Monthly Archives: December 2014

Here’s to a great 2015 for all!

Posted December 26, 2014

Here is the guelphspeaks.ca wish list for 2015 hoping for all to enjoy a healthy, prosperous and happy experience next year. We have a lot to cheer for and appreciate next year. Further, we’ll be around next year.

* That ice and snow will come in limited amounts and the costs stay well below city budget. Hey! We’re off to a good start!

* That the outside city workers have warm clothing, good equipment and good health as they go about their rounds on our behalf.

* That the outdoor rinks stay frozen until the end of March.

* That the Guelph Storm wins the Memorial cup.

* That we remember those folks in our society at this time of year by donating to the food banks and supporting organizations dedicated to helping those less fortunate. Need never stops nor should giving.

* That we support those individuals whom we have elected to represent us on city council. Likewise, those members of council are reminded they serve the people.

* That we never forget the 58,000 Canadians who paid the supreme sacrifice 100 years ago in WW 1 and all veterans who served in WW 2, Korea, UN Peacekeeping and Afghanistan. They are the backbone of our democracy and must never be forgotten.

* That we declare an end to the “war on cars” in Guelph and address the growing vehicle congestion on the main arterial roads.

* That vehicle operators and cyclists respect each other on our roads.

* That our institutions, Hospitals, Senior’s residences, Schools, Police, Fire and EMS and the city’s staff, continue to perform to the high standard of professionalism and care that citizens have come to expect and respect.

* That the provincial government finally opens up the sale of beer and wine to grocery and convenient stores and put an end to the foreign-owned monopoly of the Beer Store. Welcome to the 21st century.

*  That Guelph again becomes the city of beauty with a plethora of flowers in public spaces that reflect the atmosphere that makes our people proud to live here.

* That we respect each other and work together for the common good. Criticism is one thing, but collaborative compromise is better.

* That we remember that we live in the greatest country in the world and guelphspeaks has been in a lot of them.

* That the Toronto Maple Leafs make the NHL playoffs and the second round. Okay. It’s importatnt to be an optimist.

* Folks, have a good one! Year that is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is the majority of city councillors bent on perpetuating the former mayor’s legacy of taxing and spending?

Posted December 21,2014

You don’t have to look much further than the recent spate of comments by those Farbridge supporters both elected or not, seeing the battle lines forming as the new council gets ready to meet its first test, passing the 2015 city budget.

Scott Tracey, former Mercury reporter covering city hall and recently defeated candidate for council, addressed the issue of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s notice of motion to change the method of the staff determining the annual property tax rate.

In a recent guest column, Tracey remind readers that it is wrong to compare the annual cost of living index known as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) with the one used by some municipalities known as the Municipal Price Index, (MPI).

Based on a continuous stream of data, the CPI is generated by StatsCan officials to determine the annual cost of living increases of goods and services to Canadians. Part of those costs to Canadians includes the cost of operating a residence or business. Part of that includes the increases in property taxes.

The increase on property taxes in Guelph over the eight years of the Farbridge administration grew exponentially by 38 per cent.

The MPI is an index determined by whom? Tracey does not tell us the origins of this index, how it is calculated or the sources of input. There are 443 municipalities in Ontario, each with differing costs, culture, liabilities and revenues.

Here is the nub of the argument. Canadians are concerned about rising costs. When the annual CPI increases in individual costs in most of the Farbridge years was 1.7 per cent, why were the average annual tax compounded increases in Guelph more than 4 per cent?

The point is that unlike the average Guelph ratepayer who has little control of costs operating a household, the city has a responsibility to control its costs to ensure that the annual increases in taxes and user fees are affordable.

Since its election in 2006, the Farbridge administration failed to consider the ability of many residents to pay their taxes and user fees, particulary those with lower incomes, those on fixed incomes and the unemployed.

This is one of the reasons that the people rejected the Farbridge administration. The lady went to the well once too often.

Guthrie is right to review to methodology of calculating the annual property taxes.

It was not too long ago that Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert on behalf of the staff, sent an 8.5 per cent property tax increase to council. When it was rejected she referred to council’s failing to pass the staff’s proposed increase as being “regressive.”

Then along comes newly elected Ward four Coun. Mike Salisbury who mumbled incoherently: “I’ve never been a fan of the idea of tying the tax rate to inflation. Inflation is a metric and a tool of macro economics that’s tied to the price of gold and oil. It has nothing to do with Guelph.”

That sounds like something lifted from the Communist manifesto.

By that reasoning the recent plunge in the price of oil and gold should result in a lower tax rate for city ratepayers. Right Mike? City operations will be affected in 2015 by the drop in oil prices in a big way. Gasoline now under $1 a litre represents a 30 per cent drop in just three months. Even borrowing costs may be lower due to gold price drop.

Well, he was on council in 2008 when the world financial base crumbled and Canada went into a deep recession. Now that was a case of macro economics!

But it didn’t stop council from once again increasing the property taxes regardless of the recession causing the collapse of businesses in Guelph and layoffs of residents. Nor did it stop the administration from kicking the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Systems, off the new city hall construction site. Following extensive court testimony in which the city was found guilty of wrongful dismissal, the cost to citizens is an estimated $21 million.

You will recall the settlement costs of the case, according to the then mayor and CAO Pappert, would not cause an increase in property taxes.

The 2008 global financial collapse took several years to recover. Regardless, the administration kept increasing tax and user fee costs to Guelph taxpayers. Now, despite an overwhelming rejection of the Farbridge doctrine, citizens are now in danger of having those same policies perpetuated by a new council dominated by her supporters.

We’ll know better in the next few weeks if their game plan is obstruction or collegial, collaborative accomplishment of needed fiscal reforms that benefit all citizens.

What is really needed is an independent financial review of the city’s books to form a basis for making sound decisions for the next four years.

 

 

 

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The ghosts of Farbridge past

December 13, 2014

Glory be! Here we are 48 days following the civic election and the Farbridge chattering class still can’t bring themselves to believe what happened. The string of letters to the editors proclaiming the work of our former mayor describes her leadership in terms of an historic legacy.

That compares to the legacy of Jimmy Durante, that old time vaudevillian. Old comics never die, they just fade away.

And such are the cases of Scott Tracey, the former city hall reporter for the Mercury who resigned from the paper but ran unsuccessfully for council in Ward Four. Or take the Gang of Four. Their three-year CFRU weekly broadcast on the U of G campus is kaput as of next week.

Then there is the Laidlaw family, Maggie and husband David. Maggie lost her bid for re-election and the couple have been protesting in the letter’s pages ever since. But ye of little faith, there is always an election going on somewhere. Maybe Maggie should consider running for the NDP or the Greens in the next federal election. If you are serious Maggie, you’d better lock up your new domain name pronto.

Ah, the good old days. But don’t despair you followers of Farbridge. The word on the street is that the phoenix may rise from the ashes and contest the upcoming Guelph Liberal party nominating convention prior to the 2015 federal election. Yes, Karen Farbridge could be the Liberal candidate in that election. Which raises the question: Where does that leave Lloyd Longfield who has also been mentioned as the candidate to replace Frank Valeriote.

What a tangled web we weave. Longfield left his CEO job at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce to accept a position from then Mayor Farbridge, as a mentor to folks interested in establishing businesses in Guelph.

Well, that was then and the Mayor fully expected to be re-elected. For Mr. Longfield it became an opportunity to contest the Liberal nomination as Valeriote, as far back as last June, let it be known he was not running in 2015. The real reason for that decision has never been clearly stated, other than the explanation was to spend more time with his family.

The Liberals now face an interesting and intriguing conundrum. Do they choose the former mayor who is carrying baggage that most Guelph voters rejected in October? Those are the same voters who will choose the next representative for the city riding in the House of Commons. Or, will they select Longfield whose close association with Farbridge poses a dilemma for him.

Of course, this scenario may never materialize. The betting is that the Prime Minister is setting up a spring election date. His recent announcements of tax breaks and an increase in the TFSA annual contribution to $10,000, indicates the Tory machine is already in full election mode.

In Guelph, the Conservative riding association is mulling over candidates. They do not want to get caught in a squeeze with no candidate and an election being called.

And you thought the civic election was exciting. This one will be a doozie if Farbridge and Maggie run … against each other.

 

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Is eMERGE yet another reincarnation of the Guelph Civic League?

Posted December 10, 2014

Just when you think the Farbridge era is over, the cousin of the Guelph Civic League, eMERGE, pops up spouting much of the same environmental material and “action plans” that the majority of Guelph voters rejected October 27.

Under the guise of bringing people together, the Farbridge-era supporters advocate reducing your carbon footprint, waste, energy, water and automotive transportation.

Translation: Sell your car and seek alternative transportation, such as riding a bike, walking or taking public transit; recycle to reduce waste; put a brick in your toilet tank; don’t water your garden, use a rain barrel; grow a vegetable garden and enrich the soil with chicken droppings from the coop.

These are, on the surface, viewed by the leftist minority as necessary to survive but are not a pragmatic solution in our civic society. One that is mostly dependent on revenues from property taxes and user fees.

It’s an agenda advocated by the ramblings of multi-millionaire environmentalist, David Suzuki. Who, it should be noted, endorsed our former mayor in her bid for re-election.

eMERGE is financed with your money through the Trillium Foundation, a provincial government fund to encourage public participation in civic affairs. It is an extension of 10 Carden Street, the non-profit offshoot of the Guelph Civic League. It received a grant of $135,000 a few years ago to promote all things “wellbeing” in the city.

eMERGE was started up about a year ago to follow through on the Farbridge administration’s war on cars by remarking major streets creating traffic congestion, dividing the community with forced management of waste, advocating sustainability, including eating locally grown food.

It is beyond coincidence that there was political motivation behind the timing of the start-up. It was a well-planned advocacy group, composed chiefly by supporters of the Farbridge manifesto to change Guelph into something it was not ready to accept. The identity of the eMERGE leadership is not apparent.

The former Mayor conducted much of the city’s business without public input. Oh, they would hold consultation meetings composed chiefly of her supporters plus members of the city staff dragooned to attend to beef up the numbers.

In many cases these so-called public consultations were a sham meant to give the illusion of full public support.

Two glaring examples come to mind. The decision to renovate the Loretto Convent on Catholic Hill into a civic museum was done behind closed doors without any public input. More than $15 million was spent in the name of preserving the pre-Confederation building that was located on property not owned by the city. The details of the property arrangement with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Hamilton have never been revealed. The end cost of the project is not known as there were serious infrastructure problems encountered during construction.

The second example is the multi-million dollar Waste Resource Innovation Centre (WRIC) located on Dunlap Drive. This was the crown jewel project of the former Mayor’s determination to turn Guelph into the “world class” waste management capital. The money was spent on the pretext that Guelph’s waste, and the Region of Waterloo’s waste and Waste from Detroit would be processed in the WRIC, thereby diverting waste from the landfill. Once again the secrecy of the deals made with organic water processing plant contractor Maple Reinders and its subsidiary companies, the Rizzo waste management outfit from Detroit, have not been revealed. Nor has the annual cost of running the WRIC.

The trouble is you cannot stuff these targeted ideals down people’s throats as the Farbridge administration did over eight years. The result was a huge waste of money through bad decisions that citizens will be paying for the next five years.

When eMERGE brags about Copenhagen soon becoming carbon neutral, you get a good idea of where this organization is heading. Guelph is not Copenhagen. For eMERGE to set arbitrary goals for reducing carbon, using less water and energy is the handmaiden of Farbridge reincarnated.

The recent Auditor General’s scathing report on the management of the province by the Liberal Government has its roots in Guelph. Mayor Farbridge artfully absorbed Guelph Hydro into the Guelph Municipal Holdings Corporation (GMHI) of which she was chairman. The hydro utility is worth some $175 milliohm and has been sending a “dividend” of its operations to the city. If the former mayor had been re-elected, it is likely the utility would have been sold.

Don’t be fooled by eMERGE’s slick propaganda and website. The people voted for change in the way our city has been run. It’s now up to Mayor Guthrie and the council to steer a new path that is progressive yet affordable.

That includes building a reputation that Guelph is a great place for new businesses to locate, offers new job opportunities, is a great city in which to live and is affordable.

 

 

 

 

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An open letter to Mayor Cam Guthrie

December 1, 2014

Mr. Mayor, welcome aboard! The people have spoken and they voted for change. Your campaign slogan of providing a Better Guelph now rests in the history of our City.

The hard work begins in earnest starting Tuesday, December 2.

You are already aware of the problems facing the city in the wake of the tax and spend Farbridge administration. What you don’t know at this stage is the actual state of the finances. Starting with revenues and expenses, what are the future liabilities the citizens face in the coming years? How to deal with major future capital expenditures? How to bring staff costs under control?

Will you be able keep your promise to keep property tax increases at the level of the Consumer Price Index?

Which brings us to the staff. You have inherited a thoroughly politicized senior staff. They, under the direction of former Mayor Farbridge, are the architects of the financial and managerial mess that people voted against. It wasn’t just the Urbacon lawsuit debacle but a number of so-called initiatives that have saddled the people with a huge amount of debt, more than $118 million.

The product of this eight-year management by a determined and controlling administration is the public rejection of these policies.

Just days after your election victory, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, announced a major restructuring of the senior staff. Was this coincidence or part of a strategy to maintain the failed policies and management of the Farbridge administration?

Of the four remaining senior staff managers, all were handpicked and hired by the Farbridge administration, i.e. Karen Farbridge. They include CAO, Pappert, Mark Amorosi, Al Horsman and Derrick Thomson.

It begs to wonder, when it required five executive directors to manage the city for three years before the election, why can the job now be accomplished with just three individuals plus CAO Pappert? Further, why are these three executive survivors now described as Deputy Chief Administration Officers? Who is really running the city? The optics of this decision are disturbing.

Well Mr. Mayor, to avoid what threatens to continue the domination of the Farbridge regime, you should put this so-called senior management reorganization on hold until you and your council can orient yourselves and discuss the alternatives.

This was a move to maintain power and that’s not what the people voted for.

Mr. Mayor,you were elected promising a Better Guelph by reorganizing the way the city conducts its business, and controls spending, tax and user fee increases.

These are meaningful issues but the big job is to change the culture at city hall toward operating an open and transparent government. It requires an end to the public isolation practised by the former administration. The power must rest with council with the support of the professional staff, and not the other way around. Bringing change to city hall includes hiring an Auditor General to oversee all city operations. This individual would report quarterly to the public.

It means opening council meetings and not debating the issues behind closed doors before regular meetings. It means dumping the electronic voting system that prevents citizens from knowing who voted for what?

It means revamping the communication department to respond to citizens’ questions in a timely fashion. It means holding a monthly media conference to explain the city’s direction and announcements.

It requires quarterly financial reports that summarize, in plain language, the financial status of the city. Copies may be distributed using the tax bills and to other city outlets including libraries and museums where the public congregates.

Mr. Mayor, it is going to require your skills and knowledge plus the fulfillment of promises made to the people, to return this city into a balanced and welcoming community. It is one that welcomes new enterprises and residents. It must be a city for all the people and not the self-serving clusters of special interests that have had their way for the past eight years.

While sustainability is important it cannot surmount the essential core responsibility of maintaining what we already have. Neglect of infrastructure and certain services must end.

Sir, your mandate is strong, your mission is transparent and you have the support of the majority of the people.

We all wish you success in truly creating a Better Guelph.

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