Here are some questions that you should be asking every member of council and those running for office next October.

Posted February 16, 2014

It has been almost eight years that the administration, under the leadership of Mayor Karen Farbridge, has imposed major changes and subsequent far-reaching financial obligations on the citizens.

Like all partnerships involving the public trust, there is a day of reckoning coming. Already there is evidence of missteps with the most major being the administration’s inability to accurately forecast revenues and expenditures.

This has been born out by the presentation of GrassRootsGuelph.com, a group of citizens who presented a petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), requesting an audit of the city of Guelph’s finances and operations.

During the most recent three-year period, the city council approved spending more than $24 million in excess of its own budgets. This fact was outlined in the citizens’ petition that is still under investigation by the Ministry.

In 2012, the city stated in its obligatory Financial Information Report (FIR) sent to the MMAH that the gross plant value of the Dunlop Drive waste management facility was  $76,407,350. The 2010 FIR stated a gross plant value of $40,973,921. That’s an increase of 53.62 per cent in just three years. The increase of depreciation declared in the same period was only 7.1 per cent.

Question: How do you explain the huge increase in valuation of the facility but the small increase in depreciation?

Question: What is the real cost of operating this facility that is carrying this ever increasing valuation?

Question: In view of the fact that the Organic Waste Processing Facility (OWPF) is dependent on outside supply of feedstock, when, if ever, will this waste management system become self-supporting?

Question: Why did council spend $33 million on a compost plant that is three times the needs of the city?

Question: What is the annual operating cost, including debt servicing, plus capital spending at the end of 2013?

Question:  When will the city start collecting waste from all residences and businesses so it can rightfully claim it is tops in Ontario for diverting waste from the landfill?

Question: As a councillor, did you vote for the various resolutions that created this waste management system?

*            *            *            *

In 2007, the Farbridge-dominated council approved moving the Civic Museum from Dublin Street to the former derelict Loretto Convent on Catholic Hill. The project is still under construction and the latest cost is some $16 million. The museum is open for four hours a day and there is no transparent accounting of the operating costs.

Question: What are the terms of the agreement between the city and the Diocese of Hamilton, owners of the convent building?

Question: What are the year-to-date costs of renovating the building?

Question: What are the details of the original operating plan including visiting hours, estimated adult visitations, effect on tourism, restoration and safe keeping of artifacts, number of staff, and operating budget?

*            *            *            *

More than two years ago, the lower portion of Wyndham Street was closed for reconstruction. Part of that was a renovation of the CNR railway bridge that passed over the street. When the street reopened last fall, it was discovered that large commercial vehicles could not use the street because the vehicle collided with the under part of the renovated rail overpass. And there were several collisions.

Question:  Why was this major street, being rebuilt by the city, and fail to properly measure the clearance to allow all traffic to pass under the overpass safely?

Question: What is the city going to do about it?

*            *            *            *

In 2013, the city staff recommended spending $170,000 to renovate the farmer’s market building, the former horse barn used years ago. After receiving council approval, the staff reported that the renovation was to cost $500,000.

Question: Did council approve this increase of $330,000?

Question: Was the job tendered and what was the result of the process?

Question: Was there favouritism in the selection of the contractor who eventually did the work?

Question: Which staff member approved this project that was originally presented to council?

*            *            *            *

Following up, the same department of city staff recently reported to council that the “living wall” of plants in city hall needed $10,000 in repairs and estimated future monthly maintenance costs of $1,000. The plant wall is part of the greening of city hall that has a green roof as well.  Due to a number of problems including drainage, the roof project had to be renovated at a cost of $250,000.

Question:  While improving the environment is commendable, at what point does it no longer be cost effective or beneficial?

Question: Is it cost effective to pay $1,000 a month to maintain this environmental feature?

*            *            *            *

By a vote of 12 to 0, council approved spending $11.7 million by deferring taxes on two downtown condominium projects. Now the argument can be made that the resolution did not exactly spend the money. It just meant that the taxpayers, who receive no tax holidays, would not have the benefit just given to two developers. Both these developers said that if they did not receive the ten-year deferment of property taxes they were not prepared to build the projects. This recent vote was part of a two year-old resolution that set aside $33 million to encourage condominium development downtown. All the money has been allocated.

Question: What was council thinking? Did it fail to see the fiscal problems this could bring to taxpayers over the next ten years?

Question:  Did council ignore the political fall out of this decision?

Question: Is this council so susceptible to threats that do not serve the public interest or trust?

These are just some of the vital questions that this council and administration need to answer.  As the election campaign unfolds, there will be more questions that voters will be asking.

If you are concerned about the way our city is being managed, then join the only citizen’s organization that is questioning the administration. Join today at GrassRootsGruelph.com. GRG, it’s by the people for the people.

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4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

4 responses to “Here are some questions that you should be asking every member of council and those running for office next October.

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Gerry: There are a number of unanswered concerns relating to the last topic above: the deferring of multi-millions of dollars of taxes for downtown condominiums. Did any member of the council have the temerity to ask the developers for a sensitivity analysis of the Return on Investment (ROI) of the projects both with and without tax holidays? Did the developers even deign to provide project costs so council could evaluate the impact of the subsidies? What % of the total project costs are covered by the tax deferral? To pose a rhetorical question:do the tax deferrals give the city any equity in the projects? Were the projects so marginal to begin with that they would not fly with out the corporate welfare handout? With the mayor led council not having a reputation as being the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to financial or numeric literacy, was outside independent opinion sought before the money was given away?

    • Glen N. Tolhurst: I am still stunned that in a 12-0 vote, not one councillor asked or answered these questions. Or what provisions were put in place to protect the taxpayer’s interests in this charade? And not one councillor is offering any assurances to citizens that their decision was based on basic business practice. Where in hell are the checks and balances? This is a major league con job that even sucked in four of the five opposition members on council. How does the average taxpayer figure out how to stop this mindless spending when heading to the polls next October?

  2. laura

    It is my understanding that the developers are eligible for up to 30% of the cost of construction this includes both the brownfield and tax assessment rebates. Somewhere I read that developers like to make – at the minimum a 15% return on their building projects. So is the city money the developers are receiving going to reduce the cost of the condo units for buyers or to increase the developers profit margins??
    5 Arthur Street (Woods site) wants part of the money to pay for their underground parking. Underground parking is very expensive to construct. I think it is somewhere in the ? $18,000 per parking spot.
    One wonders in a city where the staff, Mayor and her council supporters have been actively promoting the demise of the personal auto – AKA take public transit, bike walk etc. why we would subsidize underground parking???
    Also 5 Arthur Street lies entirely below the regional flood zone. Who will pay in the future if the underground garage floods??

    • Laura: Points well taken! You can put the anti-auto bias frequently displayed by the Farbridge group right up there with the landfill diversion efforts that, so far have cost more than $76 million, (see gross waste plant valuation in the city’s FIR report to the province). In their ego-driven efforts to turn our City into a world class whatever, the taxpayers have paid an exorbitant price.

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