How the Farbridge supporters are trying to salvage the city’s battered financial record

Posted September 25, 2014

There have been two articles published recently in the Guelph Mercury that demonstrate an abysmal understanding of the facts regarding the Urbacon Buildings Group Corp lawsuit that has cost this city to date, $8.935 million.

Underlying the op-ed page article by Aaron Massecar is the clumsy defence of his leader, Mayor Karen Farbridge. But first, what is a mayor? What are her responsibilities?

Mr. Massecar goes to great lengths to parrot the administration line that the mayor and her council were not responsible for the termination of Urbacon. He says, according to the judgment delivered by Justice Donald MacKenzie, the responsibility fell on Chief Administration Officer, Hans Loewig, and project manager, Murray McRae.

Well, not so fast Massecar. Hans Loewig never testified at the five-week trial. In fact he retired before the trial began. That fiction came from his successor, Ann Pappert, who laid the blame for firing Urbacon on him, allegedly because he had the power to terminate contracts. But canceling a $42 million contract, without the approval of the council who are fiduciarily responsible? Come Massecar, you should acknowledge where the buck stops.

Keep in mind there is more to come with the city facing to pay the costs of the Aviva lawsuit it started and lost. Now the mayor says that judgment of costs will not cause an increase in the tax rate because the money will come from reserves and will be replenished in full within five years.

Just pause for a minute. Where did the reserve funds come from and who will be replenishing the amount removed? It’s coming from the people who pay taxes and user fees that citizens use daily. Yes, the Farbridge administration has even set up water/sewer and Hydro charges as profit centres.

Which brings up the focus of the Farbridge supporters who claim this is not just about taxpayers. Really. Property taxpayers contribute some 46 per cent of all city revenues. They are the stakeholders in this $450 million corporation.

The Farbridge administration, in two terms, has increased property taxes by more than 38 per cent. Going forward, within eight more years, Guelph’s property taxes under a Farbridge administration will double.

On a personal note our property taxes have doubled in 11 years.

There is sufficient evidence Mr. Massecar that there are no snap judgments, just the plain truth. To blame Mayoralty candidate Cam Guthrie, for politicizing the Urbacon affair is wishful thinking. He’s just reflecting what people are saying. Your mayor and her council supporters have yet to accept responsibility for this financial debacle.

So “taxpayers” is a bad word. In a letter to the editor, Darina Griffin writes that pandering to self-worth by calling us (?) taxpayers is exploitive and is a cynical use of the label.

She goes on to state: “That there are no facts that support the notion that our finances are mismanaged.”

You can’t help these people. They are so indoctrinated into believing the Farbridge propaganda distortions that obliterate the truth, lie by omission, and do most of their work behind closed doors.

Let’s try to help them understand what has happened under the Farbridge watch.

The Judge’s detailed 54-page judgment made it very clear that the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon. The contract was not badly worded as the mayor alleged. The problem lay when there were more than 300 change orders demanded by the city that made the contractor’s completion schedule impossible to meet.

In fact, the city hall project was 95 per cent completed at the time of termination. Further, four weeks before the firing, Hans Loewig sent an email to Urbacon expressing how pleased he was with the progress and looked forward to an official opening in January 2009. This email was introduced as evidence at the five-week trial.

So Mr. Massecar and Ms. Griffin, there is ample evidence that your beloved leader can no longer dodge the responsibility. She is the chief magistrate of the city and must answer for this and other mismanaged events that have proved costly.

Taxpayers are citizens. But not all citizens are property taxpayers. So get over it. Save your rhetoric for the union and other cell meetings. This “we are citizens” campaign smacks of old time labour rhetoric creating class warfare.

It is an attempt to create division among the voters. It’s driven by the unionized employees who represent 80 per cent of all city workers. It is obvious they are supporting the Mayor because they have a lot of skin in the game.

And Ms. Griffin, suggesting that the facts of financial mismanagement are a “notion” only underscores your ignorance of the facts.

But then, you are entitled to your opinion.

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19 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

19 responses to “How the Farbridge supporters are trying to salvage the city’s battered financial record

  1. Joe Blow

    This is a smoke & mirrors administration that will say ANYTHING to try and shift or displace the blame for Urbacon. We have seen and heard it all, and they are not even finished. It seems impossible for anyone related to or in this administration to honestly and properly own up to their mistakes. Is that really such a hard thing to do? Do the citizens of Guelph not deserve more than a ‘ho-hum’ apology or a ‘ya but…’ apology? Lots of councillors would like to tell you that Guelphites deserve the best – I’ll let that speak for itself. This is an elementary school lesson we teach kids – be honest in your dealings with other people. It’s unfortunate that a bunch of grown adults forgot or don’t care about such an important lesson in LIFE.

  2. Boomer

    This Urbicon disaster is a hot potatoe our Mayor has refused to accept.
    Ms. Farbridge, you are our Mayor. The buck stops with you and the responsibility of the mess lays at your feet. Enough of your talking head Pappert doing everything in her power on your behalf to have someone else take the hit for this mess. BTW—it was disgusting the way the city celebrated the settlement as if they were heroes, they made the mess and now the TAXPAYER CITIZENS will be cleaning it up.

  3. Essie

    Isn’t one of the reasons municipal taxes get higher the fact that they are partly based on the value of your property, which has probably substantially increased over the last 11 years? The tax increase in 2004 was 6.9%. In 2014, it is 2.38%. Yes, we are all paying more dollars per year in taxes, but it’s not just because the government of the day is raising the rates of taxation.

    • Essie: The city budget property tax increase was 2.38 per cent for 2014. But the council left out the increase in assessment that drove the real cost to 4.37 per cent. If the Farbridge dominated council is not raising taxes, who is? Since the mayor and her cohorts took office Guelph’s property taxes have increased 38 per cent. That make Guelph one of the highest taxed cites in Ontario. Why would citizens support this mismanagement of our finances?

    • Brent

      Essie…municipal taxes do not normally rise each year if the assessment value of your property stays within the average % increase within the city.
      Increases in tax revenue from increased assessment mainly comes from newly completed and occupied residential buildings..and that was what reduced our taxes from just over 4% to just over 2% for this year. What the Farbridge admin likes to tell us is that this represents the lowest tax rate we have seen in many years…and imply that that reflects their outstanding financial management. What they don’t, tell you is that most seniors who own their own homes and want to stay in them received received a pension increase that was below 1% because that was what the official inflation rate rate for the period leading into 2014. That makes the tax increase over 100% more than the inflation rate…which has been better than usual but still a burden for many property owners who over the past 10 years have seen their property taxes double while income increases have been a small fraction of that. By the way, the truly scary prospect is the cautionary statement made by our Chief Financial Officer Mr. Horsman last November that tax increases over the next 3 years need to be in the order of 14% to maintain our financial health…if things do not change. Sadly we were hit with lawsuit for which we must pay an unbudgeted over 8 million dollars which has obliterated much of reserve cushion. Expect big tax increases after the election if the Farbridge group returns to council and begins restoration of the reserve funds while undertaking all the capital projects they want to pursue. Funny they don’t seem to want to remind us of what Mr. Horsman said.

  4. Glen N. Tolhurst

    If one is to look at the compounded CPI increase from 2000 to 2013 it would be 31% whereas the compounded Guelph property tax increase for the same period is 85%. It just so happens that Farbridge become mayor in 2000, and for 11 of the 14 years since has been mayor. What a dismal record of a lack of fiscal leadership that will be left as her legacy!

  5. Laura

    Essie there is no one to blame but the current Mayor and council for tax increases. They are the only ones who can vote to increase your taxes.
    Mayor Farbridge’s assertion that the none of the cost of the Urbacon lawsuit will come from your property taxes is really a half truth. The 1st half of the truth is that since the money to pay Urbacon is coming from the city’s reserve funds it must be replaced. How will it be replaced? Through your property tax dollars. That is the other half of the truth. If the city does not replace the reserve funds they will not be able to fix our aging infrastructure or projects may have to be deferred for years until the reserves are built back up. Such projects that could be deferred are the new library, South End Rec center, or any road improvements etc. So you see Mayor Farbridge is doing the usual smoke and mirrors approach of the half truth – I tell you half the truth it is up to you to figure out the half. A lie by omission really when you think about it. In this city you must learn to do your research and connect the dots yourself. A thankless task in most instances because some people in this town would rather listen to blather and not reality.
    Just recently the city announced that they will be leading tours of the different areas of sidewalk painting where there are gaps, bumps etc. in other words the sidewalks are not safe so the city must somehow attempt to decrease their liability by painting a bright orange stripe or some other colour etc. – you decide as Joe Public -we will take you on a tour so you can help us (the city) pick out a ? solution. for problematic areas of sidewalks.

    Yes, this is just another attempt by the city that allows You as Joe Public to become part of the solution to the problem. step right up -would you like pink or orange for the stripes on the sidewalks on your street. Perhaps we can match the colour of your house siding too! Thank you very much for helping us to chose the colour and method of painting. You are now part of the solution to our crumbling sidewalks. How positive this is! Until someone on your street or in the city falls and breaks their hip or arm.
    By even participating in this “exercise” it allows the city to say – well that’s what the public wants for us to paint the sidewalks instead of just putting money in the city budget to fix the sidewalks. There are many problems with this approach of not fixing the sidewalks – what if you are visually impaired – will you see the stripe? What if you walk with a walker and can’t get your walker over the sidewalk bump? Are then you physically able to get your walker over the hump safely even if you can see the bright orange hump??

    Well it remains to be seen what will happen if people still fall after this massive sidewalk painting occurs since there are so many sidewalks in need of repair with no tax money to fix them. But then that’s what happens when you give 18.1 million of tax payer’s money to the developers for the redevelopment of 5 Arthur Street. Now cuts have to be made somewhere to pay this project so other projects will have to be deferred such as sidewalks – People may be injured if there is no money in the budget for sidewalk repairs – obviously safety does not come 1st in this city before illusion of safety thus the sidewalk painting.

    To inject a little humour I wrote the following little ditty much like the ones the Raging Grannies sing to show how silly some political decisions are. It is sung to the tune of “Silver Bells” (my apologies to the original song writer)

    City sidewalks,
    city sidewalks
    dressed in bright orange lines
    In the air there’s a feeling of stupid.
    People falling;
    people calling …….
    It’s a lawyers best dream.
    CHORUS
    And in all of the BS you’ll hear
    Just – fix – them
    Just – fix- them
    It’s the safest idea for everyone
    Just – fix –them
    Just –fix –them
    Stop all the law-ah-suits please!

    please feel free to add your own next verse as we may as well laugh at the election too. OR if your not a singer please suggest a way we can collect all the election biogas being produced so we can make some use of it in our community energy plan.

    • sifad

      We( the City) can’t find any funds to repair the deplorable sidewalks downtown, BUT, have spent over $150,000.00 ( real financial total unknown, only the budgeted amount was reported in the Tribune) on the “Bird” sculptures to “draw downtown together”. Seriously??? I have nothing against art and culture, but, that just boggles my mind. So now, time to paint the danger zones! Says a lot about our downtown, and will look so lovely to visitors– how appealing! What nonsense!
      Just-fix-them !!!!!

    • Sifad: Yep, and they can’t afford to trim the weeds on the main road boulevards. Go figure.

    • Laura: Wotta talent! Our only problem is we have no sidewalks.

  6. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Laura’s comments highlight the technical, numerical, and financial illiteracy rampant in the city hall administration. There exists methods, that are not rocket science, to quickly repair at reasonable effort the out of kilter sidewalk slabs. The slapping of orange, or whatever colour paint, on the raised lips of sidewalk slabs, whilst the public is invited to tour the city looking at problematic sidewalks is so irrational as to be unbelievable. Are personal injury lawyers permitted to participate? If money had not been wasted on social engineering visions by the administration, the upkeep of sidewalks would be a non-topic. Sifad echoes the true feeling of many people.

  7. Essie

    Thank you, Gerry and Brent, for your additional information. To give you a personal example, based on my own situation, here are the actual dollar amounts per year my taxes have increased over the last 11 years:
    2004 +283.19
    2005 +85.28
    2006 +82.60
    2007 +72.29
    2008 +86.83
    2009 +109.07
    2010 +100.80
    2011 +61.13
    2012 +112.63
    2013 +188.84
    2014 +86.05

    I live relatively modestly in a small house that was built in 1932, and I have been retired and living on a pension since 2009. The assessed value of my house seems to go up by about $10,000 each year. I also see that there is an education levy of $500 and a public health levy of about $50 included in my final tax bill of just over $3000 for 2014. If there had been a zero tax increase in 2014, I would have less than $2 a week back in my pocket. Even in 2004, the most expensive year, I’d have had approximately $5 a week more to spend. Aside from the quite different concerns about how a municipal government spends those tax dollars, I honestly don’t feel like my property taxes are going through the roof compared to the rising costs of necessities like gas and groceries.

  8. Laura

    as a followup to my post you can view the sidewalk tour info here:

    http://guelph.ca/2014/09/public-input-sought-sidewalk-marking-options/
    “The sidewalk markings will be installed the week of September 22, and are scheduled to be in place for all four seasons, during which time they will be examined and evaluated against the pilot project criteria.

    “The City is seeking public input on the sidewalk marking alternatives to help determine a preferred marking option for use in Guelph,” explained Nello Violin, Manager of Roads and Right of Ways. “Members of the public will have an opportunity to view the markings and provide their comments through a series of sidewalk tours and an online feedback process.”
    As part of the project, the City will investigate sidewalk marking options to determine the best choice with respect to aesthetic appeal and endurance of the marking materials throughout seasonal conditions such as ice and snow, while maintaining compliance with the Minimum Maintenance Standards, Ontario Regulation 239/02.”

    NOTE (from me) : no mention is made of – do you think the best choice based on aesthetics and endurance will help prevent people from falling?
    hmmm what does aesthetic appeal mean – hearts and flowers anyone?

    • DAVID BIRTWISTLE

      ” aesthetic appeal…” be damned;get going on mudjacking the sidewalk pads,especially in high-traffic areas(of course this will probably mean the dowdy ‘Downtown’ will get the priority and the rest of the City will wait for years) and injury claims will be prolific( another URBACON in the offing?!) david.birtwistle@sympatico.ca

    • sifad

      I cannot believe what is going on!! Alerting the pedestrians to DANGEROUS TRIPPING HAZARD with paint ! Really !! A friend of mine has just returned from the large city her mother lives in (downtown) and they have the same problem with their sidewalks. Her mother uses a walker to get around, and the wheel caught on on of the “bumps” , she went down, and spent a week in hospital for treatment because the skin from her knee to ankle was torn from the bone . My friend stayed to help her mom after her return to her downtown apartment. She is an active senior living on her own and was doing quite well. In this particular city they paint the trip hazards as well. Go figure the thinking of our city. Wellesley also had the trip hazard problem, but they, being the creative folk that they are, got out the cement saws and shaved off the raised edges. The result is a gradual slope up or down. Saw it for myself last week. And here we are going to paint and do a year-long study !! Good grief !!!

  9. Jerry

    One thing you are forgetting is when the snow finally comes and they start
    plowing the sidewalks they cannot plow down to the cement because of the
    bumps.So that means the elderly,handicap people in this city will have a
    heck of a time getting around this city.

  10. Laura

    Your right Gerry I haven’t forgot that some areas of the city have no sidewalks examples are major roads such as Speedvale and also Woodlawn Rd. in the industrial areas. Remember last year’s budget meetings when a city engineer told city council and our Mayor that “in his professional opinion it was not safe for pedestrians on Woodlawn Rd. ” Even after hearing this, the majority of City council members voted to remove the money for new sidewalks from the budget. A few members, (Bob Bell being one I can’t remember which others) voted to leave the money in the budget for new sidewalks. But the majority obviously voted against it including the Farbridge followers on Council as I recall. So no new sidewalk on Woodlawn Rd. Good luck to all the pedestrians who will have brave the elements this winter yet again to walk on Highway 7, on a busy road , and on a truck route because there was no money in the capital budget for sidewalks. One wonders if it is even legal for pedestrians to walk on Woodlawn Rd. also known as Highway 7 on some portions. Did the council members who voted against the sidewalks even care? Is this an example of “Making Guelph a better place” ? For who??

    Can you imagine how horrible and unsafe it must have been for people trying to get to work on Woodlawn and Speedvale by transit and who had to walk after getting off transit to get to work – all the while dodging slush and trucks? Did this vote for no sidewalks by the Farbridge council members really follow their philosophy of making Guelph a better place????

    • Laura: Ah, but don’t forget the plans for Woodlawn (and Speedvale) that emphasize adding bicycle lanes as part of the $13 million planned for the expansion of bike lanes on major arterial roads. Another capitulation by the Farbridge administration to a loud minority demanding services for nothing.

  11. geo

    This is what happens when only 30% of eligible voters show up at the polls. Special interests rule. So come October 27th get off your butt and vote or don’t get off your butt, get on your computer and vote. Things can change and they can change for the better.

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