Monthly Archives: June 2013

CITY VIEW – Our Teflon Mayor, nothing sticks to her

Posted June 30, 2013

The Farmer’s Market renovation project is yet another example of how our city administration can fumble a project so dismally.

Last fall city council approved a 2013 budget that included spending $170,000 on renovation the Farmer’s Market, a jewel in the downtown part of the city.

That initiative had to be investigated by someone prior to implementation. In our city nothing happens without the express approval of Mayor Karen Farbridge.

Was the city staff instructed to perform a renovation of the market including a two-month relocation to Exhibition Park? If so, was there staff planning that led to the approval by council of the $170,000 in 2013? If so, why did the cost almost triple later?

The public who patronized the market and its vendors, were never asked where the temporary location should be.

Out of the blue, the staff responsible for the renovation said it needed $500,000 to complete the job. This figure was never approved by council and the entire project tumbled into confusion, incompetence and misuse of the public trust.

So a crisis developed. Here we are eight months after initial approval of the market project and staff cannot find a contractor to do the work at the budgeted price before September 1.

And our Teflon Mayor, what does she say about all this? Nothing, nada. She adroitly shuffles the project out of her office offering no opinion as to what must happen to resolve the situation. That’s how the lady works. If a project goes wrong, she disappears into the closet. If it goes right, and few do, she claims credit through the press, her blog and in taxpayer-paid press releases.

Oh, she uses all the buzzwords such as innovation, robust, integrity, vibrant, streamline, ad nauseum.

This mayor is a closet mayor. She tightly controls city business so that there is manifest fear among staff members who are afraid to speak their minds. The mayor rarely appears to speak in public only in situations where questions are not asked. In almost seven years she has never held a press conference to allow the media to question her policies.

Back to the Farmer’s Market, staff now say they have cut the specifications on the project to reduce the cost. What specs were dropped?

Is this what happened with the overbuilt $34 million Organic Waste Processing Facility to accommodate waste from the Region of Waterloo? Is this the same facility that operated at less than 60 per cent of its planned capacity in 2012?

Is this another example of wasteful spending on paving bricks purchased in the U.S. that failed to be delivered on schedule unnecessarily tying up Carden Street for months?

It could be argued that waste management is an abstract thing in most citizen’s minds. But fool around with the Farmer’s Market and you have kicked over the bee hive of public anger and distrust.

Because of the Mayor’s close ties with the unions that comprise some 80 per cent of civic staff, don’t expect any heads to roll for this example of stunning incompetence.

When you compare Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who faced the media daily about the flooding of his city, to Guelph’s closeted mayor who ducks every time something goes wrong, it is to weep in anguish.

Her legacy as mayor, as an absent public persona, has been utterly discredited by a track record of wasteful spending, bungled operations, dysfunctional council and staff, record tax and user fee increases.

We deserve better.

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Help! A memo to Liz Sandals, MPP Guelph

Posted June 20, 2013

Dear Minister:

Congratulations on becoming Ontario’s Minister of Education.

Following your elevation to Cabinet, there is a pressing Guelph issue that requires your attention and action. It concerns the amount of property taxes the University of Guelph pays in lieu of property taxes.

In 1983, the provincial government approved a plan that all universities in the province would pay a “bed tax” of $75 per registered student in lieu of property taxes..

Now, some 30 years later, the rate has not changed. Calculating the worth of the dollar in 1983 to today, it is not difficult to understand the universities have the deal of the century. Throw in the increasing cost of living in 30 years and the deal becomes even sweeter.

The universities are paying bed tax rates in 1983 dollars while the exacerbated rate of inflation in 30 years further diminishes the contribution to the City of Guelph.

Today Minister, the University of Guelph paid $1,6500,000 in lieu of property taxes.That is a minor contribution in tax revenues for a corporation worth more than $400 million.

The University is unique in Ontario. It owns hundreds of acres in the city with much of it vacant or leased to public and private enterprise. The institution’s holdings run from just east of the Hanlon to Victoria Road. It owns property on both sides of Stone Road much of it leased providing a stream of revenue to the school’s coffers.

In fact, the University has been in the land development business for a number of years.

Minister, this week it was revealed that a small parcel of University property fronting on Victoria Road was in the process of being sold to Reid’s Heritage Homes for an undisclosed amount. Ordinarily this would not make the real estate page. But there were some revelations in the report that should be brought to your attention.

Don O’Leary, the University’s Vice President of Finance and Administration, stated that proceeds from the sale of “University Heritage” lands goes into a $228 million endowment fund that grew by $10 million from 2011 and 2012.

The money is used for student assistance, faculty chairs, research and infrastructure support. Translated that means undefined student assistance, recruiting highly respected academics for teaching and research, building and renovating university buildings.

Minister, that’s an admirable achievement and all they have to pay for all that land, facilities and revenue producing properties, is $1.65 million per year in lieu of property taxes.

The taxpayers of Guelph have to subsidize the public transit system by some $15 million that transports thousands of students during the school year. They pay for maintenance of the streets and roads that are used daily by University staff and students. They pay for emergency services such as police, fire and EMS. They pay for water and sewer connections and service. They pay for civic staff services required by the University for planning and infrastructure applications.

I’m sure that your government doesn’t want to touch this with a barge pole. It is rife with dangerous political shoals.

The University of Guelph stands alone among the Ontario institutions of higher learning. Because it was once an Agricultural and Veterinary College with hundreds of acres and few neighbours, it has become the centre of the growing city with ownership of lands surrounded by residential growth.

Minister, this situation is an unfair burden to Guelph taxpayers, many of whom are your constituents. Only your government can change the arrangement that is outdated and a detriment to the civic operations of Guelph.

Here’s how to change it by amending the original Act. Increase the bed tax rate over three years. Start with year one $125; year two $150; year three $175. The final figure would be indexed to the official rate of inflation in succeeding years.

In this way, all universities in the province would benefit, not just the University of Guelph.

This would not require provincial funding. It will require the schools to realistically budget the increase but not increase tuitions. In the University of Guelph’s case, there is ample revenue stream to cover the increased costs of paying a fair share of property taxes.

The pay back is a fairer arrangement for municipal taxpayers living in communities with universities.

Mister, the people of Guelph are counting on your influence to correct this situation.

Best wishes,

Gerry Barker
Editor – guelphspeaks.ca

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CITY VIEW – This is what happens when our city operates in secret

Posted June 12, 2013

Waterloo Region finance and administration manager in the waste management division, Shahin Virani, said recently that the contract cut with Guelph to compost 20,000 tonnes of its wet waste remains a good deal for the Region.

Here are the numbers: Waterloo contracted to supply a minimum of 20,000 tonnes per year at a cost of $2.3 million. That works out to $1.15 per tonne. But wait a minute. Did not the Guelph waste management tell us the Waterloo income was $1.41 per tonne?

Assuming the cost of borrowing to build the plant is 4 per cent, interest alone comes to $1.400,000 per year. It diminishes as principal is paid off. Details of the financing of this project have never been revealed.

Did the Waterloo politicians know something we didn’t know? This was a bargain too good to pass up. Let taxpayers in Guelph pay the capital costs to build the plant.

This brings up the hidden issue of cost/benefit of this $36 million investment. No one wants to talk about what it costs the taxpayers of Guelph to operate that plant.

What rationale determined that Guelph’s current output of wet waste is only 10,000 tonnes per year but went ahead and built a plant that can easily process 30,000 tonnes per year? And, the facility is approved to process up to 60,000 tonnes per year.

Who negotiated the deal with Waterloo? One would think that the Guelph negotiators would not sell two thirds of current plant capacity at a loss. Would they?

Was the negotiator the subsidiary of plant contractor, Maple Reinders? Is Aim Environmental, involved in a sweetheart deal with the city to have not only exclusive operating rights in the plant, with 16 employees, but to sell unused capacity including finished compost?

To add to the mystery of how the city spent $53 million on waste collection and processing, consider how citizens are now denied spring and fall garden waste and brush collection. That’s right up there with city denial to pick up Christmas trees last year.

Don’t forget there has been money spent upgrading the recycling plant and transfer station. Yet the city refuses to consider sending its recyclables to the new automated Waste Management recycling plant in Cambridge where costs are considerably lower.

It is impossible for taxpayers to evaluate these capital expenditures when no justification is provided by the administration.

Did anyone familiar with the details ever complete a cost/benefit analysis?

Unless the administration ‘fesses up, tells the truth about this project’s operations and cost/benefit, Guelph’s reputation as being run by rubes will endure.

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How the 2013 property tax rate zoomed by 26 per cent

Posted June 11, 2013

Remember last fall when the council worked to keep the property tax increase at three per cent or less? Remember when the staff proposed an 8.5 percent property tax increase?

As council deliberations sought to keep the increase in that range, Coun. Gloria Kovach came up with a proposal to keep the increase below three per cent. She suggested the staff cut $500,000 in their budgets that would lower the increase to 2.96 per cent. That would be the smallest increase in seven years.

Everyone went home that night feeling good about themselves after approving the Kovach proposal.

Well, it hasn’t turned out that way. Checking with the finance department the real increase is now 3.74 per cent. In addition Impac Corporation, the provincial assessment concern, will increase property assessments over the next four years. The increases must be phased equally each year starting this year.

Here’s an example. Suppose your property is currently assessed at $300,000. Impac would reassess the property and determine the market value has gone up 15 percent since former Premier Dalton McGuinty stopped property re-assessments five years ago. That means your home has a current market value of $345,000. Over the next four years your assessment will increase by $6,000 a year.

This affects the tax base of the city as the increases in assessments provides more property tax revenue.

This process started with the 2013 tax year.

There is nothing the city can do about these increases as it is provincially mandated and affects every property in the province.

What is bothersome is why a .78 percent increase in property taxes is appearing in tax bills? Was this assessment increase not accounted for when the budget process was underway?

If it was considered, why was the approved property tax rate increased by some 26 per cent?

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CITY VIEW – The city examines its navel using your money

Posted June 11, 2013

We have reached the trifecta of navel gazing at public expense as the city administration tries to find out what they are doing wrong, or right in communing with the media.

The first attempt was to measure citizens’ views on the operation of the city. Some 33 per cent of 1,350 responses out of random 9,000 calls said they were unsatisfied with the way the city was being run. To put that in perspective, only 15 per cent responded. The weakness in the 13-question poll is the number who did not respond. What did they think about their city?

Then came the survey of three departments that measured employee job satisfaction. Once again, employees in Public Works and Transit Services expressed low job satisfaction. In public works only 27 per cent seemed satisfied with their job. Likewise in Transit, only 33 per cent expressed job satisfaction.

In a burst of support, the mayor claimed that Public Works employees showed up for work 99.6 per cent of the time in 2012. She’s kidding, right? If she believes that and can convince other Mayors in Ontario, she should be elected to the Mayor’s Hall of Fame. C’est impossible, Madame.

And now, there is a new poll created by the City of Guelph ten-person communications department. This one examines some 25 Media outlets from July 1, 2011 to July 1, 2012. They measured 25 media outlets including blogs, content and letters to the editor to determine if the report or commentary was positive (to the city), balanced or negative.

In an analysis, Mercury Managing editor, Phil Andrews, stated the paper generated 50 per cent of the articles reviewed. As it should, as the paper is published six days a week plus separate special interest issues. The Mercury circulation represents just 16 per cent of the total households in the city. Its coverage numbers are further skewed by the influx of 22,000 undergraduate students every September through to April. Circulation of the paper in this community is very limited.

In his analysis, Mr. Andrews claimed the Mercury reports, as judged by the city’s own communications department, during the 12-month measurement period, 67 per cent were “balanced”. Just 24 per cent were positive and 35 per cent were negative.

In addition, 40 per cent of the negative stories audited were sourced from letters to the editor.

The weakness in this sample of self-serving analysis is that civic staff authored the study. It’s intent was to determine how the city’s administration and message is perceived by the media.

The Mercury is the paper of record in Guelph. It has a responsibility to be neutral in its coverage and produce stories that are balanced and tell both sides of the story. Frequently the so-called balanced stories are invariably rewrites of city press releases. If not classed as balanced then they are judged as positive…and why not?

When was the last time the Mayor held a press conference to allow reporters and commentators to ask questions?

When was the last time the Mercury did an investigative story analyzing the cost benefit of the $52 million waste management project?

Why hasn’t the Mercury produced a story on the excessive property tax increases to residents in the past seven years?

Why won’t the Mercury investigate why the city waste management department refuses to pick up my trash and that of many other residents living in land condominium subdivisions. Yet they still make us pay full taxes.

Why doesn’t the Mercury condemn the arbitrary increase from $170,000 to $500,000 for renovation of the Farmer’s Market? Why is there no comment about the staff failing to call tenders for a major flooring aspect of the renovation? Why wasn’t there more public input in the decision?

Why is there no follow-up of the tragic death of Constable Jennifer Kovach?

Why hasn’t the Mercury delved into the downtown Tricar hi-rise deal as to why that developer was give a ten-year holiday from paying the development fees and other perqs?

If the Mercury purports to be Guelph’s paper of record, then it should start acting like one and report the news that covers both sides of the story.

This is increasingly germane because more and more people are getting their news over the Internet and its social media sites.

By the way, who were the other 24 news media monitored?

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Did the Kama Sutra get it all wrong?

Posted June 8, 2013

By Gerry Barker

When the University of Guelph holds a two-day Conference on Sexuality, it goes all out. The leadoff speaker, Tristan Taormino, a U.S. expert in matters of kinky sex and other sexual mores, stated: “We’re all a bunch of perverts.”

“I’m here to tell you that no one is having normal sex,” she said. She blamed the rampant Internet pornography, sexting, erotica for women, cheaters’ dating websites and celebrity sex videos.

Whew! I didn’t know all this was going on.

I just get a minor thrill with the Cialis TV ads that warn: “If you have an erection lasting four hours, see a doctor.” I’d see one after half an hour.

My wife read the best sex-seller “50 Shades of Gray”, yawned, rolled over and went to sleep

By the way, what is normal sex? The speaker did not explain. Let me assist. Normal sex ranges from spooning, showering together and it’s over before it begins.

Renowned 50’s sex researchers Masters and Johnson sort of explained what was going on behind bedroom doors. Their studies claimed that people approached the act with enthusiasm, innovation and a certain alacrity that often defied gravity.

That was then.

Along came the pill in the 60’s and everything changed. More and more people, single married and religious, suddenly discovered having sex didn’t mean getting pregnant. Office romances suddenly bloomed and the horny age was upon us, well, most of us.

The mystery of our kink expert’s opinions is why now? Why is this generation going nuts over kinky sex and its myriad of deviation and diversity?

Sado masochism has been around since the Borgia’s; Bondage has been the stock (bad pun) and trade on many a merry medieval monk. And it was legal too!

A glass or two of wine has been known to boost the libido leading to unexpected experimentation. Almost all sex between consenting adults is by mutual understanding and a high degree of satisfaction. So! One out of two is not bad!

And you can’t blame kink on just men. Once the pants are off, a man thinks with his penis. A woman worries about the state of her underwear and what her mother would think of all this.

Porn is boring and never artful. Erotica is a natural stimulant for the greatest sex organ of all, the brain. Masturbation is not irreligious nor causes blindness. If that were the case, we would be a nation of the blind leading the blind.

Gee, I still don’t know what Ms. Taormino is so hot about. Delving into history, her kinky sex studies seem to stop around the 1980’s. Ma’am it’s been going on for centuries even in some of the most regulated households.

I think I’ll go back and read the Kama Sutra again, they seemed to have gotten “normal“ right.

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Hold onto your wallets! Here are some staff leadership decisions that go unchecked and often unreported

Posted June 7, 2013

You have to wonder who is running the store at city hall these days.

In a column in the local daily, the city hall reporter stated that the recent granting of a flooring contract for renovation of the Farmer’s Market, without tendering, was okay, but okay for whom?

The arbitrary decision by the city’s manager of corporate building management was sloughed off by the writer and echoed by Coun. Jim Furfaro, who said he was satisfied the staff made the right decision.

Really? Is this the same staff who ordered special bricks from the U.S. for paving the Market Square, that failed to meet delivery on time? It caused well-publicized grief to businesses on that section of Carden Street for more than three months because the street was closed waiting for the bricks to be installed.

Is this the same staff that obtained approval in the 2013 budget to spend $170,000 to renovate the Farmer’s Market, only to come back and say the renovation will cost $500,000? Council went along with it.

Is this the civic staff that cut a deal with Maple Reinders to build a $34 million compost plant and gave a subsidiary company, Aim Environmental, exclusive rights to run the plant and sell the finished compost? After two years this plant has failed to reach its forecast capacity of composting 30,000 tonnes of feedstock and taxpayers don’t have a clue of the operating costs.

How much feedstock treated in the plant does it take to meet operating costs? Outwardly it appears the cost of operation depends on volume. In 2012, only some 17,000 tonnes was processed of which 15,000 tonnes was usable for composting.

Is this the same staff that recommended paying $15 million to convert waste pick-up in the city to bins and automated trucks that empty the bins into the vehicle?

Is this staff responsible for recommending paying $25,000 to a U.S. video company to promote Guelph with NFL all-star quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, as host and starring Mayor Karen Farbridge? How much city staff rime was spent in the making of this turkey? There is no tangible evidence that this project delivered one tourist or business enquiry to the city.

Is this the same staff that proposed to Council that property taxes in 2013 should be hiked by 8.5 per cent?

When it comes to city management it is apparent today that there is no system of checks and balances to protect your investment. Many decisions are based on self-serving whimsy, many of which come back to bite the taxpayers.

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