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.
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.