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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10 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

10 responses to “A serious look inside our city budget and where your tax dollars are going

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Gerry – once again you hit the nail,on the head with the uncontrolled multiple increases in staff in relation to population growth. It amounts to nothing more than empire building. The resultant tax increases outstrip the increase in CPI by at least 2.5 times .It is time for the citizens to demand responsible management at city hall. Let your councillors and the mayor know that any tax increase above 2% is unacceptable.

  2. DAVID BIRTWISTLE

    Gerry:You forgot the skateboard inspector general.Oh,speaking of skateboards,is it possible to have wider bicycle lanes,say 1.75982M,to facilitate skateboarders use along with the 3-4 bicyclists who currently use the bike lanes and perhaps our sidewalks should be widened for the same reason?

  3. Brent

    Thanks for the heads up on these budget proposals Gerry. This is truly unbelievable. Sure would be nice to know who the persons are in this bureaucracy that are proposing the hiring of these richly paid employees in the $100,000 plus category given our recent history of tax increases. I doubt that most of these positions have been mandated by the province. A little open government would be nice here. Not sure we are getting our money’s worth from the Andy Best sweetheart deal. It is clear that the runaway excessive spending train is still at full steam….should be some interesting revelations on council in the days to come as to who has taken the concerns of the majority of voters to heart………makes your “BLOOD BOIL” in the words of our recently defeated disingenuous Ward 6 councillor Todd Dennis.

  4. Glen N. Tolhurst

    Breaking news… the year over year change in CPI from Oct 2014 to Oct 2015 is 1%. Yup, only 1%. Does anyone think the council & staff are capable of bringing in a budget with a total property tax increase of 2% or less? Or do they even care?

    • Steve

      According to Statscan the CPI is based on food, shelter, household operations and furnishings, clothing and footwear, transportation, health and personal care, recreation, education and reading, and alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

      The majority of these have nothing to do with municipal government, so why should property tax align with the CPI? Apples to oranges.

    • Steve: Is there an echo in here? The progressives controlling the municipal government have been try to make your point for years. Last year the majority of citizen voted to use the CPI as the benchmark for property tax increases. For 2015 the property tax increase was 3.96 per cent, a long way from the CPI 2.4 per cent.

      You neglect to note that the city’s own consultant waved the red flag of caution because the reserve funds had be depleted by millions starting with $8.96 million to settle with Urbacon. Then the city was warned that in the past eight years spending on infrastructure was severely under-funded. Meanwhile the costs keep climbing. This city administration needs a Chief Financial Officer to tell the truth about our tattered finances and the needed corrective action required. The fact that the city auditor. Deloitte and Touche. has been dumped for KPMG sends a ray of hope that perhaps spending will be controlled and the city will prosper. Until then, nothing will change.

  5. Brent

    Well Steve the CPI is what many employers/pension funds use to determine increases in compensation to their employees / pension funds to maintain standard of living. Some cannot even afford to do that without going out of business in the real world of competition or putting a pension fund at risk.
    If government , especially our local one, cannot stay within that parameter, then those who are being taxed will find it “PROGRESSIVELY” more difficult maintain their standard of living. Government , including many elected officials and employees and their unions, consider themselves entitled to stay well above that downward sliding slope , and in addition to their desire to provide services well beyond the basic core services(wanting to be all things to all people…including now many private businesses) causes cost pressures that drives tax increase way beyond CPI not to mention raiding income producing public assets and borrowings that future tax payers must pay back. So you are right….APPLES AND ORANGES! If the tax payers/citizens ,subject to the limitations of CPI, are the apples , then government expenditure as ORANGES must be kept close to apple size or it will soon become the size of a award winning pumpkin..and Greece is a classic example of what misery has beset its people that believed in that fairy tale world.

  6. Lurka

    I have been looking over the “Budget”, and when I went to the Ward 5 meeting I had questions written down about specific items. Funnily enough neither Ward rep could give a satisfying answer, even though I am paying their salaries. I asked about the new FTE’s and was told that there were probably 12.5 new hires, and when I questioned who and how much they were to be paid, Ms Piper tried to answer but was shut down by Ms Downer who told me to leave my email and my questions and she would look into the items in question and let me know. Still waiting——– I thought that this was terribly rude to the others in attendance. I am sure if I had been allowed to continue they would have been even more shocked to learn that the Ward reps. do not prepare the budget- their “staff” do, as Ms Downer told me after the meeting was over. I wanted to know what was the purpose of the expenditure of $54,600.00 for “Leash Free Zone Policy Review” in 2016? Seriously? Under”Information Technology”- printer replacement in 2015 $135,000.00. in 2016 $211,900.00 and in 2017 a bargain at $15.300.00 I asked how many printers? How old were they? I know it is small in comparison to the whole budget, but all the minor items add up.The hiring of an “Open Government Action Planner” to the tune of $117,000.00 per annum ( salary plus benefits) !! I asked what Facility Energy Measures was and was informed that it meant retrofitting. The budget has 2015 at $759,800.00, 2016 at $849,800.00 and 2017 at $150,000.00 I am assuming that all the bulbs are dim and need replacing!! I still have a multitude of pages to go through, but, unless someone has a lot of influence anad pull, we will get no answers or justification for this. My household budget is getting tighter and tighter, and I have to exercise extreme restraint, and so should all those that i am paying at City Hall. Bitter?? You bet!! With layoffs all around, let us get serious about this so-called budget and do some slashing of the “wants” !!

    • Finally someone is looking at the details. They should be embarraased Great job!!

      David Starr

    • Lurka: Your thoughts are shared by the majority of Guelph residents. You brought up some stuff that I missed particularly the cost of printer replacements. Doing a little math, dividing $135,000 by $200 that means a purchase of 675 printers. Printers do wear out but over three years, it rounds out at $362,200. That amount to purchasing 1,811 printer over three years. Granted part of that printer budget is for high end. high volume machines. It would interesting to know how much has been spent on printers in the past eight years. Your example tells the story of why our city is being mismanaged and the more we learn about administration spending the more upset we get.

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