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: