Posted May 19, 2013
You do not require a PhD to figure out that the past six-and-a-half years of Mayor Karen Farbridge being in charge has been a rolling disaster. The Mayor’s spin machine is working overtime these days to convince voters that all is well in Guelph city. It’s a mawkish, self-serving prelude to the municipal elections in 2014.
Well, what follows is a pointed rejection of the misguided, often secretive actions taken by the majority Farbridge administration. Many attempts have been made to change the culture of the city with abortive social engineering strategies to forever alter the way our city functions.
The myth list is based on impact facts, not hyperbole being pumped out of city hall.
MYTH 1 – In a recent article in the Mercury, it was claimed that Guelph is creating manufacturing jobs while elsewhere in Canada the sector is shrinking. In fact the story heading referred to the anomaly as a “jackpot.”
Really! What the story left out was the impact of this “Manufactured Jackpot” on the city’s tax base. Despite the glowing remarks of the Mayor and Peter Cartwright, general manger of economic development, the amount of industrial/commercial assessment is stuck at 16 per cent of all city property assessment. It’s been stuck there since 2006 when Mayor Farbridge was elected. That means the city must rely on 84 per cent of its residential tax base for its main source of revenue.
Mr. Cartwright is quoted: “We were just looking at some statistics on development charges and noticed the industrial and commercial rates have been pretty stable over the last few years, which is pleasantly surprising given where the economy is.”
This self-serving comment strikes right at the problem residents face every year. There is zero growth in the 16/84 ratio. Despite all the efforts of the economic development department have failed to grow the industrial/commercial tax base. In almost seven years that ratio hasn’t budged. Until it does, the long-suffering residential taxpayers will be whacked with unwarranted tax increases every year.
Ideally, that ratio should be 60 per cent residential assessment and 40 per cent industrial/commercial. When you have the university, schools, public buildings and religious organization not paying property taxes it places a huge strain on the residential property owners.
While the Mayor blamed the recession for a lack of additional industrial commercial development, her development policies, since her election, have deflated many attempts by private interests to establish in Guelph. Our city administration has earned the reputation of being a tough place in which to do business.
MYTH 2 – Failure to meet provincial government mandated residential growth rates. Recently the city admitted that it has fallen short in maintaining provincial government mandated residential growth rates. Last year the target was 726 homes short of the annual growth rate of 1,666 recommended by staff. T figurehat will see the city population reach 175,000 by 2030 under the provincial long-range planning program.
When you see the combination of stagnate industrial/commercial assessment coupled with the failure to generate residential development, it isn’t hard to figure out that residential taxpayers will be the losers for years to come. This is a prime example of the Farbridge failure to promote sustainable growth to allow the city to grow in a responsible and measured way.
Unfortunately the damage has been done and there is no quick fix to the situation. A change in municipal government would be a beginning.
MYTH 3 – The Mayor often brags about Guelph having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Let’s take a closer look at that statement. The employment complement in Guelph is composed of an estimated 6,800 government and educational employees who are paid through your taxes and mine. That’s a solid secure block of employees who have the ultimate in job security and benefits, unlike the private sector.
The number is somewhat skewed by the employees at the University. This institution does not pay property taxes but a payment of $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. With some 22,000 students and an aggressive growth of facilities, the result is Guelph taxpayers are directly subsidizing the operations of this public institution.
And yet, the university enjoys unfettered commercial and office development of its lands along Stone Road. It joined with the city to object to a private developer wanting to build badly needed student housing across the street from the university. Fortunately, the Ontario Municipal Board saw it differently and approved the project.
The university needs Guelph and Guelph needs the university. There must be a leveling of the playing field when it comes to paying a fair share of property taxes.
Prediction: Even with Guelph MPP Liz Sandals as Minister of Education, this will not change as long as Kathleen Wynne remains Premier of Ontario.
MYTH 4 – In one of the most sweeping changes in diverting waste of the landfill at St. Thomas, Guelph council spent more than $50 million to process waste. They did it without adequate public hearings. The result is a $36 million organic waste processing plant that was overbuilt at taxpayer expense. After two years, it has yet to reach its predicted 30,000 tonnes a year production. And there is little evidence to expect the plant to reach its capacity in the immediate future.
With a 20-year lifespan and dependent on 20,000 tonnes of its feedstock from the Region of Waterloo, the 2012 production of processing just 17,000 tonnes is an ominous harbinger of the expensive experiment turning into a white elephant of epic proportions. Low volume tonnage drives up the cost, as the overhead fixed costs require volume to break-even.
When you toss in the $15 million for a new waste collection system that was not required by the Ministry of Environment, one gets the uncomfortable feeling that Guelph taxpayers are subsidizing the operation for the benefit of outside interests.
The Farbridge administration supports the zealous partisan adherents interested only in inflicting sketchy environmental policies that most people did not vote for or ask for.
MYTH 5 – There has been a lot of money spent to create bicycle lanes on major roads. Once again this is a long-range social engineering plan by the Farbridge majority on council. The bicycle lobby is demanding more money be spent on special lanes.
This year, council agreed to spend $750,000 for more bike lanes, but the cyclist lobby protested, demanding more money to accommodate a small group of enthusiasts. More than 97 per cent of residents using the roads use a form of motorized transportation. You cannot ride a bike safely in wet weather, winter conditions, to pick-up groceries, park and lock the bike at destinations, move large objects or take children to school safely. There is also loss of use if the bike is stolen.
For the Far bridge majority to push the use of bicycles in the city against an overwhelming number of citizens using vehicles is dangerous and egregious.
Coun. Maggie Laidlaw’s bumptious support of biking is epitomized in the now famous comment: “In 20 years there will be no cars on the streets of Guelph.” That was made five years ago, How’s that working for you, Maggie?
These myths are classic Farbridge lore. Her motto is “Don’t tell them what they want to hear, tell them what we want them to hear.”
The way the Farbridge system works: Is meet any problem with a new strategy to solve it. Like that worked when the annual collection of Christmas trees was cut by the city.