Posted September 27, 2014
This election has evolved into two polarized factions: Those who support Mayor Karen Farbridge and her team of elected supporters and those represented by GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) who oppose the policies and management of the city.
There are fundamental differences between the two.
GRG, from the first day of founding in the summer of 2011, emphasized informing and encouraging citizens to vote October 27 to elect a new council.
GRG is the only citizen’s organization that has examined the city’s official financial reports and exposed serious errors. This was performed by a professional financial analyst. It then culminated in a petition to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an independent audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations.
Ignoring her own staff’s confirmation that the figures and data in the four-page petition were accurate, the Minister, at the time, rejected the request stating it was a local issue and the two parties should resolve their differences.
Nothing has changed and GRG stands by the content of its petition to this day.
Then along came Urbacon. Following a five-week trial in early 2013 between Urbacon Buildings Systems Corp., general contractors for the new city hall, and the City of Guelph who terminated the $42 million contract before completion.
The contractor sued the city for $19.2 million following termination September 19, 2008.
In late March this year, almost six years after the dismissal, Justice Donald MacKenzie found the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon. In June, the Justice released his reasons for judgment in a scathing, 54-page indictment of mismanagement of the contract by the city.
The city attempted, in a separate trial, to delay the damages portion of the Urbacon trial until after the civic election in October. That was dismissed and reaffirmed the order that the damages portion of the trial must begin October 14.
In mid-September, the city announced a settlement with Urbacon paying $6.635 million. It also revealed its legal expenses were $2.3 million.
Now even if you recently arrived from planet Pluto, you would quickly see that the Farbridge administration made a gigantic mistake, one in which the citizens are paying for.
While the administration and its supporters spin the $8.635 million as not affecting the city’s property taxes, the fact remains that the loss is on the shoulders of the citizens regardless if they own property or not.
The city says the funds will come from reserves, but not specifying which ones. Further they say the reserves will be replenished within five years. Sources? It will come from future revenues including property taxes.
See? It didn’t cause an increase in property taxes at all, right?
But let’s take a look back at how taxes have increased in Guelph since the Farbridge administration has been running the show.
This is a personal experience. We have lived in Guelph for 11 years. In that time our taxes have doubled to just under $7,000. Taking an average cost over 11 years of $5,000 our tax contribution during that period is $55,000.
Because we live on street that is designated as a land condominium, we must pay a private contractor to pick-up our unsorted waste, pay to have our streets plowed in winter and are responsible for the infrastructure of our street including water and sewer pipes feeding into the city system.
But the city does not give credits to property taxpayers for services they do not provide. People who choose this type of housing, end up paying double.
Now let’s compare the property tax rates between the University of Guelph and the 6,400 residences who live in condominiums of different types but are not serviced with waste pick-up, or streets being plowed, or leaves being picked up.
The university is the largest landowner in the city of Guelph. Yet its provincially invoked system of paying property taxes has not changed since 1987. Here’s how it works. The university pays $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. There is an estimated 22,000 students attending so that works out to $1,650,000 per year.
Comparing what our property taxes averaged over 11 years, $55,000, to what the university pays, $825 in the same period reveals there is a huge disparity that favours the university. Historical note: In 1775, they held a tea party in Boston dumping tea in to the bay in protest of taxation without representation.
This unfair system does not include the city-subsidized transit service provided to university students. Or supplying city services to the ever-expanding institution. Or considers the income the university receives from leasing its lands along Stone Road to commercial and residential developments.
Here’s another example. A single, modest industrial operation in the city pays more than $200,000 in property taxes. That’s 12 per cent of the total paid by the university and it’s just one of hundreds of industrial and commercial operations in Guelph that have endured excessive property taxation. Is it any wonder that the city has failed to increase its industrial and commercial assessment from only 16 per cent in eight years?
Taxes are just too high compared to peer municipalities and it discourages development and job creation.
This is the basis of discontent of most of the city residents, especially those on low or fixed incomes facing property taxes that have increased by more than 3.5 per cent annually since the Farbridge administration took over. The argument that properties have increased in value is specious because taxes must be paid annually. Property appreciation doesn’t occur until it’s sold.
Now, two letters in the Mercury from obviously die-hard supporters of Mayor Karen Farbridge, state it’s not her fault or responsibility. In one, the writer says the Urbacon lawsuit was the fault of city staff. The other is a love-in for the Mayor and what a wonderful, accomplished person she is winning all those awards for which she applied.
So now Farbridge supporters are turning on the city staff for losing the Urbacon Lawsuit. Gotta love this line from the letter to the editor: “The Mayor has no responsibility for a mistake made by city staff.” Well, assuming that writer’s statement is correct, if not the mayor and council, doesn’t that just leave the hired hands holding the bag?
Now hold on. Of the city staff, 80 per cent are members of a union. They are the bedrock of financial support for the Farbridge candidates, including the mayor, in the upcoming election.
With that kind of comment, is organized labour going to be less enthusiastic supporting the Mayor and cohorts?
Bottom line? Four more years of Farbridge will result in more of the same abuses of the public trust: More taxes and user fees, special levies for downtown projects, neglect of other parts of the city in order to support downtown development and finally, more secrecy in operating the city.
This time, stay tuned because there are alternatives about to be presented to end these destructive policies.