Posted January 12, 2015
The Tribune quotes the left-leaning councillors who are riled up over the Mayor’s notice of motion to restrict property tax increases in 2015 to the Consumer Price Index, (CPI) inflation rate.
New Coun. Phil Allt suggested it is inappropriate to accept the CPI as the basis of creating a civic tax base. Instead he says the tax increase should be based on the Municipal Price Index. This is an index created to assist staff to establish increases in property taxes based on costs. Its basis is unknown and certainly not understood by 99 per cent of taxpayers.
What Mr. Allt has yet to grasp is that this city has just gone through eight years of excessive property tax increases that will, when the 2014 Financial Information Report (FIR) is made public later this year, exceed a compounded rate of 40 per cent. That’s an average rate of 5 per cent a year. What the former administration left out of its 2014 announcement of the 2.36 per cent property tax increase was the increase in the assessments across all city property. That omission created a real increase of 4.37 per cent in 2014.
He should also understand that that 46 per cent of all city revenue is used to pay the salaries and benefits of the city staff. In terms of growth percentages, the city staff has grown far beyond the increase of Guelph’s population in the past eight years.
Mr. Allt, you are forgiven. Unlike some of your colleagues elected to council in October, they seem to have suddenly had a loss of memory of the past eight years when serving on council.
Take Coun. Leanne Piper. In her response to the Tribune, she favours an open and transparent government to discover evidence to: “Find efficiencies, new revenue and/or cut services, we must be willing to do it openly with community input and take responsibility for the impact or risk.”
Let’s get this straight. Does Coun. Piper pretend that she was not involved in the past eight years in an administration that conducted 80 per cent of its business behind closed doors? Did she have an epiphany, following the defeat of her leader and mentor, Karen Farbridge?
But her remarks get more interesting. She tells the Tribune: “I am worried that cuts to capital infrastructure replacement or reserves would require catching up in subsequent years.”
Coun. Piper, along with former Mayor Karen Farbridge, was a member of the Guelph Police Services Board that approved spending $34 million to renovate the downtown police headquarters. Where was the public input in that decision?
Now she is opposed to cuts in reserves. Even after the former administration, through CAO Ann Pappert, said the Urbacon trial settlement would not cause an increase in property taxes, as the money would come from three reserve funds. The CAO says the reserves will be replenished within five years.
The real cost of the Urbacon mess is yet to be known. The $8.9 million cost to pay Urbacon and lawyer’s fees is only part of the real cost, Estimates are as high as $20 million when all costs are tabulated.
Does Coun. Piper and her veteran colleagues from the former council, really believe that property taxes will not increase because of the Urbacon settlement? Where do they think the money comes from? It’s the taxpayers who have already committed millions to the various reserve funds. Now we have to replenish them. Most of that replenishment will come from your pockets.
Coun. Piper, who has aspirations to be elected mayor, should get a grasp of what happened October 27. The Farbridge administration left our city in a financial mess through mis-management and approving long-term capital projects that the city just cannot afford without mortgaging the citizens for years to come.
If the new council is serious, it should approve an independent financial review of city finances and operations before considering the 2015 budget. Commitments made by the previous council must be reviewed and a new course of action adopted.
Otherwise, how is it possible for council and staff to even consider a new budget?
Citizens must be wary of the obstructionist politics now being exercised by certain members of the previous council.
The mayor is right to bring order to the city affairs to the council table. A notice of motion is a good beginning.
And Chair of Finance, Coun. Hofland, please stop whining that the mayor did not consult you. It was merely a notice of motion. Your chairmanship of finance for the past three years was not impressive when you failed to understand zero-based budgeting.
But you are not alone. In eight years the Farbridge administration did not adopt a policy of zero-based budgeting.
No wonder they got into trouble.