Monthly Archives: October 2013

There they go again

Posted October 22, 2013

Remember last year when the city staff recommended an 8.5 per cent property tax increase?

Council in its wisdom, told staff it had to be 3 per cent. Go back to the drawing board and figure it out.

This prompted a pout from Chief Administration Officer Anne Pappert who called council’s demand “regressive”.  The saw off came in the final meeting to set the budget. Council adopted a motion from Coun. Gloria Kovach that required the staff to find $500,000 of efficiencies in 2013.

The result was setting the lowest tax rate increase in many years of 2.96 per cent. Everybody went home that night cheering the accomplishment.

It was premature. First, the adjustments to the budget created a 3.74 per cent tax increase. This makes one wonder why they budget at all.

The second event was the staff reported in June that it could only find $126,000 in “efficiencies”. The largest portion of the report included an increase in revenues, not savings.

Then, the staff estimate of laying a new floor in the Farmer’s Market ballooned from $176,000 to $500,000.

Let’s pretend for a moment. Suppose you are the CEO of a company and the Chief Financial Officer, on his own, sends out a letter to managers that the new rate for widgets will be 3.4 per cent higher than last year, without telling the CEO.

What do you think would happen?

This is what happened recently when CFO Al Horsman sent out a letter to city senior managers stating the executive team is considering recommending an “all-in” tax rate increase of 3.4 per cent for 2014.

Coun. Cam Guthrie expressed surprise at the recommendation and stated he favoured a zero-based budgeting process in which discussion should start on the assumption that there will be no property tax increase.

Guthrie is right. Why is there a culture in the staff hierarchy that believes property taxes can continue to increase beyond the rate of inflation every year? Or is the Farbridge agenda demanding such increases to meet its self-interest objectives.

So the attitude among senior staff is “let them eat cake” as they proceed to milk the taxpayers with impunity with little regard for the fall out.

This city cannot continue to spend money on airy intangibles and inflated staff costs.

A little over a year from now, a new council will have to face dealing with record debt and operational costs that the Farbridge administration created in eight years in office.

It is not an envious task. It will take forward thinking individuals who have experience in managing business and finances to correct the multi-faceted debris left by the Farbridge administration.

 

 

 

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Is this censorship or corporate cold feet?

Posted October 18, 2013

This is a copy of a letter to the editor sent October 4 to the Guelph Tribune.  It was not published.  No reason was given. This is another example of the public being blocked in expressing themselves.  As stakeholders in the Corporation of Guelph, citizens have the right to criticize without being personal or libelous. It appears the editor of the Tribune seems to believe this did not meet the paper’s standards of editorial content.

 You be the judge. Is this letter fair comment or not?

The major article on the front page “Council feels left out of budget loop” (Tribune 3 Oct 13) was absolutely astounding with the admission by the mayor that the setting of priorities for capital spending was: “for us it is a black box”.

This comes from someone who has been mayor for almost ten years.

It is a complete dereliction of duty, that after 10 years wherein she played a role of some sort in annual budget approvals, she can be so clueless about what goes into the capital budget.

Is this the same due diligence she and her like minded tax and spend cohorts on council have carried out on operating budgets?

The “revisiting” of the police headquarters upgrading that has seen it spiral out of control from a $13.6 million total cost by an additional $20.4 million in ”new money” to  $34 million is all too typical of the administration.

The council should send a clear message to the CFO and police chief that the budget for upgrading has been zeroed until it is clearly studied by councillors and some competent budget analysis provided in an open forum, rather than in a backroom.

An admittedly, by the chief, flawed functional 2010 operational analysis carried out by the police services raises the question of competence of those who did it and reviewed it. Additionally, one has to wonder how much have architects been paid for generating 4 “upgrading” options that are pegged at $34 million.

The horror stories generated by the mayor, council, and the administration are never ending.

Thank you,

Glen N. Tolhurst

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Blast from the past – the organics plant’s shaky beginning

Posted October 17, 2013

Reproduced column published in the Guelph Mercury December 10, 2011 with updated notes

By Gerry Barker

The smells emanating from the new Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF) on Dunlop Drive have oozed into the hallowed halls of city hall. The odour of voodoo financial management pervades as the city released a Question & Answer (Q&A) statement about the plant.

It is revealing what the city-supplied (Q&A) fails to answer.

The city acknowledges that the composting odour comes from the new plant. This is different from the first response in which it blamed the nearby Cargill plant for the problem.

The new plant stopped receiving green bag waste November 25 and that feedstock is now shipped to a St. Thomas landfill. This cost is stated “about $61 a tonne”. What is left out is the cost of shipping the clear bag garbage to St. Thomas, a practice that has been going on since cancellation of the contract to incinerate the waste in a New York State facility. That cost was $85 a tonne.

It is estimated by city officials that the contractor, Maple Reinders, will take at least six months to fix the odour problem and meet Ministry of Environment specifications. That could be sometime next May (2012) provided the repairs are completed.

Update note: That occurred in March 2012 when more than 900 tonnes of wet waste was shipped from Hamilton to test the new organic waste facility.

The city says the cost of processing the green bag waste at the new plant is “about $79 a tonne”.

This is where things get murky.

Not included in that $79 operational estimate is the cost of borrowing the $32 million capital cost, depreciation of the facility, maintenance and insurance. Another fact is the cost of road repairs in the city caused by trucks delivering Waterloo waste to the Watson Road plant.

The interest rate must be included in the cost of operation of the facility. For example, let’s assume the city has borrowed the $32 million at an interest rate of 4% per annum. That is $1,280,000 in interest alone not including repayment of principal.

The lifespan of the plant is estimated to be 20 years. If the $32 million debenture borrowed matures in that time frame, the cost of this misadventure is more than $57,600,000. That does not include the $15 million to be spent switching from plastic to green cart/bins.

It gets more interesting. The Q&A does not reveal the terms of the agreement with Maple Reinders.  This contractor controls an outfit named Aim Environmental Group and its subsidiary Wellington Organix.

All three of these entities are getting a piece of the pie. Maple Reinders is designer and contractor to build the facility. Its subsidiary Wellington Organix operates the plant. And Aim Environmental negotiated the $117 price per tonne for the City of Waterloo to send its wet waste to Guelph.

That arrangement includes guaranteeing Waterloo access to two-thirds of the plant capacity.

Update Note:  Waterloo missed its target of 20,000 tonnes in 2012 shipping only 9,100 tonnes.  Terms of the contract require the Region to pay for 20,000 tonnes regardless. The Region believes it is losing more than $1.6 million per year because it is unable to meet the contracted 20,000 tonnes.

So the taxpayers of Guelph have financed a $32 million organic waste composting plant to provide a service to another municipality that does not cover the real operating costs of the plant. All liability lies with the taxpayers of Guelph.

If the city is paying $61 a tonne to send green bag waste to a St. Thomas landfill with no maintenance, depreciation or cost of capital affecting the price, one can only conclude the alleged $79 operating cost of the new plant is vastly understated. Hey! These aren’t my figures but are found on the city website.

This is a project that has been riddled with lies of omission, secrecy, and management bungling. The only solution to clear the air is to hold a judicial enquiry to investigate what happened and expose the expenses of this failed project.

Update Note: Instead of a judicial enquiry, concerned citizens have sent a petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an audit of the city finances and operations.

That giant sucking sound you hear is your tax dollars being flushed down the toilet.

 

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The Mayor defends the un-defendable

Posted October 16, 2013

In a news report published Wednesday in the Guelph Mercury, Mayor Karen Farbridge stated, “the municipality’s operations are transparent and city hall would not oppose scrutiny from anyone”. It was the second response by the Mayor similar to talking points as the first.

She was responding to claims by GrassRoots Guelph, an independent citizen’s organization, that has petitioned the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to conduct an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

Well GrassRoots Guelph is anyone; in fact, it is a lot of anyone’s.

So, let’s start with the organics plant. Here are some obvious questions that taxpayers would like answered and the city has refused to reveal:

*  Why was this $33 million plant built with a capacity three times the city’s needs for the next 20 years?

*  Why are Guelph taxpayers paying for a plant in which the city, or its agent, has sold 66 per cent of its approved annual capacity to the Region of Waterloo?

*  In two years since its official opening, why has the plant never reached its operating capacity of processing 30,000 tonnes per year? In 2012 it only processed some 17,000 tonnes.

*  How much did the city receive from the sale of some 3,400 tonnes of finished compost sold to an unknown person?

*  What are the terms and conditions of contracts entered into between the city and general contractor, Maple Reinders, and its subsidiary companies?

*  What are the operating costs of the Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF)?

*  What is the breakdown of operating costs for the entire waste management facility on Dunlop Road?

*  Why does the city continue to approve condominium developments, knowing full well city personnel will not collect the waste generated?

*  If the goal of the administration is to divert waste from the landfill, why does it refuse to collect from 6,400 Guelph condo households?

*  Why is the $465 per household waste management charge 71.1 per cent greater than its peer group of municipalities?

And there is more, Madame Mayor. Just answering these questions would be a great start to attain your claim that your administration is open and transparent. After more than six years in office. Was it suddenly necessary to hire a Toronto consultant to create an “open and transparent plan” for the city costing $100,000?

Is it any wonder why citizens are dismayed and puzzled by your statements that leave out the pertinent details?

Your statement that the rating company Standard & Poors giving Guelph an AA plus “with a positive outlook” looks silly. Especially when comparing the statement by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation rating Guelph’s financial management with a “D”. This was compared with 19 other similar-sized Ontario municipalities. Guelph ranked 18th in the ranking.

The Mayor says that staff compensation is “considerably lower’ than that claimed by GRG. She is using the base salary figures to make her claim. The true picture is the total compensation that the city pays its employees results in 88 per cent of property tax revenue. Some 173 employees earn more than $100,000 a year in remuneration and taxable benefits.

Again, that figure obtained from the city’ own figures provided to the Province’s “Sunshine List” does not include benefits such as sick leave, overtime, pension, parking, healthcare costs, and insurance that all employees receive as part of their package. In fact there are 24 benefits for city employees.

Guelph taxpayers are entitled to the truth. The Mayor does not help herself when making patently false and misleading statements to deflect serious criticism.

The most laughable is saying the “city would not oppose scrutiny from anyone”.

Does she really believe that has been the case for the past almost seven years?

What do you think?

Not a member of GrassRoots Guelph? Send your name, full address, email address and telephone number to: grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com and join the growing ranks of folks who want factual information about how their city is being run.

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How the depths of the Farbridge influence has no bottom

Posted October 13, 2013

The Thursday launching of http://www.GrassRootsGuelph.com has stunned us with the numbers of people who dropped into the site in just two days. Compared to the recent launching of the Guelph Civic League’s new website, is like comparing Dion Phaneuf to Wayne Gretsky.

On top of that the Guelph Mercury covered the League’s re-launch with a long article and story about the new direction the League is taking to “educate” people. When that description is used in that context, it brings back memories of brainwashing of Allied soldiers by the North Koreans during the Korean War.

The Mercury did not report the formation of the GrassRoots Guelph, although the Tribune carried a story. The papers received full data on Thursday, October 10 around 9 a.m. including a copy of the petition delivered to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Again, there was no report or commentary in the Mercury’s Friday or Saturday editions of the petition presentation or its content.

Having been an editor on the biggest paper in the country, there are always reasons why a story is not published: Checking the facts is one … the material is not well written and deemed unusable … attribution is another …  efforts to make the copy readable and accurate are often defeated because of deadline restraints.

The Mercury editorial department’s efforts to report a well-documented story produced by a bonafide citizen’s group in its circulation catchment area, failed all these tests.

Instead the managing editor mentioned the news story in his blog. That hardly reaches the total circulation of the newspaper. Just speculating, it is probably read by his corporate babysitter and some of Mayor Farbridge’s flying circus of supporters.

This leaves the Mercury’s image in the community in tatters. It is broadly recognized as being biased against any criticism of the Farbridge administration.

Let’s review an example.

The recent production of a six-part series on the Guelph waste management program dropped the ball revealing the organics plant’s operating costs. The Mayor being quoted as saying that the waste management system would not be an issue in the 2014 election … she wishes!

The series lauded the $15 million cart/bin system as being the next best thing since sliced bread. Trouble is the system will not collect waste from 6,400 condominium households. Yet the waste management chiefs claim they are saving $500,000 a year in collection costs. The orphan households must pay for garbage pick-up through their property taxes but also must pay an additional amount for private contractor pick-up.

At todays per household waste cost of $465 per household, the city gets a bonus of $2,976,000 in collection taxes for a service that 6.400 households do not receive.

This fact was never included in the Mercury series.

The list goes on how the Mercury rewrites city press releases without critical comment or response from the readers. Save for the occasional letter to the editor. Another sham is the community editorial board that is laced with Farbridge supporters. An example is Ben Bennett, the former chief spokesman for the anti-Wal-Mart forces that delayed the arrival of the market for 10 years.

All columnists have a point of view. That’s fine but when a panel that the Mercury assembles annually is predominantly pro-Farbridge, it bolsters the image of the paper being biased and locked into a point of view that has infiltrated its news columns.

The readers are not fooled. Perhaps a more balanced coverage should be adopted to recover the respect and credibility you have lost as the paper of record in Guelph.

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Power politics bludgeons the citizens of Guelph

Posted October 13, 2013

This is the anatomy of how the petition assembled by GrassRoots Guelph was blocked by the power of elected officials in Queen’s Park and the City of Guelph.

It is a messy and ruthless use of power that trampled the rights of citizens to express themselves to legally request the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to conduct an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.

The four-page petition was prepared by GRG in the past 18 months using its own resources including financial analysis. This ongoing analysis of financial documents produced by the city showed blatant disregard for clarity, careless financial management and a record of excessive spending of taxpayers’ money.

Despite receiving the annual rubber stamp of such documents by the outside accounting firm Deloitte and Touche (as required by law), the terms and conditions of such an audit are limited to only review expenses and revenues exceeding $300,000.

In the opinion of the experts advising GRG, this allowed the city administration an enormous amount of leeway to run the city finances and operations with almost carte blanche impunity.

The GRG petition clearly demonstrates the misleading aspects in accounting and subterfuge that the Farbridge administration has practised beginning in January 2007.

The petition can be found on www.GrassRootsGuelph.com. All citizens should read it and understand how their city has mortgaged their future with excessive often needless spending.

So we now learn that the petition represented a threat to the city administration and the Liberal government in Ontario.

Here’s how dirty politics has bludgeoned the people of Guelph.

The GRG board of directors approved the final draft of the petition on September 26, 2013. It was decided that Liz Sandals, MPP representing Guelph in the Ontario Legislature should be given a copy as a courtesy “heads up.”

On Friday September 27, Ms. Sandals told the delegation that she would arrange to have her staff send a copy of the petition with the attachments to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s staff. She was non-committal about the petition contents but promised to read it.

Liz Sandals, also a Minister in the Liberal government, cautioned that it may take “three to four months” to go through the vetting process before a decision would be made.

On Tuesday October 1, the petition package including supporting attachments and signature sheets of 162 Guelph taxpayers was delivered to the Municipal Affairs Minister, Linda Jeffrey.

The next day, GRG formally asked Ms. Sandals to sponsor the use of the media room at Queen’s Park to conduct a press conference as required by the rules of the Legislature.  This request was never granted.

Prior to that, the only copies of the petition outside of a small group of GRG board members was in the hands of Liz Sandals and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

On Tuesday October 8, press releases and kits were sent to a selected group of Toronto media detailing the petition and why it was not just a Guelph story but also an Ontario story.

On Wednesday October 9, GRG contacted the press gallery to seek help in securing a room for the press conference. GRG was assured the request could be accommodated.

Now here’s the kicker.

The City of Guelph was not sent a copy of the petition. The two local papers received their copy of the release shortly after 9 a.m. October 10, the day of the conference.

Ms. Sandals did not cooperate with arranging the media room at Queen’s park.  As it turned out, it was an overt attempt to muzzle GRG and a slap in the face of her constituents in Guelph. Many of who are supporters of GRG.

Even more interesting is how the city obtained a copy of the petition in time to allegedly make calls to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, have the staff review it and publish a response at 5:40 p.m. Thursday, October 10. The odd thing was the Mayor’s response was published in Coun. Ian Findlay’s blog and Coun. Cam Guthrie’s blog. But not in her own blog.

Despite a promise of confidentiality by Ms. Sandals to GRG, she had the only copy of the petition except the small group of GRG directors from September 27 to October 1 when the full petition was delivered to the Ministry of Muncipal Affairs and Housing. There was no way the city officials could have accessed the material unless it received an advance copy. Sandals later refusal to assist GRG to conduct a press conference in the media room reveals the Liberal government does not want to deal with this issue.

So that’s how power politics works. It’s something to think about how those in power can abuse the rights of citizens to question and protest the actions of elected officials.

The final word. GRG has just begun to press its concerns on behalf of the citizens of Guelph. The launching of the www.GrassRootsGuelph.com website in just three days has had a stunning response from citizens who have read the petition.

This dog has just begun to hunt.

 

 

 

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Mayor denies petition, what else is she going to say?

Posted October 11, 2013

The following is a response by Mayor Karen Farbridge to the launching of a petition delivered to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing October 1, 2013. The petition requested an audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations. GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) sponsored the petition and its comments are in Italics.

KF –  A press release was issued today by GrassRoots Guelph announcing that they submitted a petition to the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 requesting that the province conduct a forensic audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations. While a press conference was to be held at Queen’s Park today, we are not aware of any media being present.

            GRG –  Did you have someone at Queen’s Park to make that assumption? Are you aware that the press conference was called to answer questions about the petition from the more than 22 media who had received copies of the press release and press kit.

KF –  Our staff have (sic) been in contact with officials at MMAH. While no requests for information have been made, we will certainly provide them with whatever they require, if anything.

            GRG –  That’s comforting. When they ask, the city will be definitely required to respond. Do not turn off the shredding machines.

KF – Our staff have reviewed the concerns of GrassRoots Guelph and in their opinion there is nothing that warrants provincial intervention or the use of taxpayers’ money for additional auditing.

            GRG – Were they reading the content of the petition?  The fact that the city has exceeded its annual budget for four years by $24,771,000 should be a good starting point for examination of the city’s financial statements.

KF – We will respond to the concerns raised by GrassRoots Guelph. There are inaccuracies in the complaint and we will ensure they are addressed in an open and transparent forum. Members of Council will be provided with the response, as will the public.

            GRG – But will you explain the “inaccuracies” in a language that the citizens will understand?

KF – I am confident that the City of Guelph is well managed and we have an open and transparent process. Just 2 months ago, Standards and Poor raised our credit rating giving us independent confirmation that the City is well managed. The AA+ credit rating reaffirms the City’s financial position is not only healthy, it’s getting better. That is a reflection of the Council-approved financial policy framework and the discipline of the management team – CAO, Executive Team, Finance team and Direct Leadership Report Team – in respecting these policies.

            GRG – Mayor, there are many people in your city who do not believe you when you state the city administration operates in an open and transparent process. If that had been the case in the past six and one half years of your administration, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

KF – A few years ago, the CFO of the day remarked to me that it would not be long before we would see the positive benefits to our bottom line from the establishment of a comprehensive financial policy framework. She was right.  Posted by Mayor Farbridge

            GRG -Let’s see. Is it possible that you are referring to former CFO Margaret Neubaur who was fired for reasons unknown to this day? Does your “comprehensive financial policy framework” include employing five chief financial officers in your two terms of office? Does this provide continuity of financial management?

            GRG’s Final response to the Mayor’s denial of the four-page petition prepared by members of GrassRoots Guelph (GRG)

This petition is an indictment of city management and its policies. Like all indictments, it must be proven. The method as provided by the province, lies in a little known clause in the Municipal Affairs Act that allows 50 taxpayers to petition the Municipality requesting an audit of the finances. GRG attached 162 names to the petition delivered to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.  Those names were gathered in just three weeks. Since that time, more than 200 have joined GRG.

What else could the Mayor say? Her statements about her administration being “open and transparent” have a hollow ring. When much of the public business is conducted behind closed doors. That’s not open or transparent.

There is a closed circuit of citizens who doggedly support the Mayor and her majority in Council. And in turn, those special interests received regular support.

These include some community groups, the bicycle lobby, wellness lobby, soccer lobby, cultural, environmental and heritage groups. GRG has received copies of many requests for a response from Council that are ignored. Anything of a critical nature is ignored or defused.

GRG stands by its petition and welcomes third party examination of the City’s finances.

This situation will not go away and has long term ramifications not only on the municipal level but the provincial level as well. Next year is building up to be most interesting! GRG will be in the forefront to inform and discuss the issues for which the organization stands.

GrassRoots Guelph

Gerry Barker, spokesperson

http://www.GrassRootsGuelph.com

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