Monthly Archives: September 2015

Trying to make sense of Guelph’s Magic Kingdom financial management

Posted September 13, 2015

I was asked the other day why our taxes keep going up. It was a fair question and here’s how I would answer.

As we travel down the road of life, we must live within our means. But we all know, that there are times when an unexpected financial crisis occurs. Examples include unexpected repairs to your property, a serious illness, job loss, investment depreciation, or divorce. These are some of the events that create a financial strain at certain times during our lifetimes.

When it happenes, you are faced with a few alternatives including borrowing money to pay for the unexpected cost, thereby increasing your personal debt load. You can reduce your operating costs until the emergency spending is overcome, or use your credit card to cover your expenses.

The figures show that 50 per cent of Canadians carry a deficit on their credit cards. Translated that mean they are paying more than 21 per cent interest on the unpaid balance each month. That’s paying interest on interest in the account.

So the unexpected happens to a point in one’s life where expenses must be controlled to avoid escalating debt and financial anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, let’s turn to the way our city is managing its finances and budget.

First, remember that the city administration, including the elected officials, must function under rules of the Ontario Municipal Act. This mandates that each calendar year, the city cannot have a deficit and the books must balance.

The city is also denied other methods of raising tax revenues outside of property taxes, service fees such as development, building permits and fines.

So it is important that when the city strikes its budget for the upcoming year, all costs and surpluses must be audited and sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The staff in Guelph has been given the job of preparing the 2016 budget by the current council. It is presented to council for discussion and approval. During the process, the public and organizations may request funding.

Currently the city is facing a major, unexpected cost relating to the Urbacon lawsuit and other allied expenses.

Our mayor has stated: “ A small amount of people want to go back to 2008 – there’s a curiosity about it. But most people want to know how much it cost, what were the lessons learned, how to pay back the reserves and the governance issue? I feel confident that we have addressed these four issues.”

Mr. Mayor, how do you square your statement with the motion by Coun. Karl Wettstein last March 25th? During the budget debate, your council moved to lower repayment of the three reserves used to settle with Urbacon from $900,000 to $500,000 in 2015 and ordered the staff to create a new repayment plan.

It was your CAO who said that the settlement would not affect property taxes. She added that there would be five annual payments of $900,000 to replenish the reserves.

The answer was that council approved a property tax increase of 3.96 per cent for 2015.

So your administration went to its ATM machine to continue the tax and spend policies of the previous administration, by juicing up property taxes to pay for it.

Your council also not only reduced the repayment to the reserves but also allowed a motion by Coun. Mike Salisbury to take $300,000 that was not spent in the 2014 budget and add it to the 2015 budget. It was a holdover item of the previous administration to add bike lanes on Woodlawn Road. Spending $600,000 only forced up property taxes in order to pay for it.

Not even the federal government allows that. If a department has not spent its budget funding by March 31, it cannot carry it forward to the next year. The use of public money is a sacred trust between the citizens who provide the funds and those elected to manage it as if it were their own.

So Mr. Mayor, why is your administration allowing it?

How can city finances ever balance when unbridled spending relies on increasing more and more revenue from the taxpayers? Why did the administration approve hiring 21 additional fulltime staff this year when there was a loss of some $8.94 million, just to pay off Urbacon? The unmitigated statements of the CAO spinning it to make the citizen believe it won’t cost anything, betrays her utter lack of understanding finances.

It illustrates the abusive use of public money that our Mayor claims is “behind us and we must move on.”

Guelph families can’t run their finances this way so why do we allow the city to do it to us?

The mayor’s denigrating comment about a small number of people wanting answers won’t make it go away.

Hiring a qualified, independent Chief Financial Officer (CFO) would be good first step. Running a city with a value of $500 million without a CFO is tantamount to the administration ignoring its sworn fiduciary responsibility.

Right now we have a man, Mark Amorosi, in charge of the city’s financial management who was originally hired to manage human resources in 2008.

In summary, “go figure.”

 

 

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Why should Susan Watson escape paying the costs of her election expenses complaint?

Editor’s note: Today is Part One of an analysis of the Thursday night meeting conducted by the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), regarding the complaint by Susan Watson. She claimed that council candidate Glen Tolhurst contravened the Municipal Elections Act (MEA) by accepting a donation from GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc. (GRG).

 Part Two examines council’s role in ordering Ms. Watson to pay the costs of her complaint. Also a review of related, unreported details of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s 2014 campaign and his performance year to date. The devil is in the details and Thursday night’s CAC meeting revealed that little has changed since the mayor’s election. GB

Part One – Posted September 12, 2015

It was a meeting that became an embarrassment for all citizens of Guelph. It’s advertised purpose was to receive the report of Auditor William Molson absolving Mr. Tolhurst of contravening the MEA. His report also concluded that GRG also did not contravene the Act by donating $400 to Mr. Tolhurst’s campaign.

Let’s back up a bit and review how this complaint occurred and who was implicated ensuring that Mr. Tolhurst and GRG paid for whatever Susan Watson and her friends perceived was illegal.

The quarterback in this exercise was City Clerk Stephen O’Brien. He reports to deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Mark Amorosi who reports to CAO, Ann Pappert. The three members of the CAC are Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorringe

The single connection these people share is that they were all appointed or hired by Karen Farbridge, the former mayor.

Susan Watson is a friend of the Mayor and financial supporter, along with her partner. Dr. Ian Digby. So there is no question of her loyalty to the former mayor.

Watson filed her application to the CAC in early April with the city clerk. On April 23, O’Brien called a meeting of the CAC and hired Toronto lawyer, Jody Johnson, to brief the CAC as to its responsibilities. The minutes of that meeting showed Johnson made no recommendations as to the outcome of the complaint.

There was an oddity however. Dennis Galon, a supporter of Watson, attended the meeting. When O’Brien was questioned why Mr.Tolhurst and his counsel were not present, he said it was a public meeting that was advertised on the city website. Galon was the only member of the public who attended the Johnson briefing.

The plot sickens

Thursday night Galon, who publically stated he supported the re-election of Farbridge in spirit and financially, said the only reason he attended the meeting was because he received a call from Watson in Vancouver asking him to attend on her behalf. What other reason would he be there? As an interested private citizen?

On May 6, the CAC conducted a hearing in which Watson’s lawyer presented her case claiming that GRG, acting as a third partly, illegally donated $400 to Mr. Tolhurst. David Starr representing Mr. Tolhurst argued the opposite stating that GRG as an incorporated body was permitted under the MEA to donate funds to candidates.

There were only two CAC members at this hearing and both voted to approve conducting the audit. It is now clear that the fix was in. Neither CAC member was a lawyer or elected to office. O’Brien is instructed to search for a qualified individual to conduct the audit.

There was no request for a proposal (RFP) issued but three firms were invited to submit proposals. O’Brien selected the lowest bidder, William Molson, CA CPA, of Toronto, on the grounds that he had experience conducting CAC audits.

In the course of his audit, Mr. Molson interviewed Mr. Tolhurst, Ms. Watson and Gerry and Barbara Barker, representing GRG.

In early August, he released his nine-page report. In it he clearly stated that Mr. Tolhurst and GRG did not contravene the MEA. It was a thorough and complete repudiation of the Watson complaint and also of the basis of her ill-defined reasons for requesting the audit.

The staff backs the wrong horse

It was a stunning defeat for not only Watson but the city staff, particularly clerk O’Brien, and the feckless CAC, who were not only complicit but hand-maidens in this frivolous charade. They were using their authority to discredit and victimize an innocent citizen, but also a legitimate citizen’s activist organization.

The giveaway occurred September 2 when O’Brien was quoted in the Mercury stating Watson paying the costs of the audit “was not going to happen.” He made that comment eight days before the CAC meeting to receive the Molson report.

One might consider that statement as interfering with the process.

On Thursday night, sitting beside the CAC chairperson Lyndsay Monk, is O’Brien as her advisor. It was confirmation that the fix was in to get Watson off the hook for her repudiated complaint, the cost of which, taxpayers now have to absorb.

Hypothetically, if the CAC had prosecuted Glen Tolhurst, any superior court judge would have laughed that out of court for Tolhurst failing to get a receipt for the $5.60 he paid for a city street map and a $1.00 posting error in his official election expenses statement.

Following an in-camera session with a city legal person, the CAC struggled with motions in a clumsy and confusing manner. The idea was to get the CAC out of its responsibility dilemma by recommending to council not to prosecute Mr. Tolhurst. They sidestepped the issue of liability to the taxpayers of the cost of Watson’s excursion into the improbable.

McCarthyism: How power is abused

This was a power play to use public money to discredit citizens and it failed.

It reminds us of the late U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, in the 1950’s, used his position as chairman of the Un-American Activities Committee, to accuse thousands of Americans of being Communists. He ruined many innocent people who were blacklisted by suspicious employers. His aggressive investigations illegal, using lies and slanted techniques, became known as McCarthyism.

The Watson complaint mirrors the McCarthy approach to claim illegalities that had no foundation in the facts.

The senior staff of our city, those already named, should be ashamed of participating in this attempt by a disgruntled and vengeful individual and her supporters.

And despite the outcome, Susan Watson never apologized to Glen Tolhurst or GRG.

The question is where was Mayor Guthrie when the city staff were breaking their code of conduct by participating in a blatant politic attack on innocent citizens and then it has to be funded by the taxpayers?

Monday, September 14 – Part Two: Will council debate the public-funded costs of the Watson complaint? The commentary will examine the role of the mayor and his performance after ten months in office.

 

 

 

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Tonight it’s our turn to evoke change in Guelph

Posted September 10, 2015

Tonight, at 5:30 p.m., the city administration will hold a meeting in the council chambers. It concerns the complaint of Susan Watson about former council candidate Glen Tolhurst receiving $400 from GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association, Inc. (GRG).

So far, this process has cost the citizens an estimated $10,000. Susan Watson hasn’t paid for anything except her Toronto lawyers. It is an exercise that borders on state-sponsored control of its own citizens.

Her allegations that GrassRoots Guelph did not have the authority to donate to Mr. Tolhurst’s election campaign, has resulted in the independent auditor finding that GRG did not contravene the Municipal Election Act.

The auditor also stated that Tolhurst did not contravene the Act.

Tonight, it’s the people’s turn to insist that Watson should pay back the public expenses spent on her now disputed claim.

This is the opportunity to protest this ill-founded attempt to discredit Glen Tolhurst and subject him to uncalled for accusations and penalties.

It’s not just about Mr. Tolhurst, it’s an attack on the rights of the citizens to organize, assemble and speak out against an entrenched regime.

We urge you to brown-bag your supper and turn out to this meeting. Let the administration know that it cannot continue to trample the rights of the people. Especially by the same personnel who were running the defeated Farbridge administration.

Remember Urbacon?

The suppertime calling of this meeting is designed to dissuade citizens from exercising their rights. The administration does not want you to show up.

Citizens voted for change last October but there has been little change.

As Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a better outcome.”

It’s our turn tonight to notify the administration that change is coming whether they like it or not.

 

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A Tale of Two Cities at polar opposites

By Randy Norris

guelphspeaks contributor

Posted September 8, 2015

A few months after I moved to Guelph, 32 years ago, a long-time real estate agent told me that Guelph was divided into two cities.

He described it loosely as the area north of College and south of Speedvale which he called the “Real Guelph”. The other area that was south of College, he simply called a ghetto and named it “Mississauga”.

He was referring to that place down the 401 that’s dominated by big houses and even bigger four lane roads. It has a heavy sprinkling of shopping malls, fast food joints and gas stations which interrupt the kilometres of asphalt that allow the herds of stampeding SUV’s a way to get somewhere.

At the time, I naively thought that his comment was an over exaggeration. Little did I know that even today this Tale of Two Cities continues to dominate our politics.

At the centre of this obsession with the “Real Guelph” is the downtown and its surrounding residential areas. Far too often, some of the more “important” residents of this area feel superior to every other part of Guelph, particularly the south end.

A lingering attitude can be annoying

Its not that I don’t like our downtown; it’s the attitude I don’t like.

I live in the south end and sometimes, when I go downtown, I feel like a mutt at a purebred dog show. I’m scraggly and a little too casual, or so my wife informs me. I feel out of place.

One of the main proponents of our divided City is the current ward two Coun. James Gordon. He of guitar and politics, continues to sing his sad songs of urban sprawl and Stephen Harper.

Recently, our local newspaper reported his comments on the new Walmart that’s coming to the south end taking over from the former Target store on Stone road.

Mr. Gordon doubts that a second Walmart will cause the same controversy that surrounded the arrival of the retail Godzilla in the north end.

The second store, he says, will be “right in the middle of sprawl”.

So who cares anyway, right James? In his mind, the south end is forever condemned.

Have I missed something? Isn’t Guelph composed of all its neighbourhoods, the worst and the best? Every part of us contributes to what is Guelph.

But that’s not what our rookie city counsellor seems to think nor does his offspring, members of the Guelph Civic League.

The Guelph Civic League told us for years that it had the vision for Guelph and the leader who could take us to the promised land.

In the end, it was remarkable how wrong they got it.

Their vision for Guelph would have no diversity, no difference between its neighbourhoods.If they had an immigration policy, it would probably involve the use of a wall to keep out the hoards of south end troglodytes from taking over.

They did, however, try to build a wall around City Hall.

At one point, I had requested a meeting with Mayor Farbridge to discuss a local recreational project, a request which she granted. Imagine my surprise when ex-counsellor and shadow Mayor, Ken Hamill, showed up.

Hiding behind the coat tails of our recently defeated mayor. She needed the wall because Guelph had become a scary, insular place.

Her surrogates in the Guelph Civic League snuck into City Hall through the ballot box and thankfully left through the ballot box. Unfortunately, they left the place dirty and contributed to wasting a lot of money.

It’s like a nightmare that just keeps on giving. Even after losing last year’s election, they couldn’t let it go.

A condemnation that back-fired

Susan Watson, a rabid Farbridge supporter who doesn’t know when to quit, continues to tell the voters of Guelph that they got it wrong.

She tried to beat us over the head with a $400 donation to a Farbridge opponent that she contended was illegal but after investigation, her claim was denied.

Unfortunately, she learned under the Farbridge administration that it’s ok to waste taxpayer’s money, an estimated $10,000 so far.

She showed us, didn’t she?

The only thing I see is a group of sore losers who aren’t doing what’s good for Guelph. Either grow up or take your ball and bat and go home. You’re not welcome here anymore.

Plan to attend the Compliance Audit Committee meeting Thursday in the council chambers starting at 5:30 p.m.

It will receive the auditor’s report on the Watson complaint and recommend their decision to city council.

 

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The people voted for change: Why hasn’t it happened?

Posted September 7, 2015

Was change what the voters were looking for last October when they overwhelmingly defeated former mayor Karen Farbridge? Here is a sample of what turned people away from the eight-year term of the mayor, her leadership and council supporters.

* Her failure and that of her council colleagues to apologize to the people for the Urbacon decision, one that occurred under her watch in 2008. Today there are four Farbridge councillors re-elected who served on that 2008 council: Leanne Piper, Mike Salisbury, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein.

* The staff’s cover up of the real costs of the new City Hall before the election. CAO Ann Pappert said the Urbacon settlement would not impact property taxes.

* Mayor Guthrie promised to keep the 2015 tax rate to 2.1 per cent. His dysfunctional council voted March 25 to increase property taxes by 3.96 per cent. This is one change people believed would happen and it didn’t.

* Taking ten months to finally reveal that it cost $23,066,755 more than the original $42 million contract. The money is gone forever like a puff from the magic dragon. The money could have built a nice new downtown main library. Poof!

* The senior staff shake-up last November before the new council was sworn in, reducing the executive group from five members to three. It gave them a promotion as deputy Chief Administrative Officers and an annual raise each averaging $182,000. Al Horsman, one of the three deputy CAO’s has left the city for greener pastures.

* Guelph still does not have a Chief Financial Officer. Why not?

* A sweetheart deal of Guelph Transit student boarding passes to University students. The arrangement gives unlimited GT usage for 90 days for .833 per day. Guelph high schoolers don’t share that deal. No wonder there is a $15 million public subsidy to keep the buses rolling.

* Creating a waste management department for an estimated $55 million and not asking for public input or revealing the operating costs.

* Installing a bin collection system for $15.5 million that fails to service an estimated 6,000 homes and businesses.

* Rebuilding Wyndham Street in which the rail underpass was incorrectly designed. It prevented large commercial trucks from using the route due to the lowered clearance height. The engineer in charge is still working for the city.

* Creating a Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) that now boasts more than 135 employees working outside the municipal staff structure. Since its formation in 2012, it has paid the city $9 million in so-called dividends. GMHI did it despite running a deficit in each of those years. The payments came from Guelph Hydro that was folded into GMHI. That has all the earmarks of another tax on citizens through their hydro bills..

* Now we come to the complaint of Ms. Farbridge’s supporter, Susan Watson. She complained of an alleged illegal $400 donation to former candidate Glen Tolhurst given by GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association (GRG).

* A Farbridge appointed committee of three unelected individuals ordered that Tolhurst’s official election expenses report be audited. The estimated $10,000 cost of this frivolous political attempt to discredit Tolhurst and GRG for $400 rests with the city to pay. For her actions, Susan Watson should pay the city’s expenses.

The audit has exonerated both Tolhurst and GRG of contravening the Municipal Elections Act.

It’s time to strike back and fight for what you voted for

There will be a meeting at city hall this week by the Compliance Audit Committee, to receive the report, hear counter arguments and make a recommendation to council as to who must repay the cost of this audit.

Current public opinion is that that Ms. Watson should pay the costs.

The meeting on Thursday starts at 5:30 p.m. It is an awkward hour for many citizens but nevertheless important to be present. If, for no other reason, than to signal there must be change in the direction of the civic government.

This meeting is a possible starting point to show the administration that the people want change to stop the wasteful spending and taxing.

Attending this meeting will send that message.

The Farbridge forces are hoping no one turns up. Prove them mistaken.

 

 

 

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Reviewing Guelph’s 2015 property tax increase to 13 other municipalities

Posted September 6, 2015

When looking at what other cities’ 2015 property tax increases compared to Guelph, we have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of in the 14-city sample. There are several reasons for this as Guelph council continues to ignore the growth of its staff, in numbers and pay and benefits. The future liabilities associated with these increases will affect future councils for years to come as pensions are indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

To meet these staff obigations will result in Guelph taxpayers facing increased property taxes paying the costs of employees, active and retired. Today an estimated 85 percent of all property taxes received by the city are used to pay the staff payroll costs.

The research on this report employed a common benchmark of dollars per $100,000 of assessment. This allowed equalized comparisons with two-tier muncipalities such as Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

The report was researched from official public sources.

Here is the list in descending order:

City                              2015 tax increase      Ranking         Differeence 

Guelph Budget                                    3.55%                                39

Guelph revised – Note A                   3.96%                                44

Hamilton – Note B                               2.70%                                35                  Minus 1.26 %

London                                                    2.50%                                30                  Minus 1.46 %

Brampton                                                2.54%                                24                  Minus 1.42 %

Brantford                                                1.88%                                 22                  Minus 2.08 %

Port Colborne                                       1.10%                                18                   Minus 2.86 %

Burlington                                              2.06%                                18                  Minus 1.90 %

Oakville                                                    1.70%                                15                   Minus 2.26 %

Mississauga                                           2.20%                                12                  Minus 1.76 %

Cambridge                                             2.72%                                 10                  Minus 1.25 %

Toronto – Note C                                3.20%                                 10                 Minus   .76 %

Waterloo                                                1.53%                                   7                  Minus 2.43 %

Kitchener                                                1.9%                                    7                  Minus  2.06 %

Windsor                                                    0%                                     0                  Minus 3.96 %

Consumer Price Index 2014   2.1%

Note A – Guelph council in 2013 and 2014 shifted the tax burden from multi- residential and industrial to residential. Some 84 per cent of property taxes originate from the residentials sector.

Note B – Hamilton’s tax increases were below the rate of inflation for the past three  years.

Note C – Toronto’s increase includes a .50 cent surcharge to fund a subway  extension to Scarborough.

Comparing the Guelph revised rate of 3.96 per cent to the next highest on the list, Hamilton, at 2.70 per cent, the difference is an astounding 31.8 per cent!

Why is it that all these municipalities have much lower 2015 tax increases than the City of Guelph? Collectively, what do they know that the Guelph administration doesn’t know?

Reading this report, management of the City of Guelph, when compared to 13 other cities, proves there is a very serious problem in terms of performance including accountability. It is a hangover from the previous administration that manipulated the city’s treasury to suit its own projects and plans and change the way our city, in a manner that citizens rejected last October.

It’s like, why bother even having an election?

In eight years, citizens have experienced a bloated staff of more than 2,100 employees, up from 1,400 in 2007; more than $132 million of debt; a 40 per cent compounded increase in property taxes; a 77 per cent increase in water rates, despite a reduction in usage. Plus a waste management system that has cost taxpayers more than $70 million and fails to serve 6,000 households.

Then along came the Urbacon blunder costing an estimated $65,069,755 or $23 million over the original contract cost.

That’s our money, gone in a puff of smoke.

The 2015 budget was nothing more than a power move by the Farbridge supporters still on council, aided and abetted by senior staffers. Some 21 new full time staffers were added in the budget on the recommendation of senior staff.

Remember, this is the budget where previously CAO Ann Pappert said the Urbacon settlement will not impact property taxes. Because the funds would come from three unrelated reserves and will be paid back in five years replenishing the reserves at a rate of $900,000 a year. Well, the truth escaped her in this pre-election statement.

The cash reserves are from the residents through their property taxes. For Ms. Pappert to claim it won’t impact property taxes. her statement is far removed from reality. The Urbacob lawsuit losess could possibly impact property taxes for the next ten years.

But wait! Council, by a nine to four margin, voted to reduce the $900,000 annual repayment plan to $500,000 this year and have the staff come up with a new repayment plan. These are the same people, elected and some on staff, who were responsible for the Urbacon mess in the first place.

Which only proves they know how to spend the people’s money but fail to administer it in a responsible and productive way.

Those living in Guelph will suffer because the soaring costs inflicted by this and previous administrations, has already made our city one of the most expensive in which to live in the country.

This public meeting is about your right to participate in civic elections

On Thursday, September 10 at 5:30 p.m. citizens should gather at city hall to send a message that this administraion cannot countenance harassing citizens who opposed the Farbridge handling of city business in the last eight years.

The meeting is about a misuse of power by an individual to thwart public participation in municipal affairs, specifically elections. Public money has been used to prevent the people to assemble, speak out and participate in municipal elections without fear of reprisal.

Guelphspeaks will be there. The GrassRoots Guelph response to the Compliance Audit Committee’s independent audit report.has already presented.  It stated that the auditor found no major irregularities in the candidacy of Glen Tolhurst or the $400 donation he received from GrassRoots Guelph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your guelphspeaks Weekender

Posted September 5, 2015

Watson’s political indiscretion – – Stephen, sometimes silence is golden – – Quote of the week – – Trump, the mouth that roared – – Cam’s whistling past the graveyard

Should the public pay for Susan Watson’s audit?

This week, the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) will meet to hear delegates and written submissions before making a decision regarding William Molson’s audit report.

Despite the report findings that exonerated both Glen Tolhurst and GrassRoots Guelph (GRG) of contravening the Municipal Election Act, the Watson forces are trying to avoid paying the costs of the investigation.

It reminds one of Kabuki theatre that has no beginning and no ending. In fact, reading comments by the city clerk and supporters of Susan Watson, the whole exercise that she created might as well have been conducted in Japanese.

But this was for real as the Watson gaggle of Farbridge supporters used city funds with the complicity of certain senior officials, to bury Mr.Tolhurst and citizen’s activist group, GRG.

If you believe that Susan Watson should pay these costs, then demonstrate your feelings by attending the meeting this Thursday, September 10 at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

Susan Watson should pay for the city-financed costs of this audit, but is the fix in?.

*            *            *            *

Was this rigging the election audit decision?

When City Clerk Stephen O’Brien told the Mercury this week that Susan Watson would not have to pay the city back for her frivolous complaint about Glen Tolhurst’s $400 donation from GRG to his ward six election campaign, the cat was among the canaries.

His comment triggered the belief that senior members of the city staff and the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) engineered the complaint process from early last April.

The clue is former mayor Karen Farbridge appointed O’Brien, the three CAC members, CAO Ann Pappert and deputy CAO, Mark Amorosi. This goes beyond coincidence but is reality.

O’Brien became judge and jury with the comment that Watson paying the audit costs “won’t happen”.

The three members of the CAC have now been painted into the corner by the clerk’s statement. They are faced with a Hobson’s choice: They are damned if they send a recommendation to council that Watson should pay, or face the anger of the public if they decline.

*            *            *            *

Quote of the week

The Canada election campaign suffers from electile dysfunction:

The inability to become aroused over any of the choices for Prime Minister put forth by any party in the 2015 election year.

*            *            *            *

Republicans are nuts: Donald Trump and building a wall between Canada and the U.S.

Donald trump, salesman, provocateur, prevaricator. This guy could sell bird poo on a shingle and the people would buy it. Cue loud cheers.

Trump keeps saying that if elected president, he would negotiate with Mexico to build a wall along the Mexico/U.S. border and they would pay for it. Cue loud cheers

Then he says he will stop all the Mexican bad guys, including rapists, from entering the U.S. while promising to deport some 11 million undocumented Hispanics. Cue louder cheers.

At the same time he says the Hispanics love him and will vote for him. More cheers.

Donald, you really shanked that one.

Not to be left out in the Trumperama wall campaign, presidential Republican candidate, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, told an interviewer that he was in favour of building an 8,400 KM wall between Canada and the U.S. Mr. Walker obviously has not done basic thinking on this campaign proposal.

The absurdity of building a wall through the middle of the Great Lakes would be an engineer’s feat rivaling the pyramids. Walker’s better idea is to build a wall around Wisconsin to keep his disgruntled electorate in and the rest of the world out.

This is a guy who still believes the earth is flat and there is no such thing as climate change.

But Wisconsin makes great cheese, though.

*            *            *            *

The mayor wants to move on from Urbacon

The Mercury got it right with its recent editorial about shifting the Urbacon affair to the city’s back burner. It quoted the Mayor: “It’s now time to turn our focus to the things that make our city great and new ideas that make it better.”

Cam! What happened to your election promise to eliminate the “Guelph Factor?”

The editorial goes on to quote the Mayor: “I sincerely hope that this (audit) will take a heavy burden off our collective backs and help us focus on great things happening in our city now and the great things that are about to happen in our future”.

Hmm, Cam, can you be more specific about all these great things happening and about to happen?

Do you believe that the 3.94 per cent property tax increase council voted for this year and replenishing the funds taken from the three reserves to pay off Urbacon settlement, that these serious issues should go away and we move on?

The staff keeps growing, the infrastructure keeps crumbling and the policies and senior personnel of the previous administration are still intact.

People had high hopes that you would grapple with the problems created by your predecessor. But not much has changed.

The long shadow of Karen Farbridge is still covering operations. The people see it and the Mercury editorial echoes the concern that platitudes and promises won’t cut it.

The people take a $14 million mistake seriously.

 

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Is the City Clerk right absolving Susan Watson of repaying her election complaint costs to the city?

Posted September 4, 2015

This case concerns a complaint made by Susan Watson, friend and supporter of former mayor Karen Farbridge, that GrassRoots Guelph illegally donated $400 to Glen Tolhurst, a candidate in the ward six 2014 election. Mr. Tolhurst lost his bid for council.

The people of Guelph have already passed judgment on this case. The vast majority believes that the complaint did not warrant spending public money to satisfy the whim of a disgruntled individual.

The more interesting part of this costly charade is the role of the senior city staff. From the CAO, Ann Pappert, to the three members of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) to city clerk, Stephen O’Brien, were all appointed by the Farbridge administration.

Collectively, it is now crystal clear of their involvement expediting the audit and that now the city clerk says Susan Watson won’t have to pay the public funds spent for her vexatious and frivolous complaint. William Molson CA, who conducted the audit, thoroughly dispelled the attempt to discredit Mr. Tolhurst and GrassRoots Guelph.

It was city clerk O’Brien who stated in Wednesday’s Mercury, that Susan Watson having to repay the city for its costs “was not going to happen.”

It now appears that the CAC on September 10, can recommend that Susan Watson doesn’t have to repay the citizen’s money for her ill-founded excursion to seek revenge over her friend’s defeat.

With respect, such a decision would be at its own peril.

O’Brien has painted himself and the Watson faction into a corner that even has the left members of council very nervous.

Follow the money

Here’s why. The following councillors all received campaign donations from Susan Watson: Leanne Piper ($500), Cathy Downer ($500), James Gordon ($250), June Hofland ($500), and Mike Salisbury ($250). Curious question: Why did the women candidates receive twice as much from Ms. Watson as the men?

But here’s the problem. All of those councillors must recuse themselves from voting if the Watson repayment matter comes to council. It would be a breach of conflict of interest regulations, because they have a pecuniary interest due to receiving money from Susan Watson.

Guelphspeaks urges citizens to attend the CAC meeting September 10 starting at 5:30 p.m. This dreadful example of the misuse of power still exists today, ten months after the people voted to end such practices. Make your presence felt to let them know this kind of chicanery of using other people’s money to achieve vengeance, must stop. GB

**            **            **            **            **

The GRG submission delivered in person to city clerk Stephen O’Brien September 3, 2015

TO:  The members of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorringe

FROM: Gerry Barker on behalf of GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc. (GRG)

SUBJECT: Written submission concerning the application of an audit of Glen Tolhurst, a former council candidate in 2014.

The following points* represent the views of GRG. These are in regard to the complaint of Susan Watson about a $400 donation made by GRG to former city council candidate, Glen TolhurstTO: The members of the Guelph Compliance Audit Committee (CAC), Lyndsay Monk, Glen Greer and George Gorring

* GRG fully supports the findings in the nine-page report by the CAC appointed auditor, William Molson, CA, CPA. We would further thank him for his open and thorough analysis.

* Although named in the Watson application for an audit, GRG was never given the opportunity to state its case before the CAC meetings April 23, 2015 or May 6, 2015.

* The CAC appointed auditor has stated that the committee has no authority or mandate to change the rules embodied in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act or the Corporations Act.

* Citizens have the right to organize on the municipal level and collectively express their points of view by working to create change in the city’s administration.

* The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dennis Galon a spokesperson for Susan Watson.

On September 23, 2014, Dennis Galon wrote in the Mercury newspaper: “Judge in Urbacon case asserted who should be blamed.

“At trial, McCrae provided sworn testimony that contradicted his earlier testimony in discovery, causing (Justice) MacKenzie to dismiss McCrae’s testimony and accept Urbacon’s evidence. In other words, McCrae gave the judge no choice but to effectively disregard Guelph’s version of the facts.

“In short, McKenzie has clearly answered the blame question.

“Despite a detailed legal decision to the contrary, Mayor Karen Farbridge’s political opponents are inviting us to ignore the finger MacKenzie has pointed at McCrae and lust instead for blood higher up the scale.

“We all know that Guelph is wiser than that. Let’s prove it by re-electing our equally wise mayor on Oct. 27. (For the purpose of disclosure, I’m among those who have made a donation to support the mayor’s re-election campaign.)

“Whatever, since none of it (of the blame) is to be borne by Ms Farbridge, then why not show the books?”

* This excerpt of Galon’s published comments clearly illustrates the partisan attempt by supporters of the defeated mayor Karen Farbridge, to discredit and trample the rights of all citizens. Public funds have been used to intimidate citizens not to assemble and organize in municipal elections for fear of retaliation and litigation. This includes the right to reject an administration that recklessly mismanaged public funds.

* In our opinion, Mr. Molson has accurately reported the facts. He recognized that this was an attempt to have a municipally appointed lay committee determine the alleged illegality of third party involvement at the municipal level.

* In our opinion, Ms. Watson should bear the costs of this audit in its entirety including the expenses incurred by Mr. Tolhurst who was victimized by Watson’s complaint to the CAC.

* The outcome of this is clear. The electors in October 2014 voted to change the administration of the city by defeating the incumbent mayor and four of her council supporters who were either defeated or quit politics.

* In our opinion, the city clerk, Stephen O’Brien overstepped his authority in a published article in the Guelph Mercury, September 2, stating that Ms. Watson would not be held accountable for the costs of the audit. We believe the September 10th CAC meeting has been unduly influenced by the statements of Mr. O’Brien.

* We now learn that Susan Watson has sought advice from Toronto lawyer, Eric Gillespie. He has stated in the press that despite the findings of Mr. Molson, there is a ”loophole” in the Ontario Municipal Elections Act that will cause this case to be conducted in the courts. He predicted the process would take a long time.

* GRG and a majority of Guelph citizens would expect the CAC to disregard any attempt to stall responsibility for which Ms. Watson should be held accountable for the inappropriate use of public funds.

Thank you allowing GRG to participate in this important meeting.

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Ontario Liberals now tax your stuff after you die

Posted September 3, 2015

Here’s a new, not so nice tax called the Estate Administration Tax (EAT) that the Wynne Liberals slipped through effective Jan. 1, 2015 and no one is talking about it!

Basically, your survivors and executors have to report the value of all your stuff, valuables, cars and trucks, second homes, boats, RV’s, right down to the exercise bicycle in the basement.

It is yet another roadblock to discourage real growth in Ontario joining the other job killers and evaporating prosperity. Here are some examples of how the Ontario Liberals have mismanaged the Ontario economy: We have the most expensive electricity rates in North America; a new job- killing Ontario pension plan; the most expensive alcoholic beverages in North America; sky high gasoline taxes; supply management agriculture boards that have driven basic food prices to excessive levels; an integrated sales tax of 13 per cent on all goods and services with minor exceptions.

Yes the province even charges the HST on the cost of your funeral.

The province charges the HST on the electricity you use.

The HST is charged on a number of consumables including vehicles, non-prescription drugs, clothing, and items that most people would describe a food or a derivative.

When does the premier stop her relentless quest to bail out a province she and her predecessor created that is now carrying an $8 billion deficit? Her finance minister claims the Ontario budget will be balanced by 2017.

That runs counter to what her federal Liberal leader is saying. He wants to remove the Harper government’s balanced budget legislation and go to deficit financing to fix the country’s infrastructure.

These two leaders who are currently working together to elect federal Liberals in Ontario, but don’t seem to be playing from the same page.

For all the details of this new tax grab, go to the link below where the government explains it or you can read the comments from funeral directors printed out below in layman’s terms, or both. But be forewarned, it’s scary stuff.

http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/tax/eat/

Our Wynne Liberal Government presumably has to find a way to repay the billion dollars they gave the construction companies not to build the gas-fired hydro plants and subsidizing wind/solar power projects, the Orange air ambulance fiasco, the E-health record keeping program that cost millions, and other boondoggles they created.  The aptly named EAT even has local Funeral Directors seeing red.

Here’s the skinny of Kathleen Wynne’s latest play to extract more money from taxpayers, even after they’re dead.

The current EAT tax rates

  • $5 for each $1,000, or part thereof, of the first $50,000 of the value of the estate, and
  • $15 for each $1,000, or part thereof, of the value of the estate exceeding $50,000.

Note: There is no estate administration tax payable if the value of the estate is $1,000 or less.

The estate administration tax is calculated on the total value of the estate. For example, for an estate valued at $240,000 the tax would be calculated as follows:

  1. $5 per thousand for the first $50,000 of the estate
    • $50,000 ÷ $1,000 = $50
    • $50 X $5 = $250
  2. Plus
    1. $15 per thousand for the remaining $190,000 of the estate
      • $240,000 – $50,000 = $190,000
      • $190,000 ÷ $1,000 = $190
      • $190 X $15 = $2,850
    2. For a total of $3,100 ($250 + $2,850) payable to the Minister of Finance. The EAT act demands that the executors or appointed representatives must complete the EAT return within 90 days.

In order to comply with this new death tax, the estate appointed representatives are forced to consult with the following professionals: Financial advisor, registered appraiser, lawyer, funeral director, insurance broker, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the estate banker. Most of who charge a fee for service in preparing the Estate Administration Tax returns. Those fees along, depending on the size of the estate, could run into the thousands.

Yes, and the return, when filed, must be accompanied with payment in full.

Licensed Funeral Directors Tim Baragar and Jeff Neuman are sounding the alarm bells over a tax program that they say will make life difficult for estate representatives in Ontario.  Baragar makes it clear that his service does not end at the cemetery.

He and Jeff Neuman do their best to help families obtain pertinent documents and ensure that a loved one’s affairs are in order.

Sounding the Alarm

And that’s why Baragar and Neuman are sounding the alarm bells over the newly changed tax that took effect on Jan. 1. Its timelines and penalties are something these Funeral Directors think everyone needs to be aware of.

The newly changed tax program that Baragar finds frightening requires an executor to assess, appraise and value any and all property owned at the time of death on a tight timeline. This EAT appraisal includes anything that is not passed directly to a spouse or passed through joint ownership. Assets that are being gifted to charities also need to be included in the valuation. The tax is then calculated and needs to be paid immediately to the Province of Ontario as a deposit.

Baragar explains it this way – when a loved one dies and you are named as the executor of the estate, you apply for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee and then you have only 90 days to file your Estate Information Return. As soon as you file you have to pay the tax as a deposit. And if you don’t file, there are serious consequences.

According to the Ministry of Finance, “estate representatives who fail to file an Estate Information return as required, or who make false or misleading statements on the return, may be found guilty of an offense and, on conviction, are liable to a fine of at least $1,000 and up to twice the tax payable by the estate or, imprisonment of not more than two years or both.”

Has Ontario become a police state?

This is concerning to Baragar.  “It is completely unreasonable for the Ministry of Finance to expect this reporting within 90 days of the trustee beginning their role,” Baragar says. “Just getting print outs and information from banks and investment companies takes a lot of time. My biggest concern is that quite typically the trustees are often family members or close friends of the person who has died. So this simply isn’t a matter of completing a task that the Ministry of Finance merely views as a new source of income, it is a very emotionally demanding and time-consuming job. Couple that with the added stress of dealing with the loss as a family member or close friend, and it can make this role very upsetting and emotionally draining.”

And to be clear – the valuation can’t be a guess. The Province requires that you be able to back-up what you’re filing so if you’re not sure what the current market value is of a home, for example, it’s up to the executor to hire someone to do an appraisal.  There is even a link on the Ministry’s website to the Appraisal Institute of Canada.

And once you appraise, value and file you still have to be sure that nothing changes. If you made a mistake or if you missed something you have to immediately contact the Ministry (within 30 calendar days) and make all the necessary corrections.

“For our Government to threaten these individuals with charges and penalties is absurd,” Baragar says. “We pay tax when we earn our living. We pay tax when it generates income within an investment. We pay tax when we pull it from that investment, so this same money certainly shouldn’t be taxed again within the boundaries of someone’s estate.”

Enough is enough.

 

 

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Did City Clerk Stephen O’Brien get a call from Karen about her friend Susan Watson?

Posted September 2, 2015

It is a stunning pre-determination outcome of the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC) meeting September 10. City clerk Stephen O’Brien has said he doesn’t believe that Susan Watson has to reimburse the city for the cost of her election complaint.

O’Brien did not reveal the total audit costs except that he said the auditor William Molson’s fee was fixed at $7,500. The fee that Mr. Molson contracted for was $7,500.plus $500 for each meeting. In addition the clerk did not include the fee paid to the “subject matter expert” Toronto lawyer, Jody Johnson, hired to advise the CAC members of their duties and responsibilities. Nor does he mention the staff costs spent on the CAC audit.

A rough estimate is the city so far has spent more than $10,000 on the Watson complaint brought on Glen Tolhurst for receiving a donation for $400 from GrassRoots Guelph Voters Association Inc (GRG). As a candidate in the 2014 civic election, Mr. Tolhurst spent less than $2,900 on his ward six campaign in which he was not elected.

The Watson complaint was based on three elements:

* Tolhurst did not claim the value of GRG advertising in the Guelph Tribune of which he was one of 12 candidates suggested for consideration by voters.

Mr. Molson disagreed saying that the GRG advertising campaign was not and should not be considered a contribution to Tolhurst’s campaign.

* Susan Watson stated that GRG erroneously called itself a business when in fact it was a citizen’s group.

Mr. Molson disagreed. GRG is a non-profit incorporated organization under the Ontario Corporations Act and therefore entitled to make donations in municipal elections.

Tolhurst’s greatest sin: Clerical errors valued less than $10

The auditor noted that Tolhurst contravened the Ontario Municipal Elections Act (MEA) by failing to note in his official expenses report the cost of a city map ($5.50), checked off the wrong box on the form and under-reported an expense by $1.

It is ludicrous for O’Brien to suggest that Tolhurst contravened the MEA on that basis so therefore Watson does not have to repay the city. The auditor, in his report, said the reporting errors were not enough to be considered a contravention of the MEA

Why, before the committee has had a chance to consider the Molson report, is the city clerk claiming that Ms. Watson, the person who made the false allegations that caused the audit, is not responsible?

His comments, as a senior city official, are unworthy, unprofessional and slanted. The people have already determined that this complaint was vindictive and frivolous. And conducted at the public expense.

The clerk says the CAC could “commence legal action against Tolhurst if the auditor found that Tolhurst contravened the Act”.

Does the city of Guelph really want to go to court over election expense errors under $10? The CAC’s own auditor stated the errors were not significant to warrant such an action.

The committee “will probably weigh the perceived and severity of the contraventions,” the clerk added.

Clerk says we have to follow proper procedures

While the CAC is independent of Council, the clerk stated, “it is their job to ensure that the proper process is followed.”

Mr. O’Brien, are you suggesting that the proper process was not followed? Are you basing your statement that repayment of public funds by Susan Watson “is not going to happen?”

Let’s get this straight. The CAC May 6 ordered an audit of Glen Tolhurs’s election expenses. May 20, the CAC selected William Molson to perform the audit over the objections of one CAC member, who said an auditor with more experience in such cases should be selected. Molson’s bid was the lowest of three.

This appears to be following procedures.

Mr. Molson commenced the audit process in June. Nowhere during the audit investigation were there failures of procedures.

When Molson released the report, he found that the accusations made by Susan Watson failed to meet the test under which she claimed Tolhurst contravened the Act.

The CAC has little choice in this matter. It’s own auditor has basically said the complaint is unfounded. His judgment was based on law, the MEA and the Corporations Act. He said changing those laws was beyond the scope of the CAC.

The most egregious part of this is O’Brien’s blatant interference in the process is that Watson would not have to repay the public funds used to support her claims

Hello, Karen?

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