Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Farbridge Factor lives on through the Gang of Seven’s majority on council

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 27, 2015

Things are different this year because it’s easier to predict what won’t happen in 2016 than to select events that will. The political events across three levels of government have reflected change but particularly disappointing in the case of Guelph and the provincial government.

We are swimming in a sea of mediocrity as the stunning level of incompetence both by civil servant staff and their elected political bosses, fails the test of basic business practice and financial management.

FYI: The Farbridge Gang of Seven consists of Councillors Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Mike Salisbury, June Hofland, Phil Allt and James Gordon.

So, let’s take a peek at what will happen, or won’t. You be the judge.

*   The five senior managers of the city staff, all hired by the Farbridge administration, including CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO Mark Amorosi, DCAO Derrick Thomson, City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, City Solicitor Donna Jacques, will still be on the job 12 months from now.

*   Soaring electricity costs, increased taxes and, not the least, a feminist arrogance that belies integrity and logic, will accelerate the relentless decline of the Ontario economy compounded by the failing leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

*   The Canada Pension Plan will be tinkered but provide little change except to increase employer/employee contributions.

*   Kathleen Wynne’s two great flops will be the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and establishing the new Ontario Pension Plan. At least you can drink away your fear of rank political stupidity but another tax grab is harder to swallow. The result will be a reduction of jobs shoving the ailing Ontario economy further down the sinkhole of spiraling debt and zooming taxes.

*   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will demand 24 Sussex, the Prime Minister’s official residence, be renovated so he can move into the home in which he grew up.

The public reaction will be unnerving when the price tag is revealed.

*   Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper will lick his wounds and take out a Tim Horton’s franchise in woebegone Alberta. He won’t have much time as he joins several boards of directors of major corporations including banks, oil producers and auto manufacturers.

*   Karen Farbridge loyalist, Susan Watson, following her losing complaint about funding of a civic candidate by a voter’s activist group, (it cost taxpayers $11,400); will announce she will be a candidate for Mayor in the 2018 Guelph election. Should we make that former Farbridge loyalist?

*  Interim Conservative Leader, Rona Ambrose, will surprise parliamentary watchers by holding Justin Trudeau’s feet to the fire regarding his campaign promises.

*  Like the Ancient Mariner, Education Minister Liz Sandals will keep her job and sleepwalk through the new round of teachers’ union negotiating process that starts in January. Maybe this time she will ask for travel and entertainment receipts when paying the unions to negotiate with her government.

*   The Guelph city staff proposal of a ten-year, two per cent property tax levy for infrastructure, will fade into black as the Gang of Seven, controlling Guelph council, will vote against it all in the name of political survival.

*   Electricity rates in Ontario are more than 55 per cent higher than Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia and will increase by ten percent January 1st. The McGuinty/Wynne green energy team has proven to be expert in funding wind farms and solar arrays by paying the private operators more than triple the base per Kilowatt rate for 20 years but also their capital costs. And we, the end users, have to pay for this through our hydro bills, plus HST. Is that a great deal or not?

*   Gouging at the pump by Canadian gasoline producers will continue despite the 60 per cent drop in wellhead oil prices. Gasoline, at 95 cents a litre, is still 70 per cent higher than the same product in the U.S selling, on average, for $2 a gallon.

*  The appalling lack of understanding finances by a number of Guelph councillors will continue despite allowing operating deficits for the past three years. Provincial law forbids municipalities to carry budget deficits – read that overspending – into the next year.

*  Chances of the public being told the details of that police shooting in the Guelph General Hospital emergency waiting room will not be revealed in 2016. And the Ontario Liberals will not rewrite the Police Act that makes it impossible to fire a police officer for an offence. It appears officers have to kill someone to get fired by the police department.

*  It’s been a tough year for Mayor Cam Guthrie coping with a majority bloc of followers of his defeated predecessor. He still needs citizen support to carry out the changes that most of us voted for in 2016. Let’s renew our resolve to support the Mayor and his five members of council who are determined to create changes in management and reduce spending.

Here’s to having a Happy New Year!

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 20, 2015

This week:

                    City Council’s Dear Santa letters

                     Conrad Black, Vladimir Putin and The Donald

                     Barbara Barker’s Scottish shortbread

 

City Council’s letters to Santa

Leanne Piper – Dear Santa, please put financial administration for dummies under my Christmas tree. If you can’t manage that I’ll settle for an abacus. Don’t eat too many cookies as you go around the world. Leanne

June Hofland – Dear Santa, my smart phone isn’t smart at all. Please give me a landline for Christmas. Wait a minute, I think I have one of those at home. June

Cathy Downer – Dear Santa, please give me a chair so I can sit higher in the council horseshow, er horseshoe, horse feathers, heck, you know what I mean. Cathy

Christine Billings – Dear Santa, ditto for the better council chamber chair. You’re not going to get me on the horse thing. I’d also like a vacation in St. Lucia if it can be arranged. Christine

Karl Wettstein – Dear Santa, I’d like a leather-bound copy of Bartlett’s Quotations so I can add some zingers to my presentations during committee and council meetings, Karl

James Gordon – Dear Santa, please set up a concert in Carnegie Hall so I can present my folk music repertoire to a new audience. Santa, I have some great new material to introduce. James

Andy Van Hellemond – Dear Santa, please leave the morning line on a horse named Doubling Down at Santa Anita. Hey, that’s a double Santa, Santa! Help me out here. Andy

Mark McKinnon – Dear Santa, I could really use a new snow blower. The prices on snow removal equipment are really low right now. Make sure it’s assembled in my garage, thanks muchly. Mark

Phil Allt – Dear Santa, Do you think you could move June over to the other side of the council table, to be next to Leanne? While you’re at it, I’d like a Darth Vader outfit to wear at the next union meeting. Phil

Dan Gibson – Dear Santa, I’d like to have a full-service grocery store in the east end. If that’s not possible how about building a public washroom downtown? Say hello to Rudolf or is it Randolph? Dan

Mike Salisbury – Dear Santa, My Harley needs a new tranny and I need a pair of Foster Grants for the open road. A Swiss Chalet gift card would go well over the Holidays. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, send some roses to Marie at Tim’s. Mike

Bob Bell – Dear Santa, if you ever need a stand-in double I’m your man. I could use a couple of elves to work in my shop to help us keep up with the demand for my bike accessories. Bob

Mayor Cam Guthrie – Dear Santa, I could use some vacation with my family. I really need a new set of drums to play with the band. Most of all, I want to wish the citizens of Guelph happy holidays and a prosperous New Year. Think you can handle that, Big Guy? Cam

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A troika for all seasons: The Donald, Conrad and Vladimir Putin

Conrad Black, that non-Canadian allowed to live here, expressed his support for U.S. Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Black still carries and undying hatred for U.S. justice system that locked him up for six years. He was charged for attempting to cover up evidence in his trial of stealing money from his American Publishing enterprise.

Black was never convicted of stealing from his own company. His partner, David Radler, was convicted and brokered a deal to spend his time in a Canadian jail in return for testifying against his old partner and former friend, Conrad Black.

When Black was finally released, the Harper government allowed him and his wife to return to Canada and their Bridle Path mansion in Toronto. Trouble is that Black renounced his Canadian citizenship when the British government made him Lord Black of Cross Harbour and a member of the House of Lords.

Jean Chretien, who was Prime Minister at the time, refused Black’s attempt to keep both Canadian citizenship and his House of Lords gig. The PM said no and Black opted out.

Now he is supporting Donald Trump the realty TV star and billionaire builder who is trampling and insulting almost every faction of U.S. and foreign citizens. He has single-handily destroyed the Republican Party with his racist and personal attacks on individuals, organizations, allies of America and the National Rifle Association.

Now isn’t that the odd couple?

But wait there’s more. Enter the President of Russia who endorses Trump for the presidency.

Bumper sticker of the day “Trump-Putin in 2016.”

Kinda restores your faith in the political process, no matter where it happens. Also, it’s time for Conrad to leave Canada, the country he has renounced, for Britain where he belongs.

Question: Is Black receiving the Canada Pension and other benefits unique to Canada?

*            *            *            *

A Christmas ritual at our house, baking shortbread

About two weeks before Christmas, Barbara gets out the biggest mixing bowl in her collection and prepares to make shortbread. The recipe is basic but the system of making melt-in-your mouth shortbread is a real test of endurance and stamina.

What is shortbread? It’s a delicious treat that we believe originated in Scotland many, many years ago.

This year it was no different except that both of us struggled to mix the butter, sugar and flour, there’s a lot of that, by hand using a wooden spatula, (it’s a Scottish thing). As you gradually add flour the batter get harder to blend. It calls for determination and muscle to create the final product.

Once the ingredients are thoroughly blended, it’s time to fold into a shallow glass-baking pan measuring 9 inches by 13 inches. Final step is to score the batter into squares. Some folks like to bake their batter in those non-stick cupped pans.

Barbara prefers flat shortbread like her mother used to make. The final step is to use the spatula to flatten the air out of the batter and make it as even as possible across the breadth of the pan.

The ingredients: Butter – one pound; Icing Sugar – one cup; Flour – four cups; sprinkle salt very lightly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until the edges turn brown. Allow to cool then cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Taste and have a have a Merry Christmas sharing shortbread with your family and friends.

Enjoy! Barbara and Gerry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How city council dodged discussing the two per cent infrastructure levy

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 19,2016

In a report in the Guelph Tribune, it stated that the city was considering a ten-year, two per cent levy on property tax stakeholders to pay for the aging infrastructure of our 200 year-old city.

The accunulated ten-year total amounts to $285 million, and its all coming from property taxes.

The report stated that city financial chair, June Hofland, at the beginning of the December 9 budget meeting moved to send the staff initiated report to the corporate services committee.

As I was at that meeting for eight hours, from start to finish, it took to defeat the operating and capital budget, not once did I hear the words: “Two per cent levy for ten years” spoken by any member of council. There was no further discussion or explanation and the report was approved unanimously.

Thanks to some diligent reporting by the Trib’s Doug Hallett, the details of the report, created by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), were quoted at length.

Now you have to ask the question, why was this major report not included in the 2016 budget considerations? Why? Because of the fear that including it would create a huge property tax increase. With the 2.99 per cent final tax increase, adding another two per cent would bring the 2016 tax increase to 4.99 per cent.

Even the Gang of Seven supporters of the former mayor, lacked the courage to try that on for size this time around. So, like the $8.96 million used to pay the Urbacon Buildings Group lawsuit settlement, they kicked the two percent levy can down the road.

Obviously this bombshell report advanced by the staff before the crucial budget deliberations, was discussed in camera before the meeting. Hofland was chosen to get it off the table and move that the report be sent to the Corporate Services Committee to be discussed at its February meeting.

Kicking it down the road illustrates how a dysfunctional council is unable to control its spending chiefly because of the 7-6 voting edge held by the Gang of Seven.

As for the AMO report, consider that it is an organization funded by the provincial government. Taking it one step further, it is an attempt to divert its responsibility of supporting municipalities to fix its estimated $60 billion infrastructure’s needs onto the backs of ratepayers.

Just look at the mess the Kathleen Wynne Liberals have made of the province’s finances, in which successive budget deficits have resulted in ballooning debt and growing debt service costs. They have dug themselves into a financial hole that, they now assume, can only be solved by selling off assets (Hydro One) or off-loading infrastructure costs onto the municipal taxpayer.

In Guelph, the problem is exacerbated by nine years of financial mismanagement, centred on irresponsible spending. It has resulted in Guelph having one of the highest property tax rates and user fees in the province.

An independent study by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, compared the operating and capital costs between Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener. He used each city’s official annual financial reports to the province, proving that Guelph’s costs are 50 per cent higher than either of the other two cities.

Despite these findings, the Gang of Seven on city council pushed to add more staff, and more project costs onto the backs of the people. Staff costs are 80 per cent of the property tax levy. Yet it doesn’t seem to concern the council majority or the senior city staff.

In a letter to the Tribune Alan Pickersgill, a follower of the Farbridge leftist agenda, says: “The city does not have a spending problem. It has a revenue shortage and a constituency that appears unwilling to do what is needed to correct it.”

Well Alan, it is clear that you have joined the “no-brainer” financial theorists on council and staff. The disastrous financial mistakes and errors in judgment, made by the previous administration, amplify your sweeping assertion that it’s okay to soak the taxpayers to pay for it.

It now appears that those three reserve funds that were raided to pay off Urbacon will not be repaid today, tomorrow or in the next five years as promised by Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert.

I am one of your “constituency” folks who do not have faith in a chair of finances whose financial experience and work history as a bank teller now oversees the finances of a $500 million corporation. Or depending on a recently hired General Manager of Finance whose qualifications lay in non-financial jobs in Halton Region, chiefly involving social services. Why should we be confident of a Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, to be senior controlller of city finances, who resides in Hamilton and whose background is Human Resources?

With the exception of Hofland, these people have no skin in the game. They are hired guns and in terms of financial management, do not have any apparent professional financial training, including academic credits.

Until city council hires an experienced Chief Financial Officer to take the necessary steps to clean up the mish-mash of financial management, the city will continue its downward spiral to a serious future financial disaster.

Maintaining the influence of the former Mayor and her agenda has become the Farbridge Factor. It’s a spectre of eight years of setting the city on a course that will take years to recover if the failed system of irresponsible budgeting continues.

If you need more evidence of how our public business is being managed, look no further that the deliberate sandbagging of the AMO report just before the beginning of the 11-hour marathon deliberating the 1016 budget.

It’s just more mushroom politics by our council by keeping us in the dark.

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 13, 2015

How the people won the battle of 2014 but lost the war

We elected a dysfunctional council last year but now the traditional Councillor Christmas Party has been cancelled this year, the first year of their mandate.

What happened to civility, collegiality and good will among the members?

It probably was shattered the first meeting of the year when the majority of seven supporters of the progressive councillors elected, voted in their slate of committee chairs and board members.

In its first year in office, city council has increased property taxes by 6.95 per cent, the total for 2015 and 2016. That does not include the 4.12 per cent increase in water rates for 2016. The costs to the taxpayer is a 2016 increase of 7.11 per cent on the combines tax bill and water bill.

August 2014, the Police Heaquarters project

First, let’s review some history. Starting with a look back to August 2014. Outgoing Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin colluded with Mayor Karen Farbridge4 and Coun. Leanne Piper, the two elected councillors serving on the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB). In January of 2014, the GPSB approved a renovation of the downtown police headquarters to cost some $13 million.

It became a crusade for better digs for the cops. Chief Larkin pushed for a more extensive renovation of headquarters. The GPSB hired project consultants and accountants, KPMG, to do a study that was used to convince city council to spend an estimated $34 million or $21 million more than the January estimate.

With an eye on the looming election, city council voted to spend the $34 million. There was no business plan, no detailed description of the work and no management plan of the staff moving to accommodate the construction. It was a manufactured rationale that was meaningless without the pertinent details to justify a $34 million acceptance.

About a week ago, Guelph Deputy Police Chief said the project completion was delayed until mid 2018 because detailed drawings and staff management had to be developed before asking for construction bids to do the actual work. On December 8, the bids had to be submitted to the city. This was more than 15 months after council approved the $34 million project.

Consider an inflation rate of 2 per cent times 15 months; the base additional cost of the project is more than $680,000 even before contraction begins.

Larkin has long gone to become Chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service. Karen Farbridge was defeated in the October civic election. That leaves just Coun. Leanne Piper as the only survivor of the day council’s GPSB representatives sold city council on paying the estimated $34 million bill, the real cost of which has yet to be determined.

If this doesn’t smell like a replay of the $23 million cost overrun, building the new city hall, then perhaps we’re just being either cynical or naive.

September 2014, the Urbacon $8.96 million settlement

The second item of history lies with the settlement, announced in September 2014, paying Urbacon Buildings Group $8.96 million following the new city hall contractor’s $19.2 million lawsuit. Following the bouncing ball, the total overrun of the project zoomed from $42 million to $65 million.

The overrun was the direct responsibility of the Farbridge administration.

Both the police HQ and Urbacon settlement total capital spending is $57 million, before the 2014 election.

The city does not have $8.96 million lying around, let along another $34 million. Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, said the settlement would not impact property taxes and the reserves would be replenished by paying $900,000 a year for five years. That was the staff plan to pay just half of what the settlement cost the reserves.

When the 2015 budget was approved in March this year, Coun. Karl Wettstein moved that the replenishment of the three unrelated reserve funds that were raided to pay off Urbacon, be reduced from $900,000 to $500,000. It’s called kicking the ball down the road for someone else to catch.

He further said that the city staff prepare a revised reserve repayment plan for 2016. More kicking the ball down the road. The city’s operations review, carried out by BMA Management Consultants, noticed this reserve funds depletion, exacerbated the growing problem of under-funded reserve. The warning expression in their report was: “Cautionary Red Flag.”

Addressing Ms. Pappert’s assertion that property taxes would not be affected by the Urbacon settlement, it turns out we are paying 30 per cent higher property taxes in 2015 and 2016 than we did in 2014.

But here’s the truth. The city staff, led by Ms. Pappert and her Deputy CAO, Mark Amorosi, did not recommend any revised Urbacon reserve repayment plan in the 2016 budget, as instructed by Coun. Wettstein. So, how are they going to pay it back?

Nor there is no mention of the impending Police HQ renovation capital costs and the impact on the city’s 2016 capital budget.

Is it any wonder that there is a majority bloc of neo-progressives, whose experience in financial matters, to be charitable, is limited particularly in dealing with an operating budget of $216,442,599? More than 25 new staffers have been hired since the current council was elected. Some are in the process of being hired.

Zooming staff costs

The 2016 staff cost of wages, salaries and benefits will hit more than $200,000,000, or a cumulated gain of 52.5 per cent since 2008. That cost is directly paid through the property tax levy. Consider that for every new staff hire, annual increases in wages, salaries and benefits; the property taxpayer, that’s you and me, directly pays the cost. It is the major reason that Guelph’s property tax levy per person is among the highest in the country.

The failure to contain these costs lies directly with the senior staff management who are supported by the controlling progressive bloc on council. The following are the members of this bloc: Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Mike Salisbury, Karl Wettstein, Phil Allt, June Hofland, and James Gordon.

It’s called the 7-6 group and it will not change until 2018 when the next civic election is held or a bloc member defects to support Mayor Cam Guthrie and his supporters.

This is why we the people won the battle but lost the war.

Postscript

Maybe the war’s not over yet. Perhaps some positive changes can be introduced to ameliorate the surging cost of living in Guelph. Optimism works much better than the present negative polarity that is like a dragging boat anchor, stalling responsibility and common sense.

We can never lose the core spirit of our city and council’s responsibility to represent all the people, all the time.

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Truth and consequences: No one won casting this year’s city budget

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 11, 2015

My palms get damp when I hear Deputy Chief Administration Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi alleging that the city staff costs have been dropping for the past five years. Amorosi is the man in charge of all city finances, so one would assume that he knows what he is talking about, right?

Well, here are the staff’s cost numbers as taken from the city’s own audit reports for seven years from 2008 to 2014, and rounded:

Year            Total salaries and benefits            Prior year increase

2008                        $124,900,000

2009                        $139,400,000                        11.6 per cent

2010                        $143,600,000                        3.0 per cent

2011                        $155,200,000                          8.1 per cent

2012                        $163,600,000                        5.4 per cent

2013                        $174,500,000                        6.7 per cent

2014                        $190,500,000                        9.2 per cent

Mr. Amorosi’s statement seems awkward and incorrect when the city staff employment costs have increased by 52.5 per cent or $65,600,000 in just seven years.

Those are the years beginning with his hiring in 2008 as head of human resources for the city. His rise through the ranks is remarkable considering he has an HR background not the financial experience required of a Chief Financial Officer. But Guelph does not have a CFO. What we have is an HR guy running the financial department of a $500,000,000 Corporation.

Amorosi reports to CAO Ann Pappert who spoke glowingly Thursday night on how hard the staff worked to prepare the budget and how lean the organization is today with each department cutting expenses.

Here is what the city’s audited statements state in the same seven-year period starting in 2008:

Total expenses in 2008 = $281,000,000. Total expenses in 2014 = $374,800,000

That’s an increase of $93,800,000 or an average of $13,400,000 per year.

The critical part of this exercise is that total expenses increased by 52.5 per cent over the seven-year period while salaries, wages and benefits grew by 33.4 per cent.

That increase of 33.4 per cent occurred during that same period the Consumer Price Index increased by 9.7 per cent. That is a 23.7 per cent difference between the actual costs to citizens living in Guelph. Do you still wonder why Guelph is one of the most expensive cities in which to live in Canada?

Consider the increase in population of the city during that same period. All these data are based on the 2011 census of 121,888. At that time, Guelph’s population had grown by 5.1 per cent in the previous four years. As next year is a census year, we will have a clearer picture of our population numbers.

Ms. Pappert is at the top of the city staff organization chart, earning a salary of $230,000. Yet neither of these two key executives dared to explain the current negative 2015 budget variance of $1,300,000. They admitted that in each of the past three years the city budgets had been overspent.

This would indicate a faulty forecasting of expenses, fixed and variable. It becomes apparent when Coun. Mike Salisbury said that budgeted funds not used in the current budget might be used in the following budget. “It’s a no-brainer,” he exclaimed. Funds not spent in the calendar year disappear, not to be transferred for projects the following year. Otherwise, why bother to create a budget at all? That friends is voodoo financial advice and has been going on for a long time in Guelph.

Neither Ms. Pappert nor Mr. Amorosi said a word about replenishing the raided reserves used to pay the $8.96 million to settle the Urbacon Buildings Group Corp lawsuit last year. The BMA Management consultants, hired by the city, reported that the reserve funds are seriously underfunded. The expression they used was: “Cautionary Red Flag.”

If you distort the zooming cost of staff and operations and ignore the warnings of your own consultants hired to oversee operations, then it strains one’s credulity in believing the city is being managed responsibly.

In fact it isn’t and the data contained in the city’s books demonstrates this.

When Guelph resident and Chartered Accountant, Pat Fung, presented a detailed comparison of operational costs between Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener during the public meeting on the 2016 budget, there was no response from the council or staff.

In response, Amorosi said the per capita costs in the analysis “ were irrelevant.”

That comparison showed the operational costs in Kitchener were 50 per cent less than Guelph and Cambridge was 49 per cent lower. The analysis was derived from the audited statements of all three cities.

When the council majority rejected the 3.42 per cent property tax levy increase on Wednesday night, they participated in an exercise to reduce the increase on Thursday night to 2.99 per cent.

They left little on the table to reduce the increase but voted to add items that had already been rejected the previous night. They used their 7-6 majority to dump the Guelph Transit fare increases proposed by staff and added jobs that were previously scrapped.

This majority group, who most often vote as a bloc, seemed not to care about Guelph’s high operating costs and the impact on property taxes.

If the city administration continues to increase spending, staff, taxes and user fees it will reach a critical mass of financial collapse. If they don’t pay attention to the rate of growth of the numbers, then the city will have to make major cuts in staff and services that this majority group keeps feeding to favoured groups and political allies.

An example that was recommended by staff, included paying a supporter of the previous mayor some $264,000 to extend a one-year assignment into three years. His assignment is to manage the Open Government Action Plan. This was a contract job that now could become a staff job with all the perks and privileges.

It survived the budget process and is an example of favouritism that doesn’t belong in any workplace. If it had been dropped, the increase in the property tax levy would have been reduced across the board.

We’re talking about thousands of taxpayer dollars here but the senior staff is deaf when it  comes  to reducing costs.

 

 

 

 

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The night council put the brakes on spending

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 10, 2015

After a marathon debate last night, the majority of council rejected the city budget as being too high

It was about 12:50 am this morning when Mayor Cam Guthrie said a four-letter word in response to Coun. Leanne Piper’s asking if he would support the proposed 3.42 per cent property tax increase. It was an insulting, request that bespoke of the lady’s insecurity when the chips are on the line.

It occurred at the end of a marathon eight-hour deliberation.“Nope,” the mayor told her. He added to another councillor’s similar question that the rate was too high.

A few minutes later the vote to approve the budget was defeated by a 7 to 6 margin. These councillors voted against approving the budget: Mayor Guthrie, Andy Van Hellemond, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Mark McKinnon, Karl Wettstein. Those members deserve the support of citizens for having the determination to reduce the property tax increase by rejecting the final operating budget.

Those voting for the budget were Councillors James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper.

It was a victory for the people who have felt powerless for the past nine years to face increased property tax rates, water and electricity fees, other user fees, inflicted by an administration bent on imposing its ideological agenda without recourse.

That came to an end last night.

The thin edge of council majority held by the Farbridge Gang of Seven was shattered when Coun. Karl Wettstein defected. In fairness, Mr. Wettstein has always said he was neutral sitting on council. But Wednesday night, he expressed his concern that property taxes cannot continue to increase at a plus 3 per cent annually.

It was a civil but messy debate throughout the night with some give and take. The Mayor went out of his way to allow all councillors to speak. There were many votes to approve and disapprove the various budget line items recommended by the staff under the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert.

The costs kept climbing

 As the evening wore on, it became apparent that the budget item numbers were climbing increasing the tax -supported operational costs. Mayor Guthrie repeatedly asked Janice Sheehy, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer for the impact of each approved or rejected item on the property taxes.

The trouble began when the staff’s non-recommended items were considered and the additions started adding to the tax percentage as reported by Ms. Sheehy. In the final half hour, the rejection votes were increasing as councillors realized they had to stop increasing spending, but it was too late, so to speak.

After all adjustments, Ms. Sheehy reported the final 2016 operating cost was $217,336,736, creating an increase over 2015 of 3.42 per cent. When this figure is matched with the 3.96 percent approved last March for 2015, it would total 7.38 per cent impacting property taxes over two years.

“Nope,” said the Mayor and a majority of council agreed.

Tonight, the budget debate will re-open starting at 6 p.m. at City Hall. There will have to be give and take by all councillors. But it’s now clear that the property tax rate must be reduced to at least 2.5 per cent, closer to the rate of inflation.

There were winners and losers last night. The staff’s recommended expansion budget was split in two, one part contained the staff recommended items and the other the non-recommended items. Why it was done that way, bespeaks of an attempt to make the staff look responsible and doing its job. Instead it opened the door for some councillors to add the staff rejected items to the new budget.

This budget process, designed by the staff, was a dismal failure. Why would they tell council that they were not recommending a number of items? Why not just recommend what they deemed necessary and leave it like that?

There were more ulterior motives swirling around than a carnival merry-go-round.

Who were the winners last night? First and foremost are the citizens of Guelph. Then Mayor Guthrie who stood firm when he had to and stopped the accelerating spending. And those councillors who believed that living in Guelph is too expensive and that spending has to be arrested.

The losers: The six councillors voting for the budget increase who still don’t understand that the people voted last year for change. Last night they got it and now all members of council must work together to adopt new ideas to increase efficency, destroy the culture of the previous administration and go down in history that this council finally got it right.

Tonight there will be some major spending changes to reduce the 3.42 per cent tax rate defeated last night.

Let the slicing and dicing begin

 I have two items that need to be pulled from the budget. First, is the Staff Rationalization Study, approved at $250,000. This is a staff recommended item that seconds its management responsibility to a third party to support its own job performance. Not needed now and instead commence a program, department by department, to analyze performance and job descriptions. The internal auditor can make a major contribution in those processes provided she has a free hand.

The second is the $264,000 cost of maintaining the Open Government Action Plan that was approved in September 2014. The city has already spent $100,000 to a consultant to create the plan. Last July, the city hired Andy Best, a key supporter of the former mayor, to manage the plan. It was reported to be a one-year contract paying $92,000.

Now this has morphed in 2016 paying, $117,000 to Mr. Best, a tidy $25,000 increase to someone who has been on the job five months. Then there is $147,200 allocated for goods and services. There was no justification offered for that item.

This is a hangover project created by the former administration. Guelph does not need this after what occurred last night. We have a council that is more open and transparent than the secretive, manipulating former administration it replaced.

Two senior staff members need to refresh their management targets to meet the demands of the people. There is a culture of entitlement existing at City Hall, the Guelph Police Services Board and the Fire department. It’s a culture that senior staff must correct to meet the demands of the people and those councillors who the people elected to represent them.

Notice that the EMS was not mentioned. They asked to hire another paramedic to speed up response times and the $84,000 position was voted out of the budget.

But they did vote to add a zoning inspector costing $128,000

The words you never heard in eight hours were “Urbacon” and “Sunshine List.”

In 2014, CAO Ann Pappert said the $8.96 million settlement of the Urbacon lawsuit would not affect property taxes. How’s that working for you? She then said the settlement money was taken from three unrelated reserve funds. She said that the city would replenish those reserves by paying $900,000 a year for five years.

That didn’t happen and there was no reference to it in the staff recommendations.

The Ontario givernment’s annual Sunshine List keeps on growing naming all civic employees earning more than $100,000 plus taxable benefits. This year, Guelph will report an additional 15 to 20 new staffers to the 2015 list reported in 2016.

At least now the spending brakes are engaging.

Tomorrow, guelphspeaks.ca, will publish the final budget figures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twelve reasons why Guelph council should reject the staff proposed 2016 budget

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 8, 2015

Tomorrow night, city council will debate the 2016 budget, its second budget this year. Already it appears that another plus 3 per cent property tax increase is inevitable. Based on the evidence produced so far, there appears to be a divide between what the staff is recommending and what citizens can afford.

After eight years of voodoo economics by the previous council, it’s not difficult to understand what’s happening again. We’ve seen this movie before.

Instead, council should reconsider the proposed staff generated budget and put off approving it until the facts about the city finances and the ability of citizens to pay, are reviewed and discussed with input from citizens.

Here are the 12 reasons for re-examining the proposed 2016 budget.

 * The City of Guelph’s operational costs and capital spending are 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener.

* The city appointed BMA Management Consultants, have warned that the reserve funds are severely underfunded describing the situation as a “cautionary red flag.”

* The same BMA report also said that infrastructure spending by the city has drastically fallen in the past eight years leading to the need of greater budget allocation to maintain the various public systems.

* The huge miscalculation by the city staff in proposing cuts to Guelph Transit service and a whopping 33 per cent increase in fares … but not to University students.

* The staff failed to propose a plan for replenishing the three unrelated reserve funds that were raided to pay the Urbacon $8.96 million lawsuit settlement.

* Failing to address the high cost of Guelph’s waste management system that is greater than both peer cities. Kitchener sends its green box wet waste to Guelph for processing at a rate lower than cost.

* Staff is proposing adding more fulltime equivalent employees and various projects under the title “expansion,” when operational costs are proven to be 50 per cent higher that Cambridge and Kitchener.

* There was no staff proposal to privatize some city services such as waste collection and sorting, snowplowing, property inspection and enforcement, human resources, and Guelph Transit.

* How can we trust an administration that approves the 2015 budget in March and has an operationg deficit of more than a million dollars by June 30?

* The whole system of budgeting has been played by the staff to make it appear that staff is only proposing a 1.58 per cent tax increase by cutting Guelph Transit’s weekend service and raising fares. If council rejects that proposal, it will add another .72 per cent to the property tax increase for 2016. This will bring the staff proposal to 2.3 per cent plus 1.25 percent for “expansion” of staff and services. That totals 3.55 per cent for 2016.

* Now the city staff is proposing using debt to lower the property tax rate that Janice Sheehy, city treasurer and general manager of finance, describes as an unusual use of debt. It is to allow a reduction in the overall property tax increase that, she says, would have shot up to 6.20 per cent without this latest financial juggling.

* Underlying all this is to protect and continue the policies of the former administration. It is perpetuated by a majority group of councillors, most of who received election financial support from the Guelph and District Labour council and teacher unions. Some 80 per cent of the city staff is unionized and even management belongs to an association to protect its interests.

Some thoughts

There is only one way to stop this bogus budgeting system that is proposing more spending than this city can afford. When does the senior city staff come to grip with the high costs of living in Guelph and that spending must be reduced?

Starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday night, is the time for the citizens to demonstrate their desire to lower Guelph’s operating costs. There is nothing that most politician hate more than facing a crowd of demonstrators seeking answers.

The best we can wish for is council to postpone the 2016 budget decision until it can review all the facts and listen to their constituents.

The city staff leadership has had its say, now it’s time for the citizens to question the staff proposals. The recent public budget meeting had 42 delegations, most of who were supporting Guelph Transit. Only two delegates questioned the financial logic behind the staff proposals. They were representing the silent majority that voted Karen Farbridge out of office last year.

Pat Fung, CA, CPA and Glen Tolhurst, MBA, with years of professional experience, presented the facts generated from the city’s own consultants and the Financial Information Reports (FIR). Those FIR reports are filed annually by each of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, as mandated by the Provincial Government. They provide all the reasons for the City of Guelph to reduce its costs.

Otherwise, it will be business as usual, with the potential of another “Urbacon” looming. The $34 million renovation of the Police Headquarters building, approved in August 2014 by the previous council, is delayed and the construction contract has yet to be awarded..

Ask yourself, more than a year later: Is this another example of mismanagement in which the renovation of a public building will not be completed until 2018 and costing much more than originally authorized?

It’s just another reason to attend this crucial budget meeting tomorrow night at City Hall to get an upclose and informed view of how your city is being managed.

It’s time for the gravy train to end and common sense to be adopted.

 

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