Monthly Archives: November 2015

Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 29, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* Sell a bit of Hydro One and spend it on the deficit

*   Did we elect a Prime Minister or envoy to the world?

* Countdown to the 2016 city budget

* Lose your car, rely on public and cycle transportation

 

Ontario Liberals to sell assets to balance the books by 2017

When Charles Sousa, Ontario’s Minister of Finance, produced his fall financial update Thursday, he proudly claimed the deficit had been reduced by a billion dollars. For the uninformed, this is a shell game. Sousa in his budget presentation announced the provincial deficit would be $8.5 billion. Voila! He now says it will be $7.5 billion.

This is the ninth successive years that the Ontario Liberals have budgeted a deficit. First it was the McGuinty government that spent money it didn’t have during a financially volatile period when plants were closing and revenues nose-dived.

Gas plants notwith standing, Kathleen Wynne is still sticking to the fiscal program of the McGuinty period to spend more than general revenues supply.

The net of these accumulated deficits is a gigantic increase in the provincial debt. As it grows it feeds on the government’s deficits, driving up the debt servicing costs. These servicing costs must be paid, on time and without recource.

The result is the hole keeps getting deeper and more difficult to get out. There is no way the current policies of thr Wynne government are going to balance ther budget before the next elelction. Except if they sell off public assets to cover their overspending.

Does that make sense to you?

The problem is not lack of revenue but excessive spending.

Living in Guelph, most folks are aware of the current administration’s penchant to boost spending every budget cycle. Our problem is that we have a number of councillors who do not understand financial management and/or they rely on staff to make the right decisions. This has been the practice in city operations for the past nine years.

The end result is the staff has control of the process and the majority of council support their decisions.

Here’s a small prediction: Guelph Hydro, one of 74 municipally owned distribution networks in Ontario, could be bought by Hydro One before the next election. This was the plan of former mayor Farbridge when she formed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, of which Guelph Hydro is part. The proceeds would provide sufficient capital to carry out her plan to provide geothermal heating and cooling to major downtown Guelph buildings plus the Hanlon Business Park.

Stay tuned.

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What the world needs now is Justin Trudeau?

Our spanking new Prime Minister has spent more time on the road than in Parliament since his election five weeks ago.

Hey! It isn’t easy doing the job domestically but overseas is a different matter. There have been some gaffes such as maintaining his election promise to bring our RCAF troops home right after the Paris terror attacks. In show biz that’s called blowing the line.

Then he maintained the party’s stance that it would bring in 25,000 displaced Syrian refugees by December 31. Whoa there cowboy! The logistical problems exceeded the promise. To the P.M.’s credit, he called the provincial first ministers together to discuss how they can assist accepting the refugees and provide the necessary life fundamentals for them to become assimilated in our society.

It had to be a historical meeting because the Harper government didn’t bother meeting the premiers in more than four years.

I can remember Justin’s father holding the confederation conferences in the former central train station, in Ottawa, that had been converted into a convention centre. Some were televised and gave Canadians an insight to the thinking of their leaders from across the country.

The early morning line is that the young master will do just fine and will improve and mellow with age. Bon Chance! M. Justin Trudeau.

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2016 City budget to be decided in the next 11 days

This is written before the important budget meeting, Monday night, in which each citizen can present their input into the city’s 2016 budget.

For the first time in many such sessions, there will be some pertinent and thought-provoking addresses by delegates. There will be the usual special interest groups requesting funding for their projects and activities.

At this point in time, council has received from its staff, recommendations that will increase the property tax levy by 2.83 per cent. We are entering the critical budget zone now as there is not much wiggle room left to keep the increase below the 2015 budget increase

Evidence revelations now show about .72 per cent remaining if last year’s 3.55 per cent increase is the benchmark.

Council’s job is to balance the demands and special interest requests. There is considerable fat in the staff’s two basic recommendations. What else is new?

Adding some 12 new fulltime staff is not vital to maintaining the city.

For example can we not get by without two trails technicians costing $216,400? Or an Asset Manager Mobility Speciaist for $79,300? How about a Zoning Inspector for125,000? Or Winter cycling Lane Maintenance for $670,800? Then there is an Arborist, $107,400 and an Arborist Inspector, $130,700? Or buying a new fuel truck for $229,500?

There are many more employee add ons plus projects. Nowhere is there any explanation why these staff increases and projects are substantiated as being necessary.

This may be the Christmas season but it’s not Christmas at budget time.

There are smart, experienced indiviuals in town that have the background and professional hands-on management skills to arrest spending, reduce staff, improve organization and productivity. Why can’t the city management do that?

Try and make the Monday meeting as see your city administration at work.

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The two per cent solution to global warming

This week the Liberal government announced it would give $2.5 billion to developing countries to reduce carbon emissions and the effect on climate change. And they did it without discussion or approval of Parliament.

Canada’s contribution to global warming is two per cent of global emissions. That includes the oil sands production of the dreaded carbon dioxide gases that pollute the atmosphere.

In Guelph we have a number of environmentalists pushing to get cars off the road and force citizens to rely on non-fossil fueled vehicles, bicycles and shank’s mare.

Coun. Phil Allt says that cars have to get off our roads. He echoes former Coun. Maggie Laidlaw who predicted eight years ago there would be no cars on Guelph’s streets within 20 years. Maggie you’ve got 12 years to go on that prediction.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is predicting the apocalyptic end of the plant unless we act. That’s over the top and needlessly threatening.

Seriously, there has to be middle ground to rebalance the earth’s atmosphere without threats, bags of money from governments and special interests. It is ludicrous to suggest the end of fossil fueled vehicles, cars, trains, buses, trucks,and trains. Electric-powered vehicles won’t cut it because engineering of electric vehicles is light years from being able to move a train or a large truck or a bus.

Imagine if you will, that everyone who drives a fossil-fueled car will toss their keys into a garbage bin and give up using their car. Depending on your age, your mobility will be reduced to walking, cycling or public transit.

How would that work for residents of Guelph? Routine chores to buy groceries, delivering children to and from school, heating your home with oil or gas, going to the movies or concerts, visiting relatives in places where there is no public transportation, getting to a hospital or doctor’s office, and the list of personal inconvenience would throw our society back to life lived 160 years ago.

Then we would have to deal with the horse manure problem as a health hazard.

And the impact of this to Canada? Perhaps, the elimination of our two per cent greenhouse gases contribution to the planet.

One volcanic eruption in the world discharges more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than that of fossil-fueled vehicles in all of North America in a year. There are 274 active volcanoes in the world.

The good news is that engineers are gradually developing more efficient and non-fossil-fueled vehicles that will alleviate some of the problem. But if the large countries of the world such as the U.S, China, India, Indonesia and Russia fail to reduce carbon emissions, it is all for naught.

Let’s agree that fossil fuels are not the sole reason for global warming. Natural emissions play a major role in climate change and man cannot control that.

In Guelph, the environmentalist lobby should turn their attention on accommodating natural, responsible growth of our community without trying to ram a series of policies that restrict, inconvenience and divide the city.

That starts with the silly thesis that cars have to get off the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 city budget countdown resembles a demolition derby

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 27, 2015

Guelph city administration is running the city like it’s Black Friday – taking advantage of citizen’s lack of understanding of the “Let’s Build a Budget” routine that staggers any reasonable sense of what in heck are they doing?

Let’s start from the beginning of the budget process that began when the administration hired the BMA municipal consultants to conduct a review of city operations.

The BMA report detailed some serious shortcomings in terms of financial management and action taken previously.

One of the key findings of the BMA report was the caution issued about the depleted city reserve funds, estimated to be some $23 million short of established city guidelines. A large piece of that shortfall was the $8.96 million taken from three unrelated reserve funds to pay the Urbacon lawsuit settlement. Now that was an unbudgeted expense.

When Justice Donald MacKenzie asked the city solicitor why it took the step of firing the general contractor of the new city hall, the answer was reported; “Because we believed we would win.” (Urbacon Buildings Group brought the lawsuit).

Well, they didn’t and we the people lost $23 million over the original budget of $44 million as a result of that decision. Total cost of the new city hall and courthouse, is $67 million.

It happened last year in the middle of the election campaign.

But new information has arisen that proves that Guelph, compared with Cambridge and Kitchener, has the highest per capita costs of the three municipalities. Here are some examples:

The Guelph 2015 budget shows that the city per capita cost for capital spending and operations was $3,859. That’s compared to Cambridge, $2,525 and Kitchener, $2,528. That includes the two city’s regional tax contribution.

Living in Guelph costs $1,300 more per person than Cambridge and Kitchener

The difference between Guelph and the other two cities is $1,300 per capita times 120,000 population equals $156 million!

Is the description “staggering” an exaggeration?

But it doesn’t stop the architects of the Build a Budget for 2016.

Disregarding the warning signals from the BMA report, the administration is presenting a budget that ignores the data supplied by its own consultant and annual Financial Information Report  mandated by the province.

Instead it’s business as usual as the city staff senior management recommends a budget that would increase property taxes by 1.58 per cent. Then along comes stage two of the staff recommendations, described as “expansions” adding more staff and programs that boosts the new rate to 2.83 per cent.

What’s the point of striking a lowball staff budget increase then recommending approval of expansions of staff and programs? Is this the result of the new open and transparent government action plan, or just manipulation?

Monday night, the public get’s its chance to present requests for funding, complain about the budget and demand answers to the high costs of living in Guelph. It’s interesting that a citizen must register by today to speak. The following are the instructions from the clerk’s office on your presentation.

Knuckling under the Clerk’s demands

“We will list you as a delegation for the November 30th meeting.  Please advise what subject area of the budget you wish to address as we are trying to group speakers with similar concerns together to help streamline the flow of the meeting.  Each delegation is allotted five minutes to address Council and we ask that delegates do not repeat what others have stated.  If you have an electronic presentation or written material you wish distributed to Council, we must receive them in the clerk’s office no later than 9:00 a.m. on Friday, November 27th.”

This direction is offensive and controlling. It’s a public meeting and it’s not up to the clerk’s office to direct what may be said and be ordered not to repeat another delegate’s opinion to “ streamline the flow of the meeting.” Having witnessed past budget meetings where the public may submit opinions, ideas and protest the system, it is, to be charitable, a charade as council and staff sit and stare for the most part.

Most councillors would be happier Monday night at home watching Dancing with the Stars than sit and listen to their constituents. There is little interplay between delegates and council.

Coun. Karl Wettstein, predictably, will demand that if a delegate asks for reductions in spending, will say it would require a reduction in services. His most recent pronouncement was about the effect of increased assessments on property does not automatically increase taxes.

Let’s listen in: “One small clarification – It sounds like David (David Starr commenting on the effect of rising assessments in the city) is assuming market value increases automatically increase taxes.

As you know this is not accurate,” Karl

The civic world according to Karl

Well Karl, please explain in language we all understand, when last March you voted to increase property taxes by 3.55 per cent. Then about a week later it was revised upward to 3.96 per cent when the increases in city assessment were added into the costs to property owners.

Yes Karl, it’s about the bottom line, not what you neglect to include in your claim that increased assessments do not automatically increase taxes.

Hey! Are you playing with the reserves again Karl? For eight years you were part of the administration that used the tax stabilization reserve fund to put an artificial lid on the tax increases. Now there is little money left to continue the game, Shame!

As long as there is no control by the administration to reduce costs, the gap will widen between what it costs to live in Guelph compared to Cambridge and Kitchener.

We have an administration that refuses to recognize the depth of the problem thereby does nothing but increase spending.

We only have ourselves to blame. We elected them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is spending $100,000 for catering responsible, reasonable or a rip-off?

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 24, 2015

This week the Mercury reported that the city spent $103,282 on catering in 2014. The only way the citizens learned about this was because the newspaper filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Even then it will take another request to drill down to where the money was spent and who received the money.

DCAO Mark Amorosi is in charge of finances and his comments are opaque and stocked with generalities but no specifics.

For example, he says that the city caters to visitors, such as events at city hall by invitation only, or from outside organizations and government. Then it is appropriate for the city to supply coffee, juice or cookies.

Please Mark, you’re breaking me up.

This isn’t about cookies, coffee and juice, this is about lavish bun feeds at Cutten Fields or Bueno Gusto. This about the use of City of Guelph corporate credit cards being used to cater food and drinks for unnamed senior officials and unknown reasons.

When you divide the total amount recorded, $103,282, by the number of full-time equivalent employees, 2,100, it amounts to $49.18 per employee. So let’s stop kidding anyone. More than 80 per cent of those employees never claimed a dime for city-paid catering. That’s 1,680 staff leaving 420 employees, plus certain members of council, who probably used their corporate cards to cater, but to whom?

Experience has shown that the administration is exposed to people who want something and are prepared to pay for entertaining key staffers (decision makers) and members of council.

It appears that the chiefs of the administration are the main beneficiaries of the city catering budget, if one even exists.

But here’s Coun. Leanne Piper commenting on catering costs: “As far as saving money goes in relation to negotiating next year’s budget, it wouldn’t be worth it for the city to cut catering costs.”

Piper goes on to make the point that most councillors have day jobs, like her, and she says she leaves her University of Guelph job at 4:45 pm and doesn’t have time to go home and eat because council meets, usually starting at 5:00 pm. City Council meets some 26 times a year based on twice a month, except at budget time and takes the month of August off.

Then she adds: “Under the Employment Standards Act. If you’re working a double shift, if you’re working all day and expected to work into the night, then the employer is obligated to provide a meal.”

This warped logic only epitomizes the entitlement attitude that Ms. Piper feels she deserves.

First, who pays for the meal? The University or the City? Second, the city job is a part-time job that she chose. Third, if she thinks that this catering issue is not worthy of close examination, then she has little regard for her fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Guelph as an elected member of city council.

In polite circles it’s known as the Marie Antoinette syndrome: “Let them eat cake”

Oops, this piece is about catering. Okay it’s just an appropriate play on words.

You may ask why the Mercury was forced to obtain the catering information to which it had every right to obtain, from senor administrators. It’s public money and the public has the right to know.

Three years, ago, the former mayor and council spent more than $100,000 to a Toronto consultant to prepare an Open Government Action Plan to allow a free-flow of information to the people.

Today, we have Farbridge supporter Andy Best, manager of the open and transparent government plan. He was hired last spring on a one-year contract paying some $92,000.

Hold onto your hats folks, that contract has been extended under the proposed staff 2016 budget to three years costing $264,000.

Guess the only conclusion is, what’s Andy Best’s job? Is it worth paying $356,000?

Yet it is another expensive hangover of the former mayor’s eight years in office. The trouble is those policies and costs aren’t going away.

At least, not if Leanne Piper has anything to do with it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 22, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* The city of Guelph according to Chairman Piper

*   Some Adult truths to tickle your fancy

* The city reserve funds are on life support

* Life aboard Liz Sandals’ submarine

 

Leanne Piper bares herself as a Farbridge loyalist

Coun. Leanne Piper has a bagful of opinions and has become the defacto leader of the elected Farbridge Gang 0f Seven (FGOS) who currently dominate city council. It is a group dedicated to carry on the Farbridge agenda that more than 48 per cent of electors rejected last October.

Here we are a year later, and the bloc voting of FGOS is paralyzing the people’s business. They include: Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury, Phil Allt and James Gordon, the godfather of the Farbridge agenda.

The remaining councillors include Mayor Cam Guthrie, Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Andy Van Hellemond, Christine Billings and Mark MacKinnon.

Leanne Piper posted a message June 3, 2014 with the heading, “Mayor Karen Farbridge Recognized for Leadership.”

Piper went on to say that “we don’t recognize how well regarded our city and our Mayor are until we leave the city limits. The Canadian Urban Institute knows that great cities are no accident. Leadership at all levels – politicians, staff and community – work together to develop and achieve great things. Congratulations, Karen!”

Now it’s appropriate for a councillor to support the mayor. But the date of this pronouncement from Chairman Piper suggests adoration and responsibility do not mix. Especially when the city has been found guilty of wrongful dismissal of Urbacon Buildings Group Corp., the general contractor of the new City Hall. The cost of this decision made in September 2008 is currently $23 million. That’s above the original project cost of $44 million totaling $67 million plus HST.

The city set aside no funds in the event it lost the lawsuit initiated by Urbacon. There was no admission of responsibility by neither Mayor Farbridge nor any of her majority of supporters including Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland, and Mike Salisbury. These councillors are part of the FGOS dominating city council today.

The Farbridge legacy is a hangover of mismanagement of personal environmental projects, ego, and lack of financial control of public funds. It has left the city with a multi-million dollar shortfall in reserve funds, critical condition of our aging infrastructure and a dysfunctional staff.

Yes Leanne, you are to be congratulated for being a key player in creating the irresponsible actions of a Farbridge-led council gone wild.

It will take years to return Guelph into a fiscal condition to repair the handiwork of your leader.

Time for a rethink, Leanne.

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Some adult truths to tickle your fancy

            * Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch three consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

* Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

* There is great need for a sarcasm font.

* Was learning cursive really necessary?

* Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

* Bad decisions make good stories.

* I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when    they call.

* I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more     kisses begin with Molson Export than Kay.

* I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

* How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?

* I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front.

* The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in hockey in 1874 and the first helmet in hockey was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

By Anonymous

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Whatever happened to all those reserve funds?

The city hired a consultant group from Hamilton to conduct an operations review. BMA reported that the city’s reserve funds, except the water reserve, were in a “red flag cautionary” mode.

What does this mean to the average citizen? Not much really except that it will drive taxes and fees up to replenish the under-funded reserves.

There are three reserves that were raided by the former administration to pay the $8.96 million settlement costs to Urbacon Buildings Group Corp as a result of losing a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

There was a recent report that the reserves’ shortfall was due in part because of the Urbacon settlement. However in the past eight years of the Far bridge administration, the reserves were often used to provide internal capital to cover mistakes, cost overruns, pet projects, and a number of other issues.

In short, the administration used the reserves as an ATM to conduct the city business; spending money outside the budget.

They did it because staff had the backing of the leadership, both elected and senior staff. In eight years, the city staff has been stocked with Friends of Farbridge (FOFS) and senior staff. Many of these employees do not live in Guelph. Yet they are making decisions that affect not only the tax and user fees rates but have done it with immunity.

One of the problems that got us into this mess was the lack of a Chief Financial Officer who could provide the necessary checks and balances required in a $500 million corporation.

The Farbridge Gang of Seven is still blocking necessary reforms to restore fiscal responsibility to the city.

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Liz Sandals is in her submarine as the system crumbles

It’s hard to imagine why Liz Sandals is still Minister of Education. While the Ontario education system is in tatters, Liz submerges beneath the ocean of discontent.

Her public comments reveal a Minister without common sense, respect for the students, the parents and the taxpayers.

Some classics:

When questioned by reporters following the Globe and Mail revealing the secret $2.5 million pay off to three teacher unions to cover extra negotiating costs, she said it was “nothing about anything.”

When asked if the unions supplied receipts to back up the payments, Sandals replied that it wasn’t necessary because she was familiar with the added costs. She said, “ you don’t have to see every bill when you’re doing an estimate of costs.”

Premier Wynne later jumped in and said the unions had to supply receipts for fear that the Sandals statement would cause a wave of expense account manipulations when receipts were not required.

The Minister refused to say how much the government spent on its own negotiating costs.

Under her leadership, Sandals has caused major disruption in the everyday operations of Ontario’s Schools. It has been going on for 18 months and still going on as unions remain engaged in work to rule, obstructing the normal operations of thousands of Ontario Schools.

Even the principals of those schools are powerless to properly operate the institutions that are responsible for educating future generations. Union-ordered cancelled field trips, report cards, extracurricular activities and only allow parent consultations if they feel like it.

The teacher unions have to step back and let the process continue as it should without the cheesy, obstructionism that is out of control. It’s that way because the Wynne government allowed it to happen. The convoluted “new” two-tiered system of negotiating with the union and the school boards has been an unmitigated disaster.

And next year, the negotiating process starts all over again.

This isn’t about politics, it’s about responsibility to keep labour peace and supply our children with a quality and productive education.

Time to say goodbye Liz. With you in charge nothing will change.

 

 

 

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A serious look inside our city budget and where your tax dollars are going

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 21, 2015

As part of its new budget building program, the city released proposals for expansions of staff in the 2016 budget.

Prior to this the city staff presented to council an operating budget proposing a 2016 property tax increase of 1.58 per cent. Let’s call that stage one, or the window dressing portion of the build a budget program.

The staff recommends several budget expansions, over and above the operations budget of 1.58 per cent. The most costly expansion is adding 16 fulltime equivalent employees across various departments. The cost is $2,629,600. This adds another 1.25 per cent to the property tax increase.

Stage Two: Kaching! Now we’re up to 2.83 per cent

The 50 per cent growth of city staff by 700 employees in eight years is compared to a 5.7 per cent increase in population. That’s an increase of 6,897 newcomers in the same period. Wonder if they get their waste picked up by the city?

Let’s look at it this way. Assuming the city population is 121,000 and there are 2,100 fulltime employees, that means there is one city employee per 57.6129 citizens.

Taking it a step further, for the 6,897 new residents arriving since 2007, the 700 new city staff hired during the same period, means that one city employee serves just 9.852 citizens.

This indicates that Guelph hired more new staffers than were needed to cope with the increase in population, a paltry 5.7 per cent in eight years.

But the city staff increased by 50 per cent in those same eight years.

So why does the city staff keep adding staff, on average, of 20 individuals in each budget cycle?

In the space of just six months, completing two budget cycles, 2015 and 2016, some 37 new employees are authorized. While the 2016 budget has not been finalized, it’s a safe bet the staff recommended 16 additional staffers will be approved.

Stage Three: Citizens get their chance to ask for money

But wait! Yet to come are the citizens requesting public funding at the November 30 public meeting. This is when the vociferous bike lane lobby swings into high gear to extend the network of bike lanes in the downtown core and major arterial roads. This is one of those Farbridge legacy hangovers that will be ardently supported by the Farbridge Gang of Seven on council. This group is trapped in an eight-year time warp that has witnessed millions spent to accommodate a tiny minority of bicycle riders.

Their pitch is to demand that council live up to the Farbridge sponsored ten-year plan to spend $1.3 million on bike lanes Reminder, the 2015 budget contains a $600,000 item for bike lanes on Woodlawn Ave.

It’s difficult to understand why driving through Kitchener and Waterloo, there is not the numbers of bike lanes on the major roads in comparison to Guelph.

There will be other organzations and individuals pitching council for money for a variety of causes and interests. Council will be polite with each petitioner, ask some questions but rarely commit, except if you ride a bicycle.

The final stage will be council’s final review of the 2016 budget and approve it December 9.

It’s a good bet that the 2016 budget will exceed a property tax increase of 3.5 per cent not including the increase in citywide property assessments that contribute to the bottom line.

Let’s take a look as these staff recommended expansions.

One that stands out is hiring a manager of city assets for $157,000. A second is hiring an asset analyst for $120,100. Total for the two jobs is $277,500. It is not clear where these two hires fit in and are they necessary? Is not the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), responsible for managing city assests? That’s what the charter says and already has a general manager.

The Corporate Services department requires the following staff additions and programs:

An internal auditor – $133,800; Asset manager mobility specialist, $79,300; Information technician GIS program, $483,500; Clerk’s office, Access coordinator $86,800; Ward boundary review, (an election will not be held until 2018), $190,000; Contingency reserve $500,000; Stabilization reserve, $500,000.

It’s interesting to note that some programs all have the same $50,000 cost. Two are not recommended: Graffiti removal cotrol and the Goose mitigation strategy. City hall maintenance of $50,000 is recommended. Does that include the living wall?

The Parks department is a beneficiary of the staff recommendations. There is a parks planner, $56,050; an Arborist, $107,400; an Inspector Arborist, $130,700; Seasonal Horticultural crew, $69,600; parks infrastructure maintenance, $35,800; turf maintenance, $69,800; trails maintenance, $35,000; Adding two trails technicians costing $216,400. This adds up to $720,750.

The Farbridge-initiated Open Government Action Plan gets an additional $264,200 on top of the $92,000 approved in the 2015 budget. This money has boosted what was first a one-year contract job for Farbridge loyalist Andy Best. Apparently, the position has morphed into a three-year commitment.

So much for the integrity of the public service.

We have a Cadillac staff powered by a four cylinder engine

While the staff has taken steps to reduce spending, it still fails to address the real spending issue: The growing cost of the city staff is too much for the supporting tax base to afford.

It is not something that started this year. Under the Farbridge administration, staff numbers soared from 1,400 to more than 2,100. Some 37 new employees will have been hired in the 2015, and proposed 2016, budgets. The staff employment costs currently consumes more than 80 per cent of the tax levy.

Glancing over the proposed new staff group for 2016, many are specialists and management people, with compensation packages that are ahead of similar positions in private industry.

The comment made by Derrick Thomson, DCAO, in charge of operations is ludicrous. He says the increase of staff is required to serve more residents. In eight years, the population increased by 5.7 per cent. But in the past ten years, the city staff has increased by 85 per cent.

Just looking at this position, there is a whole crop of candidates for the provinces’s annual Sunshine list of those public servants making more than $100,000 a year.

This continuation of the staff setting the terms of employment is with little input from some members of council, or a responsible Chief Financial Officer (CFO). That job has not been filled since former CFO Al Horsman was moved to Waste Management, Planning and Engineering a year ago, and two budgets since. He left Guelph this past summer.

For additional information about this budget process, here is the link:

http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/council consolidated-agenda budget 111815.pdf

 

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Guelph’s financial dilemma is rooted in high staff costs

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 17, 2015

It’s the dirty big secret that is driving up costs and so far, council does not want to tackle it.

It’s the untouchable cost of running a city after nine years of non-stop wages and benefits grow exponentially exceeding the Consumer Price index (CPI) by a country mile. Throw in the more than 400 new, fulltime equivalent employees added in that time, and taxpayers are being forced to ante up every year to keep up.

The truth is that 80 per cent of the property tax levies goes to pay the city staff.

So when the staff submits its estimate of the property tax increase for 2016 of 1.58 per cent to city council, it is a mythical figure that has little basis of reality. It’s the equivalent of the workers at Linamar telling the management how much they think it’s going to cost to produce car parts.

So they scare council’s Farbridge majority by saying the Guelph Transit fares are going up and weekend and holiday service will be reduced to save $1.5 million.

Compared to the 2013 Guelph Transit overtime bill of more than $5 million, that’s chicken feed.

Oh, woe is me! Says Coun. Phil Allt who again, insists Guelph has to get cars off the road and only public transit is the answer. So the left-brain cramp of some members of council, is maintaining the “war on cars” that beats on in an addled manner.

It’s all part of the senior staff game to serve and protect … their interests, not those who must pay the bills. And there are a number of senior managers that don’t even live or pay taxes in Guelph.

In the past ten years, the growth of Guelph city staff exceeded the growth of our population by 85 per cent.

And it’s not just occurring in Guelph.

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says in part that: “We have been hearing about cities having a revenue problem, but it’s clear it’s a spending problem they are dealing with,” said Laura Jones, CFIB executive vice president.

The CFIB report states that a municipal employee in Canada is paid 22 per cent more than an employee in the private sector doing the same job.

“When you look closely, it’s easy to see employee compensation is the root of the municipal spending problem,” said Nina Gormanns, co-author of the report.

This report comes in concert with the Fair Pensions for All organization that has been warning municipalities, for many years of the risks of increasing the size of staff and the increasing benefits paid to those workers.

In fact, the organization presented a documented report to the former Farbridge council, indicating the growing pension liabilities the city was facing. It was ignored and a number of Farbridge followers ridiculed the findings.

So the staff strategy is to use Guelph Transit as the target to reduce costs instead of recommending staff reductions. The city recently commissioned a consultant report to review city operations.

The BMA municipal consultants are not unfamiliar with the way our city is being managed, having done a similar report in 2011 that cost $480,442 to complete.

This year’s report gives the city operations a passing grade in almost all aspects except for a “cautionary red flag” on the underfunded reserves. Once in a while it is right to speak the truth.

You cannot raid three reserve funds to pay a lawsuit liability of $8.96 million without a firm plan to pay the money back. In approving the 2015 budget last March 25, Coun. Karl Wettstein, the elder statesman of the Farbridge Seven on council, made a motion to reduce the $900,000 scheduled repayment to the reserve funds to $500,000. That passed.

Councillors Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland were on the Farbridge council that witnessed the firing in September 2008 of Urbacon Buildings Group, Corp., the general contractor of the new City hall.

They have never accepted responsibility for that action that triggered a $23 million overrun of the project. For that matter, neither has the former mayor ever admitted any responsibility.

The people understood and voted the mayor out of office.

So when the 2016 budget is approved in December, don’t be surprised if it is another 3.5 per cent increase of property taxes, plus user fees and more staff.

You read it here first.

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 15, 2015

Here’s this week’s line-up:

* Guelph Transit is a seasonal production

* Say goodbye to the editor in chief?

* The young master needs a script rewrite

* The Gummer gift of $1.5 million

* Do we really need expensive consultants?

 

Cars, bicycles and Guelph Transit fare hikes

Council is discussing the proposal by city staff to increase Guelph Transit fares and reduce weekend and holiday service.

The first indication that there is opposition to this came from Coun. Phil Allt who said that its wrong to raise fares and decrease weekend service because we have to get cars off the road to save the planet. Well Phil, thanks for that and all this time we thought that defeated Councillor Maggie Laidlaw’s war on cars ended last October.

If Allt knew anything about climate change he wouldn’t assume fossil fuels are the only cause of climate warming. One volcanic eruption spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than one year’s fossil fuel emmisions in North America.

There are more than 250 active volcanos in the world.

There is no question that the growing use of fossil fuels in the developing countries is affecting the climate. However, in the case of automobiles and commercial vehicles, the demand for refined fuel is dropping. Innovative engineering and introduction of electric and hybrid gasoline/electric vehicles, has to a degree, mitigated the threat of fossil fueled vehicles’ contribution toward climate change and global warming.

In Guelph, we have a minority strident group of bicyclists who are demanding special lanes for the exclusive use of cyclists. They demand that the taxpayers spend $1.3 million per year expanding these bike lanes. It was the Farbridge regime that approved this $13 million 10-year plan.

So while council considers taxing cats, it might ask itself why not licence and tax cyclists because they are getting a free ride on most arterial and major roads in the city? Once licensed, cyclists would be required to wear light-coloured clothing at night, flashing rear lights and helmets.

And also, cyclists are using the sidewalks as their path of choice. This is currently forbidden by city bylaw.

This minority group of bike users has the substantial support of the Farbridge majority on council.

Like the operation of Guelph Transit that is designed to cater to the 20,000 undergraduates at U of G for eight months of the year, the bicycle lobby is receiving millions from the taxpayers in grants and subsidies.

When a Mercury columnist suggests that the increased fares will provide a bonus of $1.5 million to the city , he neglects to mention that the city subsidizes Guelph Transit by some $15 million per year.

*            *            *            *

Is this a goodbye to the Mercury’s Editor in Chief?

Editor in Chief of the K/W Record and Guelph Mercury, Lynn Haddrell, wrote a column in the Saturday Mercury, replacing the spot normally occupied by Managing Editor Phil Andrews.

It seemed to be a goodbye piece but was chiefly about her career involving the Mercury, not the Record where she worked full-time.

It is no coincidence that guelphspeaks this week took the words of Torstar Chairman John Honderich, whose company owns both The Record and The Mercury. He said: “Newspapers are an essential informing part of the democratic process and their first responsibility must be to the local readers they serve.”

The point of the GS piece was that Ms. Haddrell and her Record/Mercury publisher, were both in Kitchener at the Record. That seemed to run counter to what Mr. Hondrich was saying. His newspapers must be transparent, open and have editorial independence. These include journalists who cover the Mercury’s catchment area.

*            *            *            *

Justin, the training wheels have been removed

Our new P.M. may need to rerwrite the script following the horrific ISIS attack in Paris last Friday night, leaving 129 dead and hundreds more wounded with an estimated 100 in critical condition.

Justin Trudeau quickly announced that Canada was withdrawing its air command from Qatar. The young master will learn to understand our intelligence better. Regardless, Canada is committed to NATO and the pledge that an attack on one, is an attack on all.

We all expect the change in government will bring about change that is orderly and responsible. That includes the use of our military and its resources.

Withdrawing forces now after what has occurred in France is ill-considered and neglects to recall the commitment to NATO.

It’s time for Canada to contribute to eliminate this scourge of terror that threatens us and our allies.

The question arises is just how effective are Canada’s intelligence services? More than ever, the apparent infiltration of terrorists in the gigantic refugee flow into Europe, threatens the Trudea promise to bring 25,000 to Canada by the end of the year, six weeks from now.

How can our government guarantee the qualifications of these refugees in the limited time frame remaining?

Time to rethink that one.

*            *            *            *

Spending $1.5 million on a handshake is irresp0nsible

With the majority of council coposed of the Farbridge Seven, it voted recently to give the private owners of the Gummer Building on Douglas Street, $1.5 million because it was promised, by the previous administration, reportedly on a handshake.

When the Gummer building was ravaged by fire several years back, the Farbridge council, agreed to give the owners who were rebuilding the building, 100 free parking spaces downtown. It was because the heritage supporters on council wanted the façade of the old building restored.

But there is more. The present owners of the Gummer received a ten-year tax break. What is not apparent is the $1.5 million bonus for completing the work, so to speak.

How long do the citizens have to tolerate the legacy of the Farbridge financial commitments, some of which were made behind closed doors with a wink, a nod and a handshake?

How much are we paying these guys?

The guelphspeaks archives yield some interesting information. Today, I discovered a draft of the city’s 2011 budget. In it there was an item about the Hamilton-based BMA consultant firm that recently completed a review of the 2015 city operations.

Five years ago, the city budgeted to hire this firm for $480,442. This was to perform an undisclosed task involving examination of operations and reporting the findings to city staff and council. The 2011 completed report was never made public..

This same firm has just completed another city operations review, the cost of which is unknown because it would have been budgeted in the final days of the Farbridge administration. Whatever, the council approved a 3.96 per cent property tax increase last March to pay the current BMA account.

Another question: Was there a Request for Proposal (RFP) issued to determine an above-board competition for the work required? It seems spending half a million bucks on this consultant proposal, requires input from other consultants who may be interested in the project. Who wouldn’t?

This is exactly what needs to controlled. The solution is to hire a Chief Financial officer at less than half of what taxpayers paid and are paying BMA.

Has this firm been engaged every year since 2011? If so, that’s a whack of consultant fees.

If any, what’s the connection between Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, and the president of BMA? Both are from Hamilton and worked together, at a point in time. Mr. Amorosi is currently responsible for all city financial matters.

 

 

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