The trip wire that plunged Guelph’s finances into disarray

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 9, 2016

We go back to August 2014 when, two months before the October civic election, then Mayor Karen Far bridge persuaded her council to spend $34 million on renovating downtown police headquarters.

The mayor and Coun. Leanne Piper, appointed to the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB), were part of that board’s decision to accept a report by management consultants KPMG that identified the costs of the project.

Leading up to this decision, was consultation with then Police Chief Brian Larkin. He was the main advocate to raise the previous $13 million estimate accepted by council in January, to the KPMG estimate of $34 million.

During much of this process, Larkin was negotiating with the Waterloo Police Services Board to become chief. He announced he was leaving in early summer. As the GPSB is not empowered to finance the $34 million, it was the job of Farbridge and Piper to convince their colleagues to spend the money.

At the same time the mayor was facing settlement with Urbacon Buildings Group over the illegal firing of the new city hall general contractor. In September the city announced it had settled the lawsuit by paying Urbacon $8.96 million, at the time, Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert said the settlement would not impact property taxes.

For Farbridge, it was expedient to get these two issues behind her as she was in a tough battle with Coun. Cam Guthrie, who was running for mayor. In mid September the Forum polling firm released the results of a poll that showed Guthrie was ahead of the mayor by 15 per cent.

By this time, the mayor’s campaign went into panic mode, as there was widespread criticism of the mayor’s leadership.

But there’s more to this story.

Two decisions approved by the Farbridge administration amounted to $42.960,000. The real costs of the Urbacon lawsuit rounded out to $67 million, or some $25 million over the original contract of $42 million.

Looking back at the police HQ project, the role of former chief Larkin who left August 31 being paid some $181,000 for eight months on the job, was amplified by his ringing endorsement of Mayor Farbridge. The Ontario Police Act forbids police officers to publically endorse municipal politicians.

On December 9, 2015, the deadline for bids on renovating the new police HQ was received. So far, the city has not revealed the winner of the contract or the cost of the bid.

The police acknowledged that it has taken almost a year to prepare the bid details and necessary changes to the original estimate. They estimated the work would be completed by mid-2018, another election year.

In its first year in office, the new council has levied some 6.95 per cent property tax increases for the years 2015 and 2016. In addition more than 4.15 per cent of operating expenses have been shifted to debt.

Then the report, generated by the staff, recommending a ten-year, two per cent property tax special levy to pay for needed infrastructure repairs and replacement, was quickly taken off the council table just before 2016 budget deliberations began.

A week later the Tribune reported the facts about the proposed special tax levy stating after ten years the total collected from taxpayers would be $285,000,000. Council shoveled the report to a city committee meeting in February for consideration in the 2017 budget.

What this means to the citizens is a shrinkage of services and property values. The city’s operations and capital spending are 52 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge. Ask yourself why?

When, during budget discussion, why did Coun. Leanne piper want to hire another arborist to join the staff of five already employed for looking after city owned trees? Or why do we need a municipal holding corporation that delivers a $1.5 million “dividend” annually to the city but loses $2.8 million a year?

Why did the city replace auditing firm Deloitte Touche and hired KPMG? (Reference police HQ renovation estimated by this firm that led to an increase of $21 million.)

As the saying goes: If it smells like a fish, it’s a fish.

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “The trip wire that plunged Guelph’s finances into disarray

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    How well known is it that the 4.62% capital expenditure to be financed by debt for an unknown rate over an unknown period, rather than operating revenue (read tax hike) is for $11 million for the downtown parking garage? How much more funding is going to be sucked from taxpayers pockets to pay for downtown facilities, such as condos and burned out buildings, that are of no benefit to people living in wards that are not part of the downtown? Has anyone ever stood up and explained why the Clair Road facility, built at a cost of who knows how many million dollars, is not good enough for the police department? Just wondering.

  2. The Towne Winer

    So why wasn’t Larkin charged under the Ont. Police Act then?

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