Updated May 27, 2014
The newly elected Farbridge administration recently embarked on an ambitious program to elicit ideas from Guelph residents as to how they see their community evolving.
To be charitable, it was interesting but hardly a guidepost for city council to develop its so-called new Strategic Plan.
The city went to great lengths to probe the minds of the taxpayers with telephone surveys, employee surveys, a mailed survey to residents and “other feedback-generating mechanisms” to gain insight in community desires and values.
Out of an estimated population of some 122,000, the city received 400 write-in responses. That’s a .0032 portion of the population. The problem is that there is no indication of whether respondents were property owners or part-time residents; or what part of the city in which they live; their marital status or their age and gender.
The Mercury Ideas section, based on the city collected data, delivered a vision of what people desired for their city. It was hardly scientific and amounted to a wish list rather than a true picture of the majority of citizen’s values and aspirations.
Here are the chief suggestions, mostly centred on the agenda of the majority of the present council. The wish list included:
* More bike lanes;
* More bus service;
* More vehicle traffic controls;
* More mixed use housing downtown;
* Close off Wyndham Street to cars;
* Ban left-hand turns;
* Four-way stops at each intersection to slow speeders;
* Close the Hanlon expressway;
* Encourage people to get out of their cars and use alternative transportation;
* New developments planned for pedestrians;
* Address the sameness of subdivisions;
* Require that new development be designed for non-automobile traffic.
… And the beat goes on.
Now we see the past seven years wish list has turned out to be flawed and very expensive.
In the public interest, here is a list of issues needing council attention.
Starting in 2007, repair and resurface the roads in the older parts of the city. Didn’t happen.
Promote the growth of industrial-commercial assessment (now 16 per cent) to correct the imbalance of residential assessment (84 per cent). Homeowners in Guelph are paying more than their fair share because the city has not solved the out-of-whack assessment of property. This imbalance has not been a priority in this and the previous Farbridge administration.
The industrial/commercial ratio to residential assessment has not budged in the past eight years of the Farbridge administration. But property taxes have soared by 35 percent since the Mayor took office in january 2007. This exceeded the Consumer Price Index by some 15 per cent in the same time frame.
Investing $12.7 million to construct a civic museum in the derelict old Convent building not owned by the city. The majority of funding for this project came from the taxpayer’s pocket. It was a bad idea and a waste of money.
It turned out it cost more than $16 million and took four years to complete. We’ll never know the real cost because the city won’t reveal how budgets were manipulated to help pay for the serious foundation and structural problems encountered by the contractor.
Review the property tax deal between the city and the university, the largest landowner in Guelph. The school is also a major employer and user of city infrastructure including water, sewer, roads and transportation. Is the University paying its fair share of taxes?
The short answer is no. The collegial relationship that exists between council and the university administration for the past eight years has stifled any attempt to change the bed tax of $75 per enrolled student in lieu of property taxes. That rate is unchanged since 1987.
After demolishing the old waste processing plant, the greatest expense that the Farbridge administration has inflicted on citizens is the waste management plan that has cost an estimated $100 million. This estimate is based on what information is available. The administration steadfastly refuses to reveal the actual consolidated costs of a waste disposal plant, that is overbuilt to the needs of the city for the next 20 years. The result is the citizens of Guelph must underwrite the costs of servicing waste from other municipalities and businesses including Detroit and the Region of Waterloo.
Our municipal debt has doubled in the Farbridge years; water rates are up more than 77 per cent and now the Mayor is suggesting special tax levies to pay for the Baker Street project or the downtown underground thermal heating and cooling system. Yet, we still don’t have a new downtown library (promised in 2006 by the Mayor) or a south end recreation centre (promised by the Mayor in her first term 14 years ago).
And this administration has failed to solve the weekend abuses by patrons of the downtown bars who foul the streets with a wide variety of uncivil behaviour. Looking back, electors really did not understand what they were getting into, to allow this Farbridge-dominated council to get control of the city.
But our turn is coming.