Posted January 30, 2015
David Kendrick writes in the Mercury suggesting several points on which the new city council should focus.
He identifies the biggest expense item as the cost of city staff including salaries, wages and benefits. Those costs consume some 80 per cent of the total property tax revenue received by the city.
A case in point is the growth of the city staff over the past eight years that was not commensurate with the growth in population. In fact, it is not even close. More than 500 new city full-time equivalent (FTE) employees were added in that period. That’s a 34.5 per cent increase compared to a 5.7 per cent increase in residents.
At city hall today it’s business as usual with departmental budgets being prepared under the same rules and purposes of the previous administration. For example, in three years, the water department staff has increased by 31 and is requesting another two employees in the upcoming 2015 budget.
The principles of zero-based budgeting are totally ignored. Instead of budgeted funds not spent in the calendar year, they are tacked onto the next year. This blinds council when it comes to judging the efficiency and productivity of each department.
The use of reserves also creates a false impression when used to solve unrelated and unexpected financial problems.
The most recent case of this was the statement by Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, that the Urbacon $8.9 million legal settlement will not impact property taxes. Instead the money will come from three reserves and replenished through tax revenues over the next five years.
This is the same CAO who chastised the Mayor who dared to speak with subordinates without her permission.
Did the people get this right? We did elect a new mayor as head of the municipality who has every right to speak to his staff without checking with the CAO first.
Mr. Kendrick made reference in his column about the 2012 petition prepared by the citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG), requesting a provincial audit of the City of Guelph’s finances and operations. While the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing rejected the audit, she did state that it was a “local matter” and should be settled by the two parties.
The city’s communication department released a comment claiming the province felt the city’s financial situation was sound. The Minister’s letter did not contain such a claim.
The city refused to meet with GRG. The organization demanded that the meeting be held in a neutral location with citizens invited to attend and participate. GRG has gone into hiatus until this summer when a review meeting of the steering committee will be held.
For the record, the data contained in the petition was the result of financial analysis by a professional individual. The analysis compared the data prepared by the city’s finance department each year as mandated by the province. Known as the Financial Information Report (FIR). For three years the closing numbers did not match the opening numbers in the following year. We are not talking about a few thousand dollars here, but often a disparity in the millions, in successive years.
The required audit by Deloitte and Touche did not make note of this disparity because of the terms of their contract with the city. The terms of which are not made public.
The fact that the city has gone through five Chief Financial Officers in eight years and now is searching for another, speaks of a lack of continuity and management irresponsibility.
This situation remains in place today. It is another reason for an independent review of the city finances to determine a starting point for the new administration to complete its mandate.
The senior staff was reorganized because two left and the remaining three were given additional responsibilities and named deputy CAO’s immediately after the election. It was done without consultation or consideration of the new council.
It’s another example that despite the realignment of council, for the senior city staff, it’s business as usual.
Looks like the inmates plan to continue running the asylum.