More green eggs and ham from our doublespeak mayor

Part Two

Posted November 11. 2013

This is the second piece dissecting the recent state of the city speech, made by Mayor Karen Farbridge.

The mayor continues to beat the drum that Guelph’s destiny lies in its development of downtown. She and her council, dominated by her supporters, has spent millions on the city core at the expense of other needed projects outside the downtown area.

Costs soared with the new city hall and civic square over the original contract completed by the former council. There were scores of change orders that delayed the construction. As a result, the contractor was fired by the city because of completion delays. Today we are awaiting the judgment of the court that tried the 5-week civil suit last spring. The contractor sued the city for $19 million for breach of contract.

Add to that was the cost over-runs in relation to the renovation of the former Loretto convent into a civic museum. Throw in the sweetheart deals made with developers to build condominiums and rebuild the Gummer building. These include 10-year holidays from paying development fees or property taxes.

Why not address the number of new business and development proposals that have walked away from Guelph because of the bureaucratic snarls in the applications?

The mayor says: “we are changing the way we are organizing ourselves at city hall to create a platform for continued success.”

Apparently after seven years in office and two consultant reports that revealed the dysfunctional operation at city hall, the mayor says the city is “reorganizing and re-aligning the way we work”.  The question is why now? Why is the mayor now proclaiming: “We believe municipal government can provide a coordinating set of policies, funding and services that can create opportunities for business”.

That kind of talk is cheap when the mayor’s administration is unable to engineer renovation of the Wyndham Street rail underpass to allow trucks to go through without ripping the tops off and damaging the bridge.

She then referred to parlaying “our significant expertise in water and waste eater management to help businesses demonstrate new technologies that opens new markets for them.  Is that why Guelph’s water rates have gone up by 77 per cent since the mayor was elected?

Did anyone vote for this stuff in the last and previous election?

She referred to the Guelph Municipal Holdings Corporation that has sent a strong message that “we are serious about establishing a thermal utility and an entity to drive retrofits in the residential and light commercial sectors.”

Funny, I though this was a holding company for publicly owned property. Instead, we have learned that a $3.9 million dividend was extracted from GMHI last year and sent to the city’s general revenues.  It did so despite a decline in income from its Guelph Hydro holding resulting in a 176 per cent payout ratio. What has that go to do with retrofitting residences to reduce energy usage?

That GMHI story is followed up by the mayor admitting, “we had to overcome our own internal silos. Believe it or not city hall doesn’t always find it easy to work with city hall”.

Eureka! At last an admission there is a serious dysfunctional operation going on right around the mayor’s suite at city hall. That’s refreshing.

Just when you think the mayor is leveling with us, she says: “ What is unique about Guelph is we are building a platform to incubate civic and economic innovation.”

There’s that word again, if you read her speech it is liberally sprinkled with “innovation” to perform miracles: “Here in Guelph we have a different kind of thought leadership,”

Do you think that this kind of language is spoken around city hall? If so, no wonder the staff is confused, uncertain and diving into their ‘silos’ to avoid thought leadership as it may give them acne.

This speech has to be the best piece of Farbridge fiction presented in along time.

More on this later. Her speech is a gold mine of material that outlines the thinking of our mayor and her dedication to making the rest of the world think we are the greatest city since they invented the ballot box.

But what has your city done for you lately to make your life a little easier and comfortable?

Me neither.

Tomorrow, Part 3 of this series on the Mayor’s State of The City speech – What was left out of the address.






Filed under Between the Lines

4 responses to “More green eggs and ham from our doublespeak mayor

  1. Laura

    Hi Gerry The city is using the dividends from Guelph Hydro to offset property taxes. Look into how these dividends have been spent. From my understanding the city is collecting a minimum of $1.5 million per year in payouts from Guelph hydro. Some years it has been more than this. It seems that the city is collecting an indirect form of tax thru our electricity bills, all this while there was just an announcement that off peak hour hydro rates will be increasing. I have some data on where the hydro dividends have been spent. I will post when I find it.

  2. Laura

    Before the election I tried to find out from Karen Farbridge how much the city was receiving in hydro dividends and what they were being used for. not much was forthcoming.

    Hi Gerry here is the info. it comes from a series of emails and posts to the Mayor’s blog in 2011.

    I asked about about the hydro dividends. Back in 2011 I was curious about the “operating” surpluses and where the money was coming from to have reserve funds. Since they are cutting services and raising user fees at that time in the budget I doubted that these “surpluses” were coming from our property taxes. It would appear from their answers that our hydro rates have been subsidizing property taxes since 2000 when Guelph Hydro became non for profit. If you consider that $14.4 million (that’s if I have added correctly) has been transferred from Guelph hydro to the city coffers since 2001 – apparantly in order to reduce property taxes. No wonder our hydro bills have gone up. I wonder how much we have all paid extra on our hydro bills for Guelph Hydro to have produced such a profit?? Then in 2011 Guelph Hydro has just announced another rate hike coming soon and blaming it on the high cost of electricity. But is it? Seems they are taking out a form of indirect tax from our hydro rates and giving it back to the city as a “dividend” instead of upping property taxes. What difference does it make? The money comes from the same wallet.

    I wonder how many ratepayers are aware of this money shuffling? Laura

    Here is the posting from the mayor’s blog:

    Hi is part of this operating surplus from the yearly hydro dividends? If not what has the the hydro money received each year been spent on? Correct me if i am wrong but It is my undertstanding that the money coming from hydro has been $1.5 million each year since Guelph hydro was allowed became for profit in 2000. I know that last year it was not 1.5 million.
    1.ksullivan, on March 25, 2011 at 11:09 am said:

    Hi Laura,

    Here is information from Finance staff:

    The Hydro dividend of $1.5M per year has generally been directed to the infrastructure renewal reserve fund. In 2009 Hydro was able to provide a dividend of $2.25M – the additional $750 went to general revenues.

    Kate Sullivan
    Mayor’s Office

    From me back to the mayor’s blog –

    Thank you you for your response. The $750,000 that went into the “general revenues” – was this used to offset property taxes increases?

    If there were no hydro dividends where would the city find the money to put into the infrastructure renewal reserve fund?

    What about the other hydro dividends from 2005 to 2009? Correct me if I am wrong but I believe that over $8 million dollars was paid out to the city from 2005-2010 from hydro diviends- is this correct? What was it used for?

    Was there any profit from hydro revenues from 2000 to 2005? If so what was this money used for

    Their reply-

    Yes, the $750,000 was used to offset property tax increases (2009 budget – Dividend for 2008)
    – Yes, the City would need to find another source of financing for the capital works that are funded from the infrastructure renewal reserve fund such as Property tax revenues, government grant or the capital works would be delayed until funding was available.

    Dividends have been received/used as follows:

    2001/2002 Dividend – $3.35 M used to fund the New City Hall construction
    2003/2004 Dividend – $2.8 M used to fund Capital Reserve Fund
    2005 Dividend – $1.5 M used for general revenues
    2006 Dividend – $1.5 M used to fund Infrastructure Renewal Reserve Fund
    2007 Dividend – $1.5 M used to fund Infrastructure Renewal Reserve Fund
    2008 Dividend – $2.25 M (see above)
    2009 Dividend – $1.5 M used to fund Infrastructure Renewal Reserve Fund (2010 Budget)

    Kate Sullivan
    Mayor’s Office

    • Laura: Thank you for passing along your research into the city’s use of dividends produced by Guelph Hydro. I agree it is just another tax that’s hidden from the average taxpayer. So while the administration keeps socking the taxpayers with an average of 3.5 per cent property tax increases in the past seven years, they dip their fingers into the profits generated by Guelph Hydro to augment their profligate spending. Not only has the administration taken millions from Guelph Hydro operations, the city called a note for $30 million owned by Guelph Hydro to meet the bills. This is yet another example of abuse of power (pardon the pun) by the administration including the members of council who have let it happen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s