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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