his wife wants the kitchen painted; now!

    • geo: Ouch! I was reminded the other day of the lack of professional degrees and qualifications that our senior staff hold in connection with their responsibilities. The executive director of environment, planning and engineering holds a Phd in philosophy. Even the Mayor’s educational credits include a degree in marine biology.The city has lost some well-educated and skilled senior staff in the past six years. It supports the theory that it isn’t what you know, but who you know.

  15. joseph paul phelan

    Just what Guelph needed was a philosopher for a director of environment and engineering and a mayor who may knows a lot about water but can’t seem to stay out of getting Guelph deeper into the hot water of debt. I hope the next election sends her to the depths of the ocean where she will feel more at home and better able to serve its inhabitants…..

  16. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Hopefully, the wallets of the Guelph taxpayers won’t be torpedoed again B4 Oct 2014.

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