Posted March 26, 2015
The council passed 2015 operating and capital budgets early this morning that included a 3.55 percent property tax increase. Joanne Shuttleworth, the Mercury reporter covering city hall, was hard pressed to file all the details due to deadline pressure.
That final tax increase exceeded the staff’s proposed budget by .5 per cent.
What she did manage to report was that the council approved spending $600,000 on building a multi-use active transportation lane on Woodlawn road. Translation: another expensive bike lane on a major road. It is a major cave-in to a minority group of cyclists who represent about 1 per cent of the Guelph population. First their request for $300,000 was rejected but then they persuaded the majority of council to spend $600,000/
It’s the Lance Armstrong syndrome: If you build it, they will come.
Another item was spending an undisclosed amount to resurface the ice pad in front of city hall. The question arises why does it need resurfacing after only four years? Coun. Dan Gibson moved to remove that from the capital budget. He also moved to remove a computer replacement plan (cost unknown). Both his motions were defeated.
But spending $25,000 to remove the signs at the West End recreation centre was chopped from the budget.
But the elephant in the chamber was the Urbacon settlement costs.
Recall the claim by Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, that the $8,935,000 settlement charges would not affect the ratepayers’ tax rates? Well, it will to the tune of $900,000 plus “associated costs” a year for the next six years. Let’s take a closer look at this.
During the budget meeting, Mayor Cam Guthrie said: “I thought the community was told that Urbacon wouldn’t impact the taxpayer, but in fact, there is a repayment.”
Urbacon and the lawyers have been paid. The money came from three unrelated reserve funds.
Also paid, were the two companies hired to complete the new city hall and renovate the old one into a provincial courthouse. The $4.5 million settlement owed to the subcontractors has also been paid.
Where did that money come from? None of it was budgeted by the city council.
It gets stranger. Doing the math on the $900,000 to be repaid over six years equals $5,400,000. That’s $3.535 million short of the $8.935 million. Remember the $900,000 each year was to replenish the three reserve funds? These are the same funds that were drained to pay off Urbacon and the lawyers.
That money is public money, generated from municipal taxes and user fees.
Then Coun. Karl Wettstein moved that the amount be reduced to $500,000 in 2015 and “allow the staff to figure out a suitable repayment schedule after that”. It was passed by a majority of council.
Wettstein’s motion just kicks the can down the road. Yet, he was unable to convince council to agree to build the South End Recreation Centre, a project that has been in the planning stage for more than 10 years.
It is now clear that the seven Farbridge supporters are still controlling the show.
Supporting this large property tax increase and water increase costs is more of the same tactics the majority of voters rejected last October.