Posted August 31, 2014
In June this year, Mayor Karen Farbridge received the City Builder award from the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI). She received the award for championing innovative approaches to downtown revitalization, transportation planning and community energy use, according to a CUI news release. It appears CUI is an industry-lobbying group supported in part by the major banks.
In her press release the Mayor acknowledged being honoured and humbled for being chosen for this award. Really, ‘fess up m’lady, wasn’t there a smidge of self promotion involved?
“Competition for investment and talent is global,” she states. “An enviable quality of life that balances economic, environmental, social and cultural priorities is distinguishing Guelph and ensuring sustained prosperity of our city.”
Karen, please say it isn’t so: You are a legend in your own mind with those comments.
Let’s translate those statements for the stakeholders in your city.
Downtown revitalization: In eight years your government has been unable to curb the rowdyism and fouling of the downtown streets on weekends. But undeterred, your council approved taking funding from the Brownfield remediation reserve to encourage construction of hi-rise condo units. The result was an undisclosed agreement with these developers that allowed delay of development fees for ten years. This was before the upfront $22 million incentive bonus scavenged from the Brownfield reserve is repaid.
Let’s jump ahead to your pet Community Energy Initiative project that was announced recently with great fanfare. The news peg was Tricar developments agreeing to utilize the underground thermal heating-cooling system to be installed between the Sleeman Centre, River Run theatre and the second Tricar hi-rise condo. They are all located on Woolwich Street.
The presentations left out one important detail. What is the cost of this project, that in all likelihood, the required deep drilling will penetrate the water table? The Farbridge administration’s track record of capital projects is dismal with a record of lawsuits, and major cost overruns. Why is it that the builder of this proposal, a subsidiary of Guelph Hydro, is controlled by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. and not city council?
Next, her City Builder award includes transportation planning. Didn’t we just endure a three-week Guelph Transit work stoppage initiated by the Farbridge administration that locked out the workers? The workers complain, that the route changes made last year are such that drivers cannot maintain the imposed pick-up times. That sounds like a management problem, you think?
The Mayor’s award for transportation planning must include the $13 million to be spent over ten years to provide additional bike lanes, particularly on busy Speedvale and Woodlawn major arterial roads. And let’s not forget that repaving of Stevenson, Silver Creek and Downey road that were remarked to include wider bike lanes, reducing the two-way traffic from four lanes to two.
Does the criteria for “City Building” including rebuilding a bridge on the city’s main street that is too low for large commercial traffic? Before the city spent two years rebuilding lower Wyndham Street, all commercial traffic had no trouble passing under the railway bridge.
Now Her Worship speaks in her press release of balancing economic, environmental, social and cultural priorities that distinguishes Guelph. This comment is supposed to ensure sustained prosperity for our city. So, in eight years of the Farbridge leadership the industrial commercial assessment has not changed from 16 per cent of all city assessment. The result is the residential property owners are carrying an unreasonable 84 per cent of all assessment. And such inaction offers stagnant job opportunities for city citizens. That’s why a majority of Guelph’s working residents find employment outside the city.
That’s just more patting on the back by our newly minted City Builder.
Let’s look at the downside.
First, there is the millions the mayor and her majority of council has dumped into the Waste Innovative Resource Centre, aka the city dump. This includes building a $34 million organic waste management facility that is three times the size of the needs of Guelph for the next 20 years. Who can rationalize spending $15 million for a waste collection system using bins and special trucks? Oh, yes, some 6,400 households in the city have to hire private collectors to remove their garbage because the city refuses to do it. They must still pay for collection through their taxes.
Is the objective here to gain global attention for Guelph or, for the personal satisfaction of an ego-driven Mayor Farbridge?
Last but not least, there is the new city hall contract, now known as the “Urbacon Affair”. In September 2008, the Farbridge administration fired Urbacon Buildings Group Corp before the project was completed. Urbacon sued for $19.2 million for wrongful dismissal and a Superior Court Judge agreed with the company. The damages portion of this trial will commence October 14. The financial hit to this municipality is estimated to be in the millions.
And our Mayor, without remorse or shame clings to her City Builder award.
With recent statements it is apparent that the Mayor, if re-elected, will continue the same program of raising taxes and user fees plus special levies to meet her agenda.
Already council has approved in principal to spend some $25 million on Wyndham Street and St. George’s Square. Add to that, the cost of the Urbacon settlement and the $34 million police headquarters, the Baker Street 3P development. Now you know why there will be no south end recreation centre built in the foreseeable future.
Some Mayor, some builder