Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Hanlon Business Park is a $40 million economic failure

Posted January 31,2014

After seven years and $40 million later, the city-owned Hanlon Business Park is almost vacant. The city has dumped millions in the project with only a smidgen of return for its investment.

Peter Cartwright, general manager of economic development, who is responsible for attracting businesses to set up shop in the city, admitted before council: ”I don’t think we’re setting the world on fire.”

You have to give him credit for honest understatement.

Coun. Bob Bell revealed the $40 million number during a proposal to lower the development charges (DC) on industrial projects from $12.27 per square foot to a new blended rate of $9.09. This rate would apply to both industrial and commercial/institutional development.

An amendment proposed by Coun. Cam Guthrie would set the industrial development charges rate at $6.54 a square foot and $12.61 for commercial/institutional development. It was supported by Coun. Bob Bell, Jim Furfaro and Leanne Piper but was defeated by the Farbridge majority.

Cartwright, said that the old rate of 12.27 was hard to manage because the category of development seemed to confuse the staff when processing. What did they do? Flip a coin?

The real problem exists within the management of the economic development department.  In seven years, of  “not setting the world on fire,” the industrial commercial assessment ratio has not budged above 16 per cent of all city assessment. That is not a ringing endorsement of a department and its manager.

Further, by dropping the DC rate that is still higher than the surrounding municipalities, does nothing to encourage new development in the park. Remember the Maple Leaf foods proposal? Well, that project went south and is now settled in Puslinch adjacent to Guelph and the Hanlon Park.

In seven years if this administration is unable to attract businesses to a developed park designed to create assessment and jobs, do you really believe the same players will accomplish it in the next four years?

This is yet another example of wasteful spending by a council trusting a staff to do its job. All they can do is make excuses while the citizens see the indebtedness on this project continue to escalate.

 

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What happens in Hamilton, is happening here and everywhere

Posted January 29, 2014

The recent demand by the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) to have the city finance a $34 million renovation of the downtown police Headquarters, is an example of an antiquated Ontario Police Act. It is an Act that prompted Mayor Farbridge to tell her council that they had no choice but to approve it because of legislative stipulations. This current legislation would enforce the demand and the taxpayers have no choice, the Mayor said.

The Mayor of course sits on the GPSP along with Coun. Leanne Piper. During the closed meetings of the GPSB the initial proposal to renovate the headquarters building was $13.3 million. But something happened when six months later the price tag was $34 million.

Here’s where it stands today. Council has approved spending $34 million pending a review by staffs of the city and police administration in an attempt to seek alternatives or reduce the costs. In April, the results of this review may be known.

This huge capital expense is only the tip of the iceberg. In Hamilton there is deep concern about the powers given to police and their service boards, via the Ontario Police Act.

Case in point is the how a Hamilton police inspector, David Doel, suspended for acts of misconduct, received  $500,000 during his suspension and is now retired.  Coupled with that are the legal expenses incurred during the suspension.

In Guelph, a similar case involved a member of the police drug squad who was suspended following conviction of stealing drugs from the evidence lock-up. In addition to the full pay and benefits the officer received during his suspension, he negotiated a seven-month additional suspension period before agreeing to retire. The GPSB argued they had no choice.

And they were right. The Ontario Police Act states that any officer in the province who is suspended must receive full pay and benefits during the suspension period. With constables earning on average $90,000 a year without overtime, it is easy to see that disciplining a public employee who wears a police uniform can be expensive.

And the taxpayers have no choice. They have had the cuffs put on by antiquated bureaucracy and union demands.

This is another example how misguided provincial legislated power hits the municipality budgets and elected officials have no recourse.

The hidden costs of retirement of police and fire officers are another huge liability that municipalities in Ontario are facing. Most of Guelph’s employees are members of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement Service (OMERS) that is currently underfunded by $12 billion. There are only two ways to get rid of the pension fund actuarial deficit: Increase the contributions and extend the retirement age to 65.

Of course increasing the contributions falls on the shoulders of the municipal taxpayer who must pay half of the increase. On top of that, citizens must guarantee the pensions of their retiring workers, and a cost of living allowance, pegged to the Canadian Price Index. That’s for the rest of their lives.

Statistics show the average OMERS retirement age is currently 58. On top of the pension, OMERS also gives the retiree an amount equal to what he or she may receive from the Canada Pension Plan until age 65.

Gina Raimondo, Treasurer of the State of Rhode Island, did something about curbing rising public employee pension costs. Instead of accepting the “best last five consecutive years” as a pension base, she introduced a plan that covered the entire employment period of the retiree and established an average number. She also boosted the retirement age to 67. These and other pension reforms will stay in place until the unfunded pension liabilities are replenished.

She was attacked by the unions, public employee sector and academics but stuck to her reform plans.

It is an example that the provincial government should emulate to insulate the municipalities from being forced to finance employees until the day they die.

Perhaps our MPP, the Hon. Liz Sandals, might step out of the shadows and advise the premier that the government needs to rewrite the Police Act to stop the excessive growth of Ontario police salaries and benefits.

Our member’s track record supporting the provincially mandated issues facing her constituents has been a dismal failure. This includes the property tax deal mandated by the province in which the city receives the equivalent of $75 per University of Guelph student in lieu of property tax.

Ms. Sandals is a cabinet minister in the provincial government. She has some say in what reforms her party is willing to introduce to reduce the financial liabilities the province has downloaded to the municipalities.

This includes the ability to fire, for cause, any public servant convicted of improper conduct or betrayal of trust. It includes rewriting the Ontario Police Act so that municipalities have financial control over their public safety employees.

In Guelph, the GPSB could start with eliminating the sick leave system that allows employees to accumulate unused sick days and receive a one-time payout when retiring. The former police chief walked away with more than $40,000 in sick day pay that he did not use. In short, he was paid twice for those days that he didn’t take off as sick leave.

With most public employees receiving three per cent salary and wage increases and benefits a year, it’s a hard sell to those who pay the bills. The average middle class worker in Ontario has not received similar increases in the past ten years.

In fact the Ontario workplace has changed dramatically in that ten-year period. Private sector wages have stagnated for most workers. Jobs have disappeared as the manufacturing sector has shrunk.  Many new hires are not offered permanent employment, few benefits and are classed as independent contractors taking them outside the Ontario labour laws..

Housing prices have soared and Ontario has one of the highest tax rates in North America with a consumption tax of 13 per cent; service fees that are taxes on top of taxes; land transfer taxes; gouging prices on alcoholic beverages; annual incremental increases of everything from driver’s licences to birth certificates to provincial park camping fees.

This Liberal government has overstayed its welcome and is no longer the party of reform. The party’s management of the economy speaks volumes of its inability to balance the budget and maintain a level of affordable services for all citizens.

Unfortunately, the alternatives are not attractive at this point in time.

Ms. Sandals represents a provincial party that is unable to manage except to keep raising taxes and fees and public sector salaries and wages.

Guelph and Ontario deserves better representation.

 

 

 

 

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Twins: The Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Davito of two newspapers

Posted January 27, 2014

The Hamilton Spectator and Guelph Mercury have the same corporate ownership. In a recent commentary, the Spectator’s editor-in-chief, Paul Berton, enlightened readers of the newspapers’ role in covering the next municipal election.

His piece outlined the policy of the Spectator in which the paper wants to ensure that voters are well informed about their community.

“Voters who know their community make good political choices, and good political choices make for healthy, prosperous and progressive communities.

“This is the true raison d’etre of newspapers such as the Spectator. It is the most important thing we do. We want people, whatever their political stripes, to understand the issues and from as many sides as possible,” Mr. Berton stated.

Now that seems crystal clear.

Compare that statement with the deathly silence on the subject from the Guelph Mercury’s editor-in-chief, Lynn Haddrell. She’s also editor-in-chief of the Record in Kitchener/Waterloo.

In fact, the Mercury has adopted an editorial policy that supports Mayor Farbridge’s administration right down the line. Can you image the paper examining the issues from all sides?

When was the last time that happened in the pages of the Mercury?

Is it possible that there is a great divide about fair and complete editorial coverage between the Hamilton Spectator and Guelph Mercury?

While the two papers are corporate twins, guess which one is compared to Schwarzenegger and the other Davito (with apologies to Mr. Davito)?

The Mercury is dependent on city hall press releases and discussions with staff and elected officials. Despite an open policy of letters to the editor, it rarely challenges the administration statements in the news or opinion pages. The paper’s community editorial board is dominated by supporters of the Farbridge regime.

For example why hasn’t the Mercury investigated the costs of the Waste Innovation Resource Centre? There are a number of questions that should be asked about this huge citizens’ investment. Instead we get a six-part series on waste management that pandered to the governing party’s agenda.

The laughable part was Mayor Farbridge being quoted in the first installment that she “didn’t believe waste management would be an issue in the 2014 elections.”

So when a citizens group in the city requests an audit of the city’s finances and operation by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Mercury waits five days before asking for an interview with the organization’s spokesperson.

Then in a fit of fair play, the resulting story also included the mayor’s comments denying the audit details. Subsequently, the Ministry officials confirmed the accuracy of the petition numbers. Yet the Mercury failed to report these facts.

Since last October, the Mercury has not written one word about the citizen’s organization, it membership, its goals or its plans. As far as the Mercury is concerned, GrassRoots Guelph doesn’t exist.

Ah, but coverage of the Guelph Civic League is friendly and frequent.  There a number of questions the paper should be asking the GCL about its goals, purpose, finances, membership and, most importantly, its history.

Mr. Berton summed it up quite nicely: “It’s simply not true that you can’t fight city hall.”

How about you?  Join the growing chorus of citizens who seek a more balanced city council where business is conducted in public. GrassRoots Guelph is a non-partisan cooperative that includes all citizens and not just the chosen few. Drop into GrassRootsGuelph.com and participate. Be an informed citizen working with neighbours and friends to create a new direction for our city.

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Citizens are flying blind on the costs of our waste management white elephant

Posted January 26, 2014

The following article was originally posted June 25, 2013. The questions remain unanswered by Mayor Farbridge’s administration despite many attempts to obtain the answers. This has occurred for good reasons, as the administration is too embarrassed to allow the truth to be told.

From the get-go, this was a failed project that lacked a competent business plan, created by a naive management team and powered by a small group of elected ideologues. They were determined to use city money to meet their unrealistic goals to divert waste from the landfill.

The recent announcement of Guelph winning an award for diverting waste from the landfill from the largely unknown Waste Diversion Ontario, rings hollow particularly when the books are cooked. Guelphspeaks published the real 2012 waste processing numbers earlier in 2013. The source was Aceon, the Markham based consulting firm, hired to report of the efficiency of the Waste Innovative Resource Centre (WIRC).

If this $53 million exercise was to divert waste from the landfill, it is an expensive and colossal failure.

Why did the city build a plant to process its wet waste that is triple the capacity of the needs of the municipality? Particularly when the city refuses to collect waste from 6,400 condominium households that represent 13.6 per cent of total households in the city. Further, those residents must pay $1,433,600 to the city for NOT collecting its garbage. Instead, they pay private contractors to remove their garbage that winds up, unprocessed, in the landfill.

Wonder if WDO knew about this?

Out of 105,000 tonnes processed in 2012 at the WIRC site on Dunlop Drive, some 48,000 tonnes were sent to the landfill. That means that the WRIC processed 57,000 tonnes diverted from the landfill or 54.28 per cent, not 67.72 per cent as claimed by WDO.

But that 105,000 tonnes included recyclables from a number of sources, wet waste from the Region of Waterloo, and non-compostable wet waste feedstock.

Based on the WDO prize winning figure of 67.72 per cent diversion, that would mean the city is claiming that the WIRC diverted 71,106 tonnes from the landfill. According to the city’s own consultants, that didn’t happen.  It was only 57,000 tonnes.

Maybe they should give the trophy back.

Questions:

1.  Why did general contractor Maple Reinders tell an Ottawa construction convention that the Guelph waste management facility cost $28 million? The city claims it cost $31.6 million. That has increased again to $34 million.

2.  Why the $6 million difference? Where did the money go?

3.  What are the details of the operating contracts between the city (owner of OWPF) and Maple Reinders and its subsidiary companies, Aim Environmental (AE), Wellington Organix (WO)?

4.  What is the legal relationship between the city and the Maple Reinders companies?

5.  What are the details of financing the OWPF?

6.  Does the city pay all debt servicing, operational and maintenance costs?

7.  Does AE/WO have exclusive rights to operate the OWPF plus sales of composted material?

8.  If so, what are the terms of the contract, length of agreement, commissions, loss provision, depreciation, and operational subsidies?

9.  What are the commissions paid to AE/WO on the sale of OWPF capacity?

10.  Why is the Region of Waterloo failing to meet its contract to deliver 20,000 tonnes of feedstock to the OWPF?

11. Was the Region’s 9,100 tonnes of wet waste contribution calculated in the performance of the Guelph OWPF for 2012? Was this tonnage part of winning the waste diversion award?

12.  Is the Region still paying for the 20,000 tonnes regardless of whether they meet the contract to deliver?

13.  Why is the city now offering to sell the unused Region of Waterloo to other communities?

14.  Who pays for removal of rejected feedstock to the OWPF?

15.  What are the operating costs per processed tonne of the OWPF?

16.  What are the full operating costs of the OWPF including overhead, debt charges, commissions, bonuses, salaries and benefits, insurance, consultants, maintenance, modifications legal and accounting, engineering?

17.  What is the 2013 estimated revenue from OWPF operations?

18.  What was the profit (loss) position of the OWPF in 2012 and 2013?

19.  What did the “Arkona Farmer” pay for the 3,400 tonnes of compost produced by OWPF in 2012?

20.  Did AE/WO negotiate that sale? Was there a commission paid for that transaction?

21.  Was the source of the submission to WDO prepared by city staff or an independent body?

*            *            *            *

If the city lacks the capacity to feed wet waste into its organic composting plant, now or in the future, taxpayers must ask: “What were they thinking?”

Too late, we’re stuck with this gigantic white elephant that citizens will be paying for over the next 20 years.

And it was created by a few elected officials under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, who put personal environmental views ahead of the city’s ability to process waste from all homes and pay for it.

 

 

 

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There are choices, then there are the choices made by our Mayor

Posted January 25, 2014

In a recent meeting of a handful of participants in the City of Guelph council chambers, the mayor answered a question about what was the city going to initiate, a $34 million dollar police headquarters or a new downtown library?

The answer was unequivocal as the Mayor replied that the police station was a top priority. While she stated it was not an “either or choice”, she failed to mention that council had already approved spending the money on the new cop shop.

Yes there is a caveat, the city staff and police administration staff is to examine the alternatives to reduce the capital costs. The deadline is in April for the findings to be presented to council. So, let’s play councillor.

In the 2013 capital budget, council approves spending $13.3 million to renovate the downtown police headquarters as requested by the Police Services Board (GPSB).

Six months later, the GPSB said the renovation costs were now $34.3 million.

Then the mayor tells council that they have no choice but to agree to the demand because the police have the ability to appeal any decision regarding their working conditions through provincial legislation.

Here’s what really happened: A motion by the minority group on council, Andy Van Hellemond, Gloria Kovach, Jim Furfaro and Cam Guthrie to revisit the new information was defeated. Then the Farbridge council majority steam-rolled approval spending $34 million on the police HQ building.

No one on council suggested that the city could not afford such a capital outlay. No one said let’s challenge the provincial authority to force a municipality to provide“ adequate” facilities for the police to carry out their duties.

No, it was passed by an 11 to three vote. So citizens we are stuck with a project that should have been vetted before approval.

It’s not the Farbridge way.

Sometimes Mayor, you have to stand-up and say “no way.” No way to the Police Services Board that passed a resolution demanding the city pay for a facility that its staff had no part in the gestation of the project.

This is money belonging to the citizens, not the unelected members of the Police Services Board.

Yes, Madame Mayor. You did have choices. You are a member of the Police Services Board along with Coun. Leanne Piper. At that level where business is conducted in secret, you had a fiduciary responsibility to say no as Coun. Piper should have done..

This city cannot afford spending capital on that project as proposed by the Police Services Board. That decision will bury the new downtown library, the south-end recreation centre and major redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot.

No Madame Mayor, you have blown the capital budget and the ability to cover the debt costs of your grandiose vision our city.

Let’s start with the money spent on the “well-being” initiative. A ditsy program in which few people understand or let alone participate.

Then proceed to Coun. Lise Burcher’s vision of wiping out a viable commercial development to create a new riverside park. Staff estimated cost is $16 million. Might as well double it because that’s what happens to capital projects initiated by this administration.  Remember the renovation of the Farmer’s Market? A cost of $170,000 presented by staff and approved by council, zoomed to $500,000

Or consider the cost of the abortive waste management system that cost more than $55 million and is still not working as planned.

Oh, Madame Mayor, you made choices.

Your excursion into a vision of world-class waste management has not met expectations. Your stewardship has saddled the citizens with operations  and projects that the citizens must fund. And because of your majority controlling council, citizens have little input or influence to say no.

The result is the Waste Resource Centre is over-staffed; does not meet initial targets after two years of operations. Capping it off, your council has forced increased taxes and user fees, have escalated debt to a level not experienced among our peer municipalities. The foray to becoming the world leader in waste processing has been a dismal and expensive failure.

Citizens have the right to ask for a copy of the business plan(s) that justified this huge expense. And don’t throw the propriety argument at us. This system, a term used loosely, is owned by the people. They are entitled to know what deals were cooked with Maple Reinders and its subsidiary companies, Aim Environmental and Wellington Organix.

Or, is there some embarrassing reason why this information is not shared with the stakeholders? Cost overruns? Contract disagreements? Poor advice? Unreliable information? Management misunderstandings? Commissions to private operators?

 

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More on how the Farbridge dictatorship shuts down free speech

Posted January 24, 2014

Following up on how our city is being run by the Farbridge ruling party, comes the way they control the message.

Okay, here’s the scenario. The city asks citizens to join Guelph’s Rental Housing Licensing Working Group. This group is composed of interested citizens and stakeholders. As an aside, they better use the Sleeman Centre to allow those affected by the student rental problem in Wards Five and Six.

But to belong to the working group, a citizen must sign a “standard city confidentiality agreement” before being accepted as a participant. One interested citizen has said no.

Just so we are clear, this is a request for citizen volunteers to contribute to solving a serious problem. So what are the pertinent contents of this “standard confidentiality agreement?”

“I acknowledge that:

I will acquire certain knowledge or oral information which is either non-public, confidential or proprietory to the city and

“The interests of the city may be harmed if unauthorized parties obtain the information.”

Then follows two paragraphs of promises by the candidate promising not to copy, reveal any information to anyone directly or indirectly. And “I understand, to use the information if the city fails to exercise its rights does not free ME from the obligations under this agreement.”

Now, why would any clear thinking citizen ever agree to this convoluted legal document that does nothing but protect the interests of the Farbridge administration?

How can they possibly get a frank and honest opinion from a citizen interested in making his voice heard in the development of policy?

The city invites citizens to participate but having to sign this “standard confidentiality agreement” only tightens control of the message. There have been a number of these “citizen participation groups” over the years, brought on by the Farbridge administration. It is now apparent that only FOFs (Friends of Farbridge) fill the positions and the outcome is tightly controlled and predictable.

This is the essence of a dictatorship. Control the message, control the media and keep discussion and information behind closed doors.

Well, Tina McKinnon, Guelph’s Access, Privacy and Records Specialist, responded to an enquiry by Chris Herhalt of the Mercury asking why the city asks community members of advisory panels to sign confidentiality panels. Her response:

“Asking working group members to sign a “standard confidentiality agreement” helps prevent incomplete or inaccurate information from being shared outside the working group. This gives the city time to meet with other individual stakeholders or groups and gather unbiased community input before making a recommendation or decision.”

Well, that doesn’t place much faith in the veracity of the participants, don’t you think?

What happened to the Mayor’s pledge on 2006 to run an open and transparent city government?

Who does this dopey, self-serving document protect? The staff? The council? The special interests, read that the student housing landlords? Don’t kid yourself that it is designed to protect the citizen volunteers.

The student housing rental situation affecting areas in Ward Five and Six, is a prime platform issue of GrassRoots Guelph. Join this independent citizen’s group at GrassRootsGuelph.com. You will be part of a dynamic organization dedicated to informing the public of a better way to run a city.

One that will be open and reflect the needs and ideas of a city that is mired in self-serving secrecy and financial mismanagement.

There is no room for a dictatorship in this city or any other jurisdiction in Canada.

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A snapshot assessing the record of an unwanted dictatorship

Posted January 23, 2014

In November 2006, Mayor-elect Karen Farbridge could hardly believe her good fortune. She and her professional advisors had conducted a campaign that delivered an absolute majority of her fellow supporters. The final result was the Farbridge Party elected 11 supporters to council and the opposition, two.

The description of the party depicts a voting bloc that slavishly follows the dictums of the leader and her advisors. All you have to do is examine the voting record of council in the four-year term when the count was chiefly 11 to 2.

There was one notable exception when the Farbridge coalition collapsed. That was the night the Mayor lost her only vote in seven years. It was the night council did not agree to sell Guelph Hydro, much against the Mayor’s pleading to approve.

It didn’t much matter. Because the Farbridge Party called a $30 million loan owed by Guelph Hydro which was used to finance the policies and plans of the ruling party. Where the money went  or was spent, is still a mystery.

Then there was the firing of two seasoned and key staff executives.  Chief Administration Officer, Larry Kotseff, and Chief Financial Officer David Kennedy, were dismissed without cause. The ruling party clammed up on the cost of firing them, but a year or so later it was revealed it was in excess of $500,000.

Since that dubious action, there have been two CAO’s and four CFO’s.  There has been an avalanche of retirements, resignations and firings that resulted in the loss of talented and dedicated managers and employees.

It is apparent that staff morale was diminished as the ruling party dictated what it wanted and when. More significantly there was a removal of any checks or balances that the administration would accept.

This is how a dictatorship works. Remove the dissidents and replace them with those who support the ruling party agenda. Not only that, but hire new staff to fill jobs created by the ruling party’s self-serving agenda. By 2012, there were 2,065 employees.

That’s a 27 per cent increase over the total number of city employees in 2006. In the same period the population of Guelph grew by 5.8 per cent.

Again to recap, the staff costs escalated to a point where the most recent financial statements show us, those costs consume 80 per cent of the 2012 city budget of $183 million.

Now the Farbridge supporters maintain that the employee costs are only $146 million. But they leave out the total cost of employees plus the catacomb of benefits including the exacerbating rise in pension obligations.

The ruling party has an obligation. Some 80 per cent of all city employees are unionized or members of a staff association. Even the senior members of staff have their own association to negotiate salary and benefit increases. The man in charge of staff compensation and negotiations is Executive Director, Mark Amorosi.

Here is where the going gets rough. The unions are abject supporters of the Farbridge ruling party. The unions have largely financed the Mayor’s political campaigns, directly or indirectly, with funding or “in kind” support.

In the background is the Guelph Civic League that has now  reveals itself as managing the Mayor’s  re-election campaign. How else can you explain that it organized a meeting, in the people’s council chambers for the mayor to give a “state of the city” address?

Let’s talk about this organization; one that has received a $135,000 Trillium Foundation grant awarded to a subsidiary known as 10 Carden Street. It happens to be the address of the Guelph Civic League. Since last September, civic league leaders have been saying that this is the “new” Guelph Civic League. Turns out it’s the same old gaggle of ruling party supporters backing a tired and irresponsible party that is devoid of financial acumen.

Citizens of Guelph, only we have ourselves to blame as we elected this Farbridge ruling party. However, there is a tsunami of rejection roiling in the city, one that is ready to reject this coalition of minority interests, single-issue adherents and wasteful spenders.

Our Mayor has had the comfort of bringing together these forces that do not reflect the views of the majority. That hidden majority of citizens who are disgusted with the high taxes they are forced to pay, the excessive user fees, the reduction in services, the secrecy and the growing long-term debt the city faces.

Yes, there will be an election October 27 that will shape the future of this city for years to come.  Re-electing the Mayor and her ruling party adherents will result in creating a city of high taxes, high debt and probably an exodus of residents who will move to other more rational and friendly municipalities.

Join GrassRoots Guelph, an organization of citizens dedicated to bringing rationale and common sense governance to the city. Drop into GrassRootsGuelph.com and join the hundreds who have already indicated support. Let’s work together toward making our city a model of efficiency, fair taxes, and growth of businesses to create jobs and opportunity.

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