The elephant is still in the room as city staff presents the 2015 operating budget

Posted February 26, 2015

The city staff presented a 2015 draft budget to council that proposed a 3.05 per cent property tax increase. The documents suggested that the increase would cost $99 for a home assessed at $301,077. Gee, that’s only $8 and change a month.

Hold the phone. There was the 4.1 per cent increase in water bills that would bring the increase for the same property to $130 a year. The city release said that all services would be maintained.

Oh! There will also be unspecified increases in user fees, parking, transit, development, licensing, recreation facilities, museum, permits etc.

Also not included in the staff draft budget is the automatic increase in all Guelph property assessments as mandated by the provicial agency MPAC, Muncipal Property Assessment Corporation. As assessments increase, so do taxes. MPAC assesses some five million properties in Ontario.

The elephant in the room remains the Urbacon settlement. Here’s how that’s being handled. The city used money from three unrelated reserve funds to pay its share of the Urbacon lawsuit settlement. Then Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, announced that those reserves would be replenished from revenues in five years.

But now the payback, which is coming principally from property taxes, will cost $900,000 a year for the next six years. That would appear to be a pittance in the projected 2015, 16, 17, 18,19, 20 budgets.

Maybe they should explain that strategy to those folks who want a $300,000 bike lane on Woodland, a new downtown library, South end recreation centre, garbage pick-up for all citizens. They were told the city could not afford it.

It appears nothing has changed in managing city finances. The irony is that the former mayor promised those projects as far back, in some cases, to the early 2,000’s during her first term as Mayor.

It’s all a case of priorities and a multi-million dollar waste management Dunlop Drive depot took precedence over projects that directly affect citizens’ quality of life. Remember, how the three-bag pre-sorted garbage in multi-coloured plastic became three-bin garbage receptacles? The waste management spent $15 million installing the new collection system that leaves out 13 per cent of the city residences and businesses.

The Farbridge council took a system that was working, approved construction of condominiums where the bins could not be stored and then ignored their responsibility.

Talk about a public flipping of the bird.

Running a city is not rocket science. The management tasks are chiefly repetitive; maintenance, cost control, administration. The flights of fancy taken in the past eight years brought a ton of doubt to the citizens. They did something about it last October.

But the staff doesn’t seem to get it. For the politicized senior management, it’s business as usual.

Another ironic item is allocating $10,000 to fund the independent Integrity Commissioner, Caledon lawyer, Robert Swayze. You will recall that Mayor Guthrie, as a former member of council representing ward four, caused an uproar by merely asking a staffer for a public report and was refused. That exercise in integrity fomented by the then mayor, cost taxpayers some $10,000.

Nothing will change until an independent body conducts a thorough review of city finances for the past four years. Now that’s a real exercise in integrity. The release stated that the staff was using a system for budgeting, formulated in 2013 and approved by council.

It did not include zero-based budgeting, a well-established system used by governments and businesses across the country.

Forecasting is another essential to developing a budget. The record shows the staff is not very good at it. There is a lack of checks and balances, when staff can manipulate the finances to meet the demands of its political masters and control the message.

The request for an independent audit of city finances by citizen’s group, GrassRoots Guelph, was based on the actual figures produced by staff and sent to the province in its annual financial statements. The figures remain and are as true today as they were two years ago. Then Minister of Municipal Affairs, Lynda Jeffery, denied the request, transferring it back to the two parties to resolve their differences. She resigned shortly after from the government to run as mayor of Brampton and was elected. She has requested a financial review of Brampton’s books.

What’s sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander.

GrassRoots Guelph is still alive and well and ever watchful of the city politic.

Politics can be such a nasty business.



1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “The elephant is still in the room as city staff presents the 2015 operating budget

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