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.