There is trouble, trouble right here in River City

Posted July 17, 2013

You may recall last December when the 2013 budget was approved, that Coun. Gloria Kovach introduced a motion to lower the property tax rate to 2.97 per cent. Council agreed and the staff was instructed to “find” $500,000 in efficiencies to meet the lower tax rate target.

Keep in mind that in the last four years the city’s annual budgets have been exceeded every year. A combined total of $24,771,000 was spent over total budgets’ figures each year. Does that maintain efficiencies? Does that infuse confidence that our city is being well managed?

Does anyone on council understand its own financial statements?

The administration recently admitted that the revised 2013 property tax rate was 3.74 per cent due to adjustments. Again, staff worked on the 2013 budget for almost eight months.

The debacle over the renovation of the Farmers Market ended up costing an unbudgeted $500,000 less a previous council approval of $170,000. How can a staff that has overspent the city budgets for four years running, have the gall to make such a proposal?

Because it can.

And taxpayers expect staff to shave $500,000 from the 2013 budget with a record like that?

The news is that staff, so far, has only come up with efficiency savings of $126,300. Of that there were two new revenue streams included in the report to reach that target. Those are not effiencies by any standard requested by council. This report in its entirety is shameful and an insult to the taxpayers. In more than six months staff can only come up with “savings” of $126,300?

The responsibility for this failure lies directly with the executive committee of staff. It indicates a lack of respect for council and taxpayers.

Bottom Line? How can you trust a staff that fails to find $500,000 in savings in a budget of some $194,000,000? Here’s a clue: The biggest expense in the city budget is staff total compensation. Out of some 1,441 full time employees in 2012, surely six or seven could be released to achieve council’s $500,000 efficiency mandate.

In its report, the finance department stated that “it is evident there is a culture of continuous improvement being fostered and supported by the City of Guelph.”

Please define the City of Guelph referred to in this statement. Is it the staff? Is it the council? Is it the residents?

Of course, it’s the staff, directed by the mayor and her council that is responsible for setting the city agenda and have the fiduciary responsibility. The staff appears now to fall back on the old Sgt. Schultz theory: “ I see nothing, I know nothing.”

There is a culture of entitlement among many members of city staff. As each department negotiates new contracts, it escalates wages, benefits and premium pay.
The taxpayer is whipsawed to meet new costs after each contract.

Stop and think how much the average total compensation package is for 1,441 Guelph civic staff? It was $113,394 in 2012. Of that 77 per cent was for base salaries or $87,313. Of course not every employee is making that. There is a hierarchy scale based on experience and responsibility. But as far as the taxpayers are concerned, the city staff is taking 88 per cent of revenues out of the pot annually. And there are no signs that escalating employee cost of is stopping, let alone even pausing..

And Guelph civic staff costs are already more than 20 per cent higher than Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge. And the total compensation and numbers of staff is growing exponentially.

Is it any wonder that this city has lost some very good employees in key positions? Was it because they were either fired for balking the system or were uncomfortable the way the city was being managed?

Putting it together, we have runaway staff costs, incompetence at senior staff and at the council levels, money wasted on social engineering “strategies”, dysfunctional operations and little clarity or transparency of operations.

Thanks to former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, the four-year term of office for elected municipal officials prevents any change until October 2014.

You know there is trouble in river city when some 6,400 condominium owners complain that the city refuses to pick-up their garbage. The city will not reimburse them to cover the extra cost of private collection of unsorted waste.

What happened to the city’s bragging record of diverting waste from the landfill?

Unfortunately, this cake has already been baked.

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5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “There is trouble, trouble right here in River City

  1. joseph phelan

    Speaking of landfill….I can think of a certain woman and some councillors who would be best used as this. Then at least they could prove that they are good for something. They already have the qualifications….they are useless and take up space……

  2. First it’s trying to “find” $500,000, then it’s $1,000,000, then $5,000,000. This needs to come to an end before the city goes bankrupt. I’m sure certain people will say this will never happen, but look at Detroit… that city just filed for bankruptcy protection. I know it’s not the same circumstances, but it goes to show no one is safe from the B word!

  3. David Birtwistle

    Russell:We have naught to fear from the “…B word…” as the Premier et al have recently visited the UOG and the bees therein and the “Bs” are safe and political pollination(ie.,grants) will renew the City’s faultering fiscal fortunes
    david.birtwistle@guelph.ca

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