Posted March 1, 2013
More than six years ago, the voters of Guelph elected a city council dominated by candidates who believed that the city should be taken in a new direction. Their leader was Mayor Karen Farbridge.
It was the beginning of transforming small town thinking into a new city.
The Farbridge supporters were ecstatic and the Mayor quickly reset the city agenda to meet her plans to turn the city into an environmental and heritage showcase. It became an obsession and most taxpayers had little knowledge or appreciation of neither what the “new order” agenda meant nor how it would impact the city’s ability to pay for the impending capital spending.
Almost immediately following the 2006 election, the council approved spending $6.7 million to restore the derelict Loretto Convent to become a new civic museum. The city entered a contract with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, owner’s of the pre 1867 building. Details of that contract have never been revealed. This was followed by Federal and Provincial grants totaling $6 million. It took four years to complete.
There is no doubt the museum and its artifacts of the past are better situated in the restored building. Unfortunately, at a cost of some $15 million, it was done in the name of saving a heritage building located on land not owned by the city.
In the middle of the first term, the world economy collapsed. As a result the Federal and Provincial governments offered to pay two thirds of “shovel ready” infrastructure projects as part of a nationwide stimulus package. In Guelph’s case, the city received approval for $66 million of which it had to provide $22 million. This $66 million ballooned to $72 with added projects that were the city’s responsibility.
So what was the source of the $22 million plus $6 million?
The Mayor proposed selling Guelph Hydro to a consortium of power companies including Hamilton and St. Catharines. There was public outrage at this proposal and, rarely, even some of the Mayor’s cohorts, voted against the deal. It was defeated.
But that’s not the end of the story. Guelph Hydro, owed $30 million to the city. That note was called and some of the proceeds were used to pay the various stimulus projects.
If anything that major infrastructure restoration was probably the greatest achievement of the Farbridge administration. How it was paid for is questionable. Nevertheless, with a couple of exceptions, it improved the city’s ailing infrastructure.
The real jewel in the Farbridge administration’s crown is the organic waste management plant on Watson Road. What started out as more environmentally processing of wet waste, turned out to be a bonanza for the designer and contractor of the $37 million plant. Not only did contractor Maple Reinders build the plant but also a subsidiary company, Aim Environmental, would run it and sell the excess capacity.
This turned out to be the tip of the iceberg as the city decided to scrap its pre-sort three plastic garbage system. Despite the Ministry of Environment ruling that plastic bags were allowed in the new plant, the city decided to spend another $15 million to install a bin system that required expensive new collector trucks to make it all work.
Now to a number of citizen’s this huge capital expense was a waste of the taxpayer’s money. Then it was discovered that some material destined to be processed in the new plant was still going to the landfills.
The process to get this operation running as designed, took more than a year to test, adjust and meet the emission standards that the nearby neighbourhoods demanded.
The major chunk of capacity of the plant was sold to the Region of Waterloo who is paying less than the operating costs of the plant — $141 per tonne versus operating cost estimated at up to $342 a tonne. The reason the figure is estimated is because the city will not reveal the operating costs. The Guelph Waste Management Coalition has researched the cost per tonne and it is much higher than the deal struck with the Region of Waterloo.
Meanwhile, there is no new downtown library, no South-end Recreation Centre, a downtown parking crisis. Plus, 13 ongoing lawsuits involving litigation, some 19 Ontario Municipal Board hearings and a number of issues involving public liability expected to be covered by insurance when settled.
This cannot go on or our grandchildren will be paying for it and possibly, their children.