How your money is being spent to re-elect the Farbridge administration

Posted December 10, 2013

Tracking the flurry of announcements coming out of I Carden Street these days, one can only assume that Mayor Farbridge and her seven cohorts are in full election mode. And we still have ten months before the October 27 election day. It’s a mixed bag of goodies and bad news. Rule: Always get rid of the bad news long before the election because people forget.

Let’s start with the announcement by Mark Amorosi, Executive Director of Corporate and Human Resources, that non-union and management employees (NUME) will include changes to the progressive pay system that ties in an evaluation of performance. Details are vague except the giving of three personal days.

The cost of the proposed increases is to be adopted by Council at its December 16 meeting and exceed $500,000. So here we have a relatively small group of some 230 (albeit most are in the high income bracket) employees out of 2,065, getting a generous bite of the taxpayer’s apple for next year.

This administration is so dependent on the staff that it has awarded not only egregious staff increases in pay and benefits but in the numbers of hires in the past seven years.

The result of this largess by city council is that total staff costs consume some 84 per cent of the total annual budget. Yes folks, that’s the whole city of Guelph’s annual spending! Amorosi claims the increases are necessary to stay competitive with rates paid to employees in other municipalities.

Do the math. Staff costs of 84 percent of the approved 2014 budget of $193 million is $162,200,000. Remember that figure while we parse some of the other costs next year.

For the record, the recent dismissal of three senior staff at the Ontario Power Generation, for excessive pay increases and bonuses, still left that huge organization with more than 9,000 employees costing only 58 per cent of its annual budget.

Consider the $34 million police headquarters that will be built regardless of what the taxpayers think. The Farbridge majority will ensure it. Then we have the cost of repairing the CNR railway overpass so that truck traffic doesn’t keep hitting it because of an engineering mistake.

Or what will be the outcome of the lawsuits generated when the city threw the main contractor off the job that was 95 per cent completed? Judgment in this case should be made shortly and it could cost the city upwards of $19 million. Lurking in the background is the legal costs defending the lawsuits. We may never learn those costs because of the cloak of secrecy that prevents public access.

The hiring of a Toronto consultant to develop a plan for open and transparent government is truly puzzling after the Farbridge administration has been operating behind closed doors for seven years. That exercise is costing $100,000 of taxpayer money. It shakes one’s confidence in our administration that they needed an outside consultant to advise how to open their ongoing can of worms.

The Farbridge administration is dedicated to long-range planning. Take the ten-year plan to add more bicycle lanes to the city that will cost $13.3 million. A recent letter to the editor, written by a cyclist, complained that plan was wasting money and not needed. A sentiment shared by 99 per cent of the adult population of the city.

Another beauty is the 20-year solid waste management plan. That is being hand-held by a team of consultants who have conducted an open house, contacted some 400 residents for their opinion and are planning another open house. This kind of action is pure Farbridge.  She can then say we consulted the public but in most cases they just plow ahead and do what they want at your expense. We have never been told the cost of the first solid waste plan. Yet it clearly demonstrates that it doesn’t work. Witness some $53 million in capital spending for a composting plant that was built three times greater than the city’s need for the next 20 years and a cart waste collecting system, plus operating costs.

Then we come to the Downtown Secondary Plan. Another grand strategic plan to fulfill the Farbridge dream of a “vibrant and exciting” downtown Guelph. Once again the costs are buried. But a couple of items have been revealed. One is the deal made to the company that reconstructed the Gummer Building. For saving the fascia of the original building that was destroyed by fire. The owners received a ten-year tax holiday

To accelerate residential development downtown, the administration offered a ten-year delay in payment of development fees to a London, Ontario developer who is now building multi-storey condominiums in the downtown area. Those differed costs will be tacked on to the owners condo fees once the 10 years expire as the builder moves on.

This sweetheart deal totally ignored how residents in those buildings will cope with the new cart waste collection system.  The city already refuses to collect waste from a variety of some 6,400 condo households. Now they are bringing on stream an estimated 1,500 new condo households where there is no available storage for the carts or room to pick up.

Remember the overtime attendance report by the internal auditor that estimates it will cost the city $5,067,000 in 2013? That’s equal to $2,453 for each of the 2,065 city employees reported in the 2012 human resources annual report.

You see the city human resources department plays games with the numbers of employees. Coun. Gloria Kovach tried to get Amorosi to break out the total numbers of employees and was shot down twice by an irritated mayor. The category FTE or Fulltime Equivalent Employee is disguised to cover up the total number of employees. In 2012 there were 847 “other” employees in addition to the full-time employees but the HR annual report failed to break them out by category such as part-time, casual, contract fulltime/part-time.

This is only scratching the surface on how our city has been taken over by a group of activists and ideologues that have little respect for the taxpayers. They just keep milking the public purse to meet their personal agendas.

The administration has agreed to spend $200,000 setting up a city forestry department to increase the leafy canopy of Guelph from 20 percent to 40 per cent. Or hire a “Public Affairs Officer” to interface with other governments including provincial, federal and neighbouring Wellington County, What are we, a city state?

In recent years, there has been little opposition to the administration. The local daily primarily toadies to the administration while the twice-weekly tabloid occasionally breaks ranks and reports the news important to taxpayers. Both papers are part of the TorStar group of companies.

Since last August the new citizen’s group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG), has stood up to the Farbridge administration producing critical commentary and news through its website and the guelphspeaks.ca blog. GRG is an incorporated, non-partisan, non-profit organization run entirely citizen volunteers.

If you believe there is evidence of careless spending and waste of resources by our city administration, then join the growing membership through the GRG website GrassRootsGuelph.com.

GRG is dedicated to informing the taxpayers and working toward increasing the numbers of citizens to vote in the 2014 civic election.

The GRG motto is: If you don’t vote, you don’t count.

 

 

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10 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

10 responses to “How your money is being spent to re-elect the Farbridge administration

  1. Will

    I am sure queen Farbridge will run once again. Too bad really. Who do you suppose will throw their hat into the mix and run against her? This woman has been bad for Guelph from day one and must go. No one in politics seems to care about our money anymore. Very frustrating.

  2. Paul:

    Gerry:
    It would be helpful if we could see a year by year account of staffing for the past seven years which covers the following for each Budget Year:-
    1 Actual FTE
    2 Actual staff on the payroll including Actual FT and “others”.
    3 Actual Budget deficit for the Budget Year.
    Obviously if there are too many “horses” on the payroll and if Staff salary accounts for more than 90% of the Budget, then 90% of the overruns are due to poor control of hiring and Compensation. The reason I am asking is if this information were available for potential candidates who are concerned with the ongoing Budget deficits then we could see a movement to “Stop the Gravy Train”. This information could be very interesting!
    Guelph is overdue for a “reform” Council.

  3. geo

    A reform Council.
    I think your on to something there.

  4. Terry

    Gerry,
    I greatly appreciate the work you are doing. However, your comment that Tricar’s condo tower development charge deferral will end up being added to the residents condo fees is not accurate. The developer is Tricar (or some related corp) and once the condo is registered and turned over to the residents there would be no connection between the condo corp and costs associated to build it. When Tricar pays for building permits, typically DC’s are paid and it’s a cost of goods sold to the developer. I don’t know the details of the DC deferral between the city and Tricar, but it is between them, not the eventual condo corp/residents. If this is something that Tricar has included as a cost to future residents it would be spelled out in the condo declaration as a future costs and accounted for in the condo fee budget.

    Digging and publishing information to hold our public servants accountable is very important and I commend you. Please be careful to stay accurate and not sensational or we risk losing credibility. You cover many topics and it’s understandable that you may not get everything 100% accurate. To keep this organization strong, members should clarify if they see any discrepencies.

    Please keep up the good work and hopefully we’ll see some change at City Hall

    • Terry: Whatever deal was made between the city and Tricar and if the city deferred the development charges; those funds are repayable to the city. If Tricar used another corporation to handle the construction, then the repayment of the development charges rests with it. I personally do not believe in these so-called incentives offered to developers to build downtown residences. It appears that the deferments are offered to out-of-town developers who specialize in hi-rise condo construction. The playing field should be level for all developers and builders. Were these projects ever put out for tender? Just asking.

      Your point of maintaining accuracy is worthy. It is difficult in this civic political environment to obtain the truth let alone the details. In the past seven years I have endured the pattern of obfuscation that the Farbridge administration practises with regularity. To have our mayor saying she is proud of the “Open Government Strategy that her administration is “forging”, is a bad joke. That strategy has cost the taxpayers $100,000 to pay for a Toronto consultant to prepare the open and transparency plan. This step came after the Farbridge administration had been in office for seven years.

      One final tidbit. I called the city clerk’s office recently in the morning and got an answering machine that stated I would receive a call-back. That came six hours later.

    • Terry

      Hi Gerry,
      I’m not sure what you mran by asking if the Tricar jobs were put out to tender. Tricar bought the land and went through the development process. They are managing the construction and marketing. They took the risk and any local developer could have done the same thing. There is no tender process for private development projects aside from the developer tendering sub-contractors to construct and the city tendering private contractors to improve external site servicing (which the developer pays for).

    • Terry: Thank for the info. You are correct if the developer owns the land, it is properly zoned and he obtains the approvals from the city administration. The question remains is what incentives did the city offer to encourage this development and others planned in the downtown area? I understand that Fusion homes, a local developer and builder, is working with the city to redevelop the former W.C Woods property.There is no question these kinds of developments downtown is desirable in terms of increasing residential availability and density. The worrisome aspect is at what cost to the existing taxpayers incentives may cause through delayed payment of development fees and/or tax holidays, and transfers from reserves such as redevelopment of brown fields.

  5. Laura

    It has been very difficult to get any answers out of our Mayor as to just how much money has been poured into the downtown in the last 5 years. As far as I am aware the developers are eligble for up to 30% of the cost of redevelopment of the site once the building is completed. So if your building site pre-redevelopment paid $1000 in property taxes a year before redevelopment . for them, this could include, development charges, city fees,cash in lieu of parkland parking etc. , ,

    So if the new property taxes were $100,000 per year the city would still only collect $1000 per year in property taxes until the approved tax hoilday amount has been reached over the next ten years.that is all the property tax that would be paid until 30% has been reached. I am not sure if Council has or will be approving the whole 30% for the new condo building. The developer of the Woods site has already indicated that they will be applying for this funding.

    But don’t worry according to Karl Wettstein and Todd Dennis this makes good business sense because after the ten years are up or whenever the agreement amount is paid out the city will be collecting lots of property tax dollars. I asked for an IOU since I don’t think that in ten years we will ever see any reduction in our property taxes.
    FYI the development charges for an apartment used to be $15,000 I am not sure what they are now.

    What the deal is with the condo owners at the end of the 10 year grace period is unclear? Were they given a reduced price on their condo or will there a hair raising increase in their property taxes in ten years?? One can only wonder

    Laura

    • Laura: Excellent comments and questions. It is yet another stunning example of expensive, stupefying visionary excess. And the huge capital commitment today will resonate for years to come, long after this bunch is long gone.

  6. DAVID BIRTWISTLE

    $$$GIVE WASTE A NEW LIFE$$$.As part of the 20-year waste management plan consideration should be given to rebranding the WRIC(Waste Resource Centre).Some suggestions:(1)Waste Reiventingthewheelism Centre;(2)Waste Imitationism Centre;(3)Wasting Residents’ Income Centre-any others?Happy New Year-it’s a long-overdue election year!!

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