Monthly Archives: February 2016

Is Guelph a city in crisis in which a vacuum of leadership exists?

By Gerry Barker


Posted February 29, 2016

Recently, reported details of the city administration’s bungling managing the public’s money. We now learn that the General Manager of Finance, Janice Sheehy has resigned. Also, former veteran Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, is suing the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal and according to the statement of claim, defamation of character.

Going through the files, we discovered a report by Mayor Cam Guthrie commenting on the final cost overrun figures from building the new city hall. The report by the Chief Administrative Officer(CAO), Ann Pappert, revealed it cost the city $23 million more than the contract price of $42 million. Most people refer to it as the Urbacon affair.

“It’s now time to turn our focus to the things that made our city great and new ideas that make it better,” Mayor Guthrie stated.

In an editorial in the Guelph Mercury, the mayor is quoted: “I sincerely hope that this audit will take a heavy burden off our collective backs and help us focus on great things happening in our city now and the great things that are about to happen in our future.” The Mercury editorial questioned the Mayor’s assertion that the Urbacon affair be shifted to the back burner.

In a word, platitudes and promises have not settled the people’s concerns about the financial management of the city.

A case in point was the recent revelation in the Guelph Tribune.

During a recent meeting, Coun. Christine Billings asked the staff to confirm that the Capital Renewal Reserve Fund was short $5.24 million because the money was used to settle the Urbacon Buildings Group Inc.’s breach of contract lawsuit. City General Manager and Treasurer Janice Sheehy conceded: “Yes, we did fund that particular issue from the reserve.” Was that admission the cause of Ms. Sheehy’s resignation after less than a year on the job?

As reported in some months ago, there were three reserve funds that were raided to pay the $8.96 million Urbacon settlement and legal costs.

The CAO reported that the settlement would not affect property taxes and the three reserves would be replenished at a rate of $900,000 annually for five years. Well, that soon went off the rails when Coun. Karl Wettstein, during the March 2015 budget talks, moved successfully to reduce the amount in the 2015 budget to $500,000. He then flipped the problem over to the staff, knowing full well that the $8 million Capital Renewal Reserve had been reduced to just $3.7 million.

Wettstein knew the Guelph Hydro $30 million note was called by the city and knew where the money was spent. He also knew that the administration used $5.24 million of the reserve to settle with Urbacon.

This is an example of the mindless lack of fiduciary responsibility that has gotten Guelph into the current financial crisis. And Wettstein is not alone. His colleagues in the Gang of Seven, all supporters of the defeated former mayor, have become so dependent on the professional staff that is causing the city’s troubles.

With a slim 7-6 majority on council, they have obstructed attempts to reform operations. They are so confident of their power, that despite two of their members away on vacation, they walked out of a regular council meeting January 25, because they did not have the majority.

The man the voters counted on to bring change in the way the city was being managed, speaks of the wonders of the future of the city. His lack of moral fibre to take leadership and root out the rot, destroying our city from within, is becoming increasingly apparent to many people including those who supported him in the election.

This city badly needs a mayor who will lead, not a cheerleader.

He is leading a totally dysfunctional council, in which even those councillors trying to make changes are becoming demoralized over the lack of progress with an obstructionist seven-person majority.

The first step is appointing a committee of citizens to review all those quirky bylaws set up by the previous administration to maintain control of the agenda and rules of operations. They must have the power to dump any governance bylaw that causes obstructionism and unecessary control.

These proceedural bylaws are major stumbling blocks to reform of governance. They are the epitome of self-serving control of all city business by the previous mayor and her hand picked senior administrative managers.

The sheer affrontery of former Mayor Farbridge to spend hundred of thousands of dollars to set up a Transparent and Open Government Action Plan, is laughable in its pretext for righteous governance.

The irony is, that citizens are stilo paying for this “action plan” currently being managed by Andy Best, a paid supporter of the former mayor and appointed by the Guthrie administration.

By a 7-6 majority vote, council approved spending another $267,000 in the 2016 budget for continuing the open government action plan.

And you wonder why we have a financial crisis.

Please Note: Viewers can access previous posts in archives. There are 749 posts written since 2011 covering, for the most part, the city of Guelph’s administration. Editor Gerry Barker may be reached at








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A lawsuit and resignation points to failure by senior management

By Gerry Barker


Posted February, 27, 2016

The combination of a $1 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit and the abrupt resignation of the city’s general Manager of Finance and treasurer indicates the city’s financial management is in disarray.

Janice Sheehy, who was appointed to the financial management position March 2015, is leaving March 24 to become the Region of Peel’s commissioner of human services.

Ms. Sheehy was hired from Halton Region where she was employed in a non- financial management position. In Guelph, she reported to Deputy Chief Administratiion Officer Mark Amorosi. In the past nine years, she was the sixth person to manage the city finances.

This indicates that power among the senior staff, centres around three people: Ann Pappert, Chief Adinistrative Officer, DCAO, Mark Amorosi and City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien. All three were appointed by the previous administration, headed by former mayor Karen Farbridge.

In November 2014, right after the civic election, Pappert announced a senior staff re-organization. Senior Director, Janet Laird, retired; Operations Director, Derek McCaughan, was eased out to be replaced by Derrick Thomson, another Farbridge appointee; and Chief Financial Officer, Al Horsman was shifted to DCAO of environmental services, planning and engineering, the former Laird job.

Financial management was shifted to DCAO, Mark Amorosi, who said the city would hire a treasurer and general manager of finance. Enter Ms. Sheehy and what followed was a series of mis-statements, confusing reports of the city’s financial position and the revelation that the city’s reserve funds were under-financed.

There is evidence that the reserves were raided by the administration to pay the court costs and the $8.96 million lawsuit settlement, won by Urbacon Buildings Group,Inc. A consultant hired by the city to review finances and operations reported that the reserves were a “red flag of caution” due to underfunding.

The casting of the 2016 city budget turned out to be a marathon fiasco with a council that took two days to finally approve a budget. It continued the pattern of high spending on staff and pet projects of the majority Gang of Seven, who are bent on perpetuating the policies of the former administration.

Since the former mayor was defeated, council has passed two budgets, 2015 and 2016, with a total property tax increase of 6.95 per cent. Mayor Cam Guthrie was elected, promising property tax increases to not exceed the Consumer Price Index that was 1.9 per cent in 2014 according to Statistics Canada.

Former Chief Building Inspector sues the city

Moving on to the wrongful dismissal lawsuit brought by former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, it is apparent that, once again, the city senior staff made a decision that will probably cost the city a lot of money.

In his statement of claim filed February 11, Mr. Poole outlines he was subjected to: “Harsh, vindictive, reprehesible and malicious conduct by senior officials leading up to his termination.”

July 10, 2014: Poole emailed the entire city executive team that there were approximately 50 city projects with open building permits and, “ongoing issues with construction being carried out without the required building permits.”

Daring to challenge the city administration for failing to enforce its own bylaws, Poole was: “First demoted, then offered a voluntary paid leave, then put on non-voluntary paid leave, and then fired in an attempt to prevent him from carrying out his duties under law.”

Translation? It was a failed, clumsy attempt to shut him up. It is important to understand that both CAO Pappert and then executive director, Mark Amorosi, whose responsibility included human resources, had to be responsible for Poole’s termination. The buck stops at the top.

In addition the former mayor had to be aware of the circumstances of Poole, firing after serving as Chief Building Inspector (CBI) for 20 years. The city’s CBI is a provincially mandated position.

Last November, CAO Ann Pappert denied the city was ever in violation of either its own bylaws or provincial building codes.

In his statement of claim, Poole mentions the CAO alleging: “Pappert has been providing the public with false and misleading statements,” regarding the status of some 50 city projects that failed to obtain buidling permits. The claim states: “Pappert was implying that Bruce was incompetent and wrong in his position and thereby defaming Bruce.”

It is now more apparent that there is evidence of management rot at the top. Despite this, Mayor Guthrie, for his own reasons, refused to stand up and take the necessary steps to excise the malaise at the top echelon of his administration.

Without leadership of the mayor, Guelph will continue to lurch along with mangled finances, excessive spending that has contributed to the huge difference between Guelph’s operating and capital costs, that are 50 per cent higher than either Kitchener and Cambridge

The city is in dire need of a new city manager and a chief financial officer.

Perhaps new senior executive leadership could have prevented Bruce Poole’s $1 million lawsuit

Bruce Poole was fired because he did his job and the Farbridge infected management didn’t like it.

Janice Sheehy quit and got another job because she recognized the dreadful condition of city finances and refused to be part of it.

So Mr. Mayor, when are you going to act and stop this decent into gross mismanagement of the city’s business and turn things around?




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Say goodbye to Guelph’s Integrity Commissioner February 29

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 23, 2016

Robert Swayze, the Caledon lawyer hired five years ago by the Farbridge administration, walks into retirement proclaiming that in the last two years, he received no complaints about council.

Swayze was paid an annual retainer of $5,000 as watchdog of members of council to behave and not breach the councillor’s Code of Conduct. In addition, when he was consulted by the city clerk or received an official complaint, his hourly rate was $245 an hour.

With no complaints in 2015, Swayze collected an additional $6,174 for 25.2 hours consulting with the city staff.

“The current council deserves congratulations for compliance with the Code of Conduct and displaying accountability and transparency in carrying out their duties.” Swayze stated in his final report to council.

Well, I guess that Mr. Swayze did not analyze the incident of January 25 when five councillors refused to participate in a regular council meeting that had to be cancelled due to an apparent lack of a quorum.

Tell us Mr. Swayze where this overt obstructionist action fits into the Code of Conduct? How does it meet your standard of accountability and transparency?

Oh! We forgot it happened a month before your contract expired.

There is no doubt that City Clerk Stephen O’Brien discussed this with you and how much did that cost and what was the outcome? Apparently you admitted there were two consultive engagements regarding two members of council of “confidential matters.”

How does that square with your confusing admiration of the present dysfunctional council and your claim that city council has displayed “accountability and transparency in carrying out their duties.”

This integrity job was created to thwart any member of council of any attempt to question, protest or object. For nine years, supporters of the previous mayor, dominated city council.

Your job ranks right up there with that held by Andy Best, general manager of the Open Government initiative that was created by, Tah Dah! The Farbridge administration. This $92,000 a year job was given, without competition, to Farbridge supporter Best last July.

In nine months on the job, Best has failed to create a real, honest plan to create a government that is truly open and transparent. In addition, the council approved spending $267,000 in the 2016 budget on a 7 to 6 vote, to perpetuate the program that has accomplished little in three years since inception.

This city doesn’t need an integrity commissioner; it needs integrity to be practised by the administration.

Citizens have been subjected to political actions that defy explanation, let alone financial accountability.

There is a simple way to effect change and fiscal responsibility. Hire a Chief Financial Officer and a new Chief Administration Officer. That will commence the changes that must come to clean up the debris left by the previous administration.





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TVO wants to know what Ontario can learn from Guelph

By Gerry Barker

February 22, 2016

On Sunday, March 6, the Ontario government TV channel, TVO, is coming to Guelph.

Called TVO on the Road, the channel staff has rented the University of Guelph’s, Summerlee Science Complex Atrium to hold three functions. These include two recording sessions of the TVO program, The Agenda, moderated by Steve Paikin. Also between sessions one and two, there is a one hour and 15 minute reception for a meet and greet with senior TVO management. The first session is about Ontario’s Food Sustainability. The second one following the public reception is titled: What can Ontario learn from Guelph? You need a ticket to get in and it can be ordered through TVO customer service. The tickets are free.

Glory be! Let us count the watward ways of a dysfunctional, divided city council.

The province won’t learn anything from an administration that, in building a new city hall, ran the cost up by $23 million. To pay the settlement charges to the city hall general contractor that it fired, the administration raided three reserves for $8.96 million.

It’s mindful of the Marx Brothers’ movie titled: A night at the Opera. The Ontario Government has already bet the ranch on creating private development of wind-and solar-panel farms. The result? Citizens are paying the highest electricity charges of most municipalities in the country.

It’s hard to figure out whether Guelph can learn from Ontario or: What can Ontario learn from Guelph?

Both Ontario and Guelph have high debt and high operating costs. This brings to mind the recent analysis of Guelph’s operational and capital-spending costs compared to Cambridge and Kitchener. The answer? Guelph’s costs are 50 per cent higher than either of those peer municipalities.

The author of the analysis, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, presented his findings to city council and received little response. This council is like the Ostrich that buries its head in the sand at the first sign of danger.

Do Steve Paikin and TVO know about the mismanagement and spending that has driven taxes and user fees to become one of the highest in the province? Do they know about Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., the off-the-books corporation that is financed through Guelph Hydro? Or that it lost $2.8 million in 2014, yet managed to pay a dividend to the city’s general revenues of $1.5 million? Wonder how the city’s appointed auditor stick-handled around that one?

Does Mr. Paikin know about the waste management collection system costing $15.5 million fails to service some 6,000 households and businesses? Why? Because the properties have no storage area for the city supplied bins. Also the special automated-arm trucks cannot navigate in parts of the city. The capper is that the bin operation is much slower than manual operations, resulting in overtime.

Another provincial decision is the property taxing of the University of Guelph’s extensive holdings of lands. The payment is $75 dollars per registered student per year. This amounts to just $1,500,000 for hundreds of acres of land., A large portion includes leased lands to commercial enterprises. It’s easy to predict that the university is virtually paying no property tax because of the income from its leased lands. Guelph and other cities with universities or community colleges have complained to the province about this taxpayer subsidy since 1987 with no change in the rate. And to think that Liz Sandals, the Ontario Minister of Education, represents our city. Her job performance makes her about as useful as a duck at a garden party.

The Farbridge financial hangover

Most of Guelph’s capital spending has been on projects and plans of the previous administration, These include $16 million on the renovation of a convent, on Diocesan property, to create a civic museum with the Guelph taxpayer’s portion being $10 million.

Spending $34 million on an organic waste-processing facility with a capacity that is ten times the city’s wet-waste disposal needs for twenty years. Instead, it imports wet waste from other sources, including Detroit and Waterloo Region. Citizens have no information of the operation of the facility that turns waste into mulch. Despite this and other waste management measures, such as recycling and storage of contaminated soil, the amount of waste sent to the landfill is 45 percent.

The most expensive portion of the city operations is the staff with more than 2,100 employees to run a city of 128,000. Almost all employees are members of nine unions and management associations. Some 80 per cent of the property taxes are spent on the staff. Most are members of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System OMERS, with salaries, wages and benefits growing exponentially every year. Also growing is the increasing liability to the citizens.

The underscored problem is the average retirement age of most OMERS members is currently 55, ten years before the first Canada Pension Plan benefit payment at 65. But wait! OMERS pays a bridging CPP adjustment to every retiree, equivalent to their earned pension. That’s on top of their earned pension upon retirement.

Is that not a great deal? The sobering consequence is that currently, OMERS is underfunded by $7.5 billion. Throw in the fact that municipal taxpayers will be responsible for guaranteeing the pension of a former employee for up to 30 years.

This growing liability is ignored by city council and the administration (a small conflict there), but here’s the skinny: As the staff increases, it is safe to assume a turnover every year of 100 employees. If they take retirement at 55, the city is going to be paying for people who contribute nothing to the welfare of the city. And, in many cases, the city is on the hook for years, something that was never considered 20 years ago.

Declaring the war on cars by forcing people to use bicycles

Then there is the war on cars. For nine years, the city has spent an estimated $30 million creating bicycle lanes on major roads. Whenever a road is repaved it is marked to allow wider bike lanes, and in most cases, restricts vehicular traffic to one lane each way. The natural growth of the city has created traffic jams of cars, buses and trucks that build up in both morning and afternoon rush hours. The public statements made by certain members of council that motor vehicles will eventually disappear from Guelph’s streets within 20 years.

The opposite has occurred with more and more vehicles on the road than ever before, and the traffic line-ups at major intersections grow exponentially. The cyclists don’t carry insurance, are not required to have a licence to use public thoroughfares and are a small minority of the population.

So, you can see why the Royal City is no longer regal and the administration has milked the citizens with high taxes and user fees to meet the costs of their personal agendas.

So TVO, if you are seeking the truth about Guelph, it might be useful to include people who know what’s going on before depending of the anticipated barrage of platitudes and promises that the mayor and members of the administration will dish up.

You can bet they won’t explain why Guelph’s operating and capital costs are 50 per cent higher than that of our neighbours, Kitchener and Cambridge.


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Finally, the city administration admits the financial cupboard is bare

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 17, 2016

You can assume that finger pointing has already started.

Tuesday’s report in the Guelph Tribune has exposed how Guelph has wasted millions on a variety of projects including building an organic waste processing facility costing $34 million. This was six times the annual amount of wet waste generated by the city annually.

The Dunlop Drive waste management facility cost was never revealed to the public. Next was spending $15.5 million on using household bins and automated trucks to pick it up. Trouble was, some 6,400 households were not served by the system.

To keep the waste operation going, the city approached other municipalities to use its facilities to process waste. While Guelph citizens underwrote these waste management facilities, there has never been a real financial statement that outlines the status of this Farbridge-inspired plan to become a world-class manager of waste processing. The sick joke is that 45 per cent of the waste generated in Guelph, is still going to the landfill.

This is just some of the reasons that Guelph is under financial duress.

Precious capital was spending $10,000 renovating a derelict former convent building on Catholic Hill. This resulted in a civic museum. The problem remains that the money was spent on someone else’s property. This could create a problem for future councils. The truth of this abortive exercise is the foundation needed severe remediation to support the three-storey structure. Cost is unknown, Special cabinets were ordered from Europe only to find sprinkler heads were too close to the tops of the cabinets.

During the recent meeting, Coun, Christine Billings asked the staff to confirm that the Capital Renewal Reserve Fund was short $5.24 million because the money was used to settle the Urbacon Buildings Group Inc.’s, wrongful dismissal lawsuit. City General Manager and Treasurer Janice Sheehy conceded: “Yes, we did fund that particular issue from the reserve.”

In fairness, when that decision was made, Ms. Sheehy was not an employee of the city. Her admission however disputes the Chief Administrative Officer’s 2014 public statement that there was more than one reserve fund raided, to pay off the Urbacon settlement and legal fees. Ms. Pappert stated further that the impact of the lawsuit would not affect property taxes.

In July 2015, city council decided not to repay the $5.24 million taken from the Capital Renewal Reserve Fund. That decision was made knowing that it would cripple the potential participation in a federal-provincial infrastructure plan that would require the city to pay one-third of any accepted proposal.

At the time, the staff warned that future capital projects may “limit” the city’s ability to take part in any future large-scale infrastructure grant programs because there is no money to pay for the city’s share.

On December 9, the meeting of council determining the 2016 budget quickly buried a staff proposal to institute a ten-year, 2 per cent special property tax levies to pay for needed infrastructure repairs in the city.

Tuesday, the Tribune reported what remains of a $30-million Guelph Hydro note that used to make an annual contribution to city coffers. In July, 2009, council decided to cash in the longstanding Guelph Hydro note and use most of the proceeds, $22 million, to fund the city’s share of a flurry of infrastructure-related construction projects, done in Guelph under a federal-provincial stimulus program.

That leaves $3.7 million in the fund. The whole reserve situation is severely underfunded as stated in the BMA consultant’s report on city operations.

Well, we should be used to this by now. In 2009, the city participated in a federal-provincials infrastructure program. Today there is only $3.7 million left in the Capital Renewal Reserve Fund

In March 2013, the Capital Renewal Reserve Fund was created with the money remaining, $8 million, left from the $30 million Guelph Hydro note. But the city’s share of the federal-provincial infrastructure funding in 2009, grew to $27 million as such infrastructure items such as $2 million spent on Stone Road bike lanes, and a new $75,000 clock in the Sleeman Centre. It is apparent that the $4 million share overrun was paid through successive budgets, in which the real costs were buried.

How did this city get into such a mess?

It was accomplished by a city council dominated by Karen Farbridge and her supporters. For the past four years the council appointed chairperson of Finance, June Hofland, whose financial credentials do not extend beyond a teller’s cage. The former administration was aided and abetted by senior staff; today, four of them appointed by the former administration, are running the city. The present senior staff is devoid of responsibility in maintaining the net worth of the corporation, its ability to pay its bills or finance an aging infrastructure.

The agenda of the former mayor and her supporters on council is filled with projects and schemes to fit their plans with little public input. They have been supported by members of nine unions making up 80 per cent of the total city staff.

The present city staff has grown to such a point that the city can no longer support their numbers. Yet, the seven councillors continue to vote for more staff, as recommended by their cohorts in management, the city staff. This only perpetuates the growing costs and employment liabilities to the taxpayers and those citizens who must pay record-high user fees.

There are only two ways to fix the immediate cash problem: Add cash by going deeper in debt or sock it to the taxpayers with a special levy to raise cash. Sorry, I’ve seen this play before and you won’t like the ending.

The stakeholders in Guelph have been neutered by a minority group of individual, who have grasped power determined to change the city in any way they want.

And here’s an example of Councillor Mark MacKinnon’s solution to the city’s participation in a possible new federal-provincial infrastructure plan: “Take as much money as the federal government will give us.”

With respect, Mr. MacKinnon, that’s remark is a purely political sound bite that ignores the real financial situation this city faces.

City Council must engage in serious political decisions to extricate the stakeholders from this serious financial situation.

Not to take charge and assert financial principles, will be done at your political peril.






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The world according to Coun. Leanne Piper

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 16, 2016

The nine-year record of city Councillor Leanne Piper, reveals that when it comes to credibility, her record is wanting.

The following contains part her response to a letter sent by Glen Tolhurst that questioned the city’s financial administration.

But let’s review her nine-year performance as an elected member of Guelph city council. This includes her undying support of former Mayor Karen Farbridge who was defeated in the 2014 civic election. Recently, Ms. Piper denied the charge that there is division among councillor stating that most votes are not 7/6, but carry with a much greater majority.

She goes on to complain that those councillors and their supporters who complain about this situation are merely perpetuating division on council. That sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

The real problem is she and her six colleagues are attempting to perpetuate the Farbridge agenda despite its repudiation by the city electorate.

We begin with her assertion that a 3 per cent tax increase does not affect those who pay taxes. Her explanation comes right from the professional staff playbook.

To quote her: “A 3 per cent increase in the ‘net tax levy’ does not mean that your taxes, or anyone else’s, are going up 3 per cent.” She proceeds to explain that 3 per cent is the increase from the previous year’s budget. Okay so far. Then she says that new and revised assessment adds to revenue. The combination of tax increase and new assessment results in the net tax levy. Both are used to determine the mill rate.

She neglects to explain how that ‘net 3 per cent’ does not affect the amount of taxes a taxpayer must pay.

Well councillor, you didn’t mention that for four years the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) did not increase assessments on orders from then Premier Dalton McGuinty. Despote the loss in revenue that did not stop your administration from increasing property taxes annually during that period. In fact, since the 2008 global financial collapse, you were party to approving excessive property tax rates and user fees that far exceeded the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of less than 2 percent per year. Did your associates and street sources not understand the impact on ratepayers?

Is it possible they are not taxpayers and don’t care?

Whatever happened to pay off the Urbacon $23 million cost overruns?

A stunning example of this disregard for reality is the statement of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, that “the $8.96 million settlement with the fired Urbacon contractor of the new city hall, would not affect property taxes.” Most citizens are still waiting for answers to that statement cause their taxes continue to increase.

Coupled with the lowest rate of wage increases in 10 years, it resulted in excessive municipal taxation by your administration. Your lust for revenue translated in forcing many homeowners to struggle to pay their taxes and municipally controlled service fees such as power and water.

You closed your mind when data on city operations as reported by your administration and that of two adjacent municipalities, shows that Guelph’s operating and capital spending is 50 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge.

You obviously don’t understand the principle of exponential growth of self-serving, uncontrolled spending and its affect on taxation.

This analysis is the unvarnished truth as determined by Guelph resident Mr. Pat Fung, CA, and CPA., who presented his findings to council. At the rate the current council increases property taxes and spending, that gap of serious financial disparity, will widen in the next few years. Apparently, Ms. Piper doesn’t believe it or doesn’t want to. The data produced by Mr. Fung was taken from the official Financial Information Reports filed by the three cities to the province.

The result of this misguided municipal tax strategy has placed Guelph as one of the most expensive cities in Ontario in which to live.

Summing up, the main beneficiaries of the city corporation are its employees. With seven unions representing 2,100 city employees, all of whom enjoy wages, salaries and benefits that far exceed private enterprise.

In fact, the Guelph and District Labour Council is a major supporter of the previous administration’s elected officials.

Despite this self-serving body of workers’ control, the people rejected the policies of the previous administration by defeating the former mayor and four of her council who either quit or lost the election.

That vote sent a strong and clear message that the citizens wanted a change in direction of council and the administration.

You and your colleagues, including the remnants of the previous administration, are still in technical control of council. As a bloc, you steadfastly refuse to engage or agree with reforms that the public voted for. Excessive taxation tops the list of public concern.

It’s the epitome of arrogance, disdain and dishonesty in which you and your colleagues have shunned your fiduciary responsibility by glossing over serious financial problems. Not the least of which is the $23 million loss associated with the Urbacon lawsuit and its fall out.

Yet, you and your colleagues refused to attend a January 25 regular council meeting claiming that your actions were to “protect the integrity of the corporation and staff.” The five of you walked away from your responsibility refusing to represent the people who elected you.

And the real reason was, during a closed session, you and your colleagues realized you did not have the majority to get your way and you walked away.

What were you thinking? Did you believe that you were a trade union with some kind of collective agreement that allowed you to walk out? Come the next civic election be prepared to defend your service to the electorate.

And that’s the world according to Coun. Leanne Piper.



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Is spending $101,000 of taxpayer money on “Wellbeing” a good idea?

By Gerry Barker

February 15, 2016

The city released the list of recipients who received public funding to carry out their plans and causes. An eight-person committee, in the name of a program called Community Wellbeing Grant Allocations, spent $101,000 in 2016.

The question arises, should the taxpayer be funding some 48 separate organizations targeting specific special interests? This largess appears to support fringe organizations that are politically oriented. They are assumed to be non-profit but there is no indication of this in the statements of recipients, issued by the city.

Let’s look at some of the grants that have been awarded, then you be the judge of whether those organization receiving public money are worthy of public funding.

To Kazoo or not to Kazoo?

My favourite is the “Kazoo Festival” that was given $5,000 to be used to enhance accessibility by expanding all-ages events. Is there a Kazoo parade in the offing?

Or, the “ED Video Media Arts Centre” awarded $13,000 to staff the centre; provide edit suites, workshops, exhibition programs, and support for local artists. Why are taxpayers funding this when there are ample opportunities in the community colleges that supply similar services?

The “Hillside Community Festival of Guelph” received $11,000. This event isn’t even held in the city. Founded by Coun. James Gordon, it sells tickets to attend and is a commercial operation that should not receive financial support of Guelph taxpayers. It is a Guelph event in name only.

Another music event is the “Guelph Jazz Festival” that received $14,000 to purchase a “large” tent, pay artist and production fees and fund an additional Friday night performance of “Jazz at Market Square.” I love jazz but this is another commercial event that features vendors selling products and should be considered as such.

Two other grants went to organizations that defy logic. The “Royal City Musical Productions” received $4,500 to pay rentals of faculty and equipment and wages for venue staff. The other is simply called ‘Silence” that received $5,000 to offer programming and space at low cost to residents and visitors in support of experimental music and sound art. Again, why are taxpayers paying to support commercial self-interest enterprises? This pair of recipients, sound (wrong word?) like they operate in somebody’s basement like Wayne’s World.

But wait! It gets better. Take the $13,000 grant to the “Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival,” This money will be used to offset programming, promotion and administration expenses associated with performance and outreach activities, including a variety of accessible affordable arts programs. Operationsl specifics appear to be absent.

Can we afforx to give away money?

This system of handing out public money was created by the former Farbridge administration. Instead of council having to ponder who gets what and how much, the council decided to adopt a program called “Wellbeing” that was billed as a contributor to the health and wellbeing of the community. A professor at the University of Waterloo developed the concept. Guelph purchased the methodology of the program, believed to cost more than $1 million.

To sell “Wellbeing” to the citizens, the city held a public meeting in the RiverRun Theatre. The crowd was chiefly composed of city staffers dragooned into attending. It was a charade nevertheless and council adopted “Wellbeing.”

A committee of eight individuals was formed but the members were never identified. Their credential and expertise was not given. Nor was there any indication of council oversight of their activities of funding, using public money.

Is it possib;e that “Wellbing” is a thinly disguised attempt to attract supporters to the future fortunes of the Farbridge agenda?

There are a number of organizations in the city that regularly support programs to enhance the ability of special interests groups to improve the core lifestyle of the city.

However, for the city to spend money supporting these groups, it goes beyond its basic responsibility. It is important to remember that the largest source of revenue of city revenues comes from property taxes and user fees.

The financial chickens are starting to return to roost. Already, the city senior staff is recommending a ten-year, 2 per cent special infrastructure levy on properties. Together, with the soaring costs of non-tax funded water supply (4.5 per cent increase this year) and a levy on storm water infrastructure, the ability to pay by taxpayers diminishes. (Non-tax funded, now, that’s an oxymoron because the citizen must pay it regardless,)

These financial gymnastics are coming from a staff that should know better and a council that is well, ill equipped to even understand the basic and ramifications of major financial management.

Case in point, the Urbacon lawsuit costing $23 million over original estimates.

This remains one of the many reasons why Guelph’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent greater than Cambridge and Kitchener. And that tremendous gap rests squarely on the shoulders of those in the city who pay taxes and user fees, that’s you and me.

Perhaps someone in city management can explain why Guelph spends $28,000 per kilometer for road repair and maintenance, when the provincial average is $11,000.

When this city lacks affordable housing, with families in stress and hungry, plus serious, drug and alcohol problems, it’s time to reconsider. We have a city management that has neglected for nine years, the aging infrastructure of a 200-year old city; perhaps it’s time to re-assess its priorities and responsibilities.

The senior staff recommendation? Slap another 2 per cent tax of every property for ten years, to pay for its past neglect and mismanagement.

When does the light come on?

P.S. Would someone be kind enough to send this post to Councillors Leane Piper and June Hofland? They say they don’t read Wouldn’t want them to miss it.






Filed under Between the Lines

Guelph’s financial operations are rooted in high staff costs and excessive spending

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 12, 2016

It’s the dirty secret that is driving up operating costs. So far, council refuses to tackle it or even listen to valid points describing the sorry state of financial management and the cost to the citizens.

It’s the untouchable cost of running a city after nine years of non-stop wages and benefits growing exponentially exceeding the Consumer Price index (CPI) by a country mile. Throw in the more than 500 new, full-time equivalent employees added in that time, and taxpayers are being forced to ante up every year to keep up.

The truth is that 80 per cent of the property tax levies goes to pay the city staff.

So when the staff submitted its estimate of the property tax increase for 2016 of 1.58 per cent to city council, it was a mythical, contrived figure that had little basis of reality. It’s the equivalent of the workers at Linamar telling the management how much they think it’s going to cost to produce car parts.

So they scare council’s majority, who support the nine civic unions, by saying the Guelph Transit fares are going up and weekend and holiday service will be reduced to save $1.5 million. Compared to the 2013 Guelph Transit overtime bill of more than $5 million, that’s chicken feed.

Oh, woe is me! Says Coun. Phil Allt who again, insists Guelph has to get cars off the road and only public transit is the answer. So the left-brain cramp of some members of council, is maintaining the “war on cars” that beats on.

It’s all part of the senior staff game to serve and protect … their interests, not those who must pay the bills. And there are a number of senior managers that don’t even live or pay taxes in Guelph.

In the past ten years, the growth of Guelph city staff exceeded the growth of our population by 85 per cent.

It’s not just occurring in Guelph

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says in part that: “We have been hearing about cities having a revenue problem, but it’s clear it’s a spending problem they are dealing with,” said Laura Jones, CFIB executive vice president.

The CFIB report states that a municipal employee in Canada is paid 22 per cent more than an employee in the private sector doing the same job.

“When you look closely, it’s easy to see employee compensation is the root of the municipal spending problem,” said Nina Gormanns, co-author of the report.

This report comes in concert with the Fair Pensions for All organization that has been warning municipalities, for many years of the risks of increasing the size of staff and the increasing benefits paid to those workers.

In fact, the organization presented a documented report to the former Farbridge council, indicating the growing pension liabilities the city was facing. It was ignored and a number of Farbridge followers ridiculed the findings.

The staff strategy to use Guelph Transit to reduce costs in 2016 instead of recommending staff reductions, backfired when the council majority of seven voted to reject Transit fare increases and service reductions.

City consultants warned of reserves depletion

The city recently commissioned a consultant report to review city operations.

The BMA municipal consultants are not unfamiliar with the way our city is being managed; having done a similar report in 2011 that cost $480,442 to complete.

This year’s report raised a “cautionary red flag” on the underfunded reserves. Those raided reserves have had little replenishment since the 2014 civic election as was promised by senior staff.

You cannot raid three reserve funds to pay a lawsuit liability of $8.96 million without a firm plan to pay the money back. In approving the 2015 budget last March 25, Coun. Karl Wettstein, the elder statesman of the Gang of Seven on council, made a motion to reduce the $900,000 scheduled repayment to the reserve funds to $500,000. That passed.

Councillors Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland were on the Farbridge council that witnessed the firing in September 2008 of Urbacon Buildings Group, Corp., the general contractor of the new City hall.

They have never accepted responsibility for that action that triggered a $23 million cost overrun of the project. For that matter, neither has the former mayor ever admitted any responsibility. The people understood and voted the mayor out of office.

The 2016 budget, approved December 10 included another 2.99 per cent increase of property taxes, plus user fees and more staff.

During budget talks, council buried a staff recommended 2 per cent, ten-year special property tax levy to pay for the city’s ailing infrastructure. It was kicked away to be discussed in the 2017 budget discussions next November.

The 2017 property tax increase prospect, next November, is that if the special levy is approved, plus the storm water levy, plus the 4.5 per cent water use increase, the annual property tax increase in Guelph for 2017 will be more than 9 per cent.

Transferring operational costs to debt can reduce tax increases. It is a glaring example of financial mismanagement that has been practised in this city for far too long. If we ran out lives the way this city is being run, we’d be bankrupt in short order. Swallowed by personal debt used to pay the bills.

Oh! Regardless, that’s what staff did this year.

And that folks, is just one of the reasons why Guelph’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent higher than Kitchener and Cambridge. It’s why Guelph spends $28,000 per kilometer on road repair and rehab than the provincial average of $11,000. Bike lanes anyone?

These figures are extrapolated from the official annual Financial Information Reports filed annually by every municipality in Ontario to the province.

Figures don’t lie but liars figure…Go figure!

Maybe that’s why the city changed auditors this year.





Filed under Between the Lines

The Letter Box

Neighbours oppose Glasgow Street demolition

Dear Editor:

The Neighbours of Glasgow Street North community action group was formed on Wednesday Feb 3, 2016, in response to the planned demolition of 202 Glasgow Street North, Guelph, a 2,800 square foot Victorian brick home that was built in 1890. An application to demolish that beautiful dwelling was unanimously approved by City Council in November, 2015 with no input from long-time residents having been heard. In fact, because of the City of Guelph’s deeply problematic approval process, it was only months after the application was approved, that the neighbourhood learned of the planned demolition. Had it not been that the owner of 202 Glasgow Street North is seeking variances, which must pass through the Committee of Adjustment, the residents might never have been informed of the plans.

The Neighbours of Glasgow Street North will contest those variances, as they appear to contravene zoning by-laws. The graver concerns are about the process by which applications are made to demolish historic homes in Guelph. The process is both opaque and deficient and it does not respect the rights of affected neighbours, who feel the impact of such demolitions most keenly.

The Glasgow Street North eighbours group is strongly urging City Council to re-open debate on the proposed demolition of this home and address these deficiencies. The principal deficiency is the lack of a statutory obligation on the part of applicants (be they homeowners or developers) to notify the public of their plans prior to gaining the approval of City Council. With respect to applications for demolition, there is currently no such statutory obligation, and, in fact, applicants are simply encouraged by the City to post notices of pending demolition as a courtesy. Similarly, there is no obligation to notify neighbours of an application to remove a property from the Heritage Register. Our group says that this lack of a legal obligation for notification is a serious weakness in our municipal by-laws, one that can be far too easily, and is far too frequently, exploited.

Surely we have a right to participate meaningfully in open public discussion about development plans that may permanently alter our neighbourhoods. And surely that right must be assured by our city’s by-laws and protected by our City Council.

The variances sought for the new building will be contested in order to ensure that municipal zoning by-laws are upheld. Residents must work together to protect our city’s proud architectural heritage; and we must work to establish fair and respectful development processes. A city does not lose its character in one fell swoop but, rather, by creeping neglect, subtle discourtesy, one demolition, one variance at a time.

Carm Fiori




Filed under Between the Lines

The Letter Box

How Guelph fleeces the taxpayer

Dear Editor:

If you spend too much time on a merry-go-round the dizzying combination of vertical motion of riding the white charger and the rotating motion of the ride, not only do you get dizzy but you also lose focus on reality. This seems to be the only explanation of recent moves by city staff in presenting two reports to council. The reports, which pertain to a 2% levy to fund infrastructure and a move to fund storm water management by a user fee, both have more money being sucked from the taxpayer’s wallet.

The first report supports the imposition of a 2% levy for infrastructure funding that will be folded into the base property tax each year and compound for 10 years. Such compounding of a 2% levy yields 21.9% in the tenth year. Thus, if you have a current property tax of $5,000, in year ten you will be paying an extra $1095 as well as having paid the yearly compounded increments since year one.

This is in addition to the annual property tax increases over that period, which also roll into the base and compound. Thus with a 3% annual tax increase (for 2016 it is 2.99%) and the 2% levy, over 10 years that 5% annual increase compounds to a 63% increase, which on a $5,000 current assessment is a $3,144 increase to a total of $8,144, in addition to the yearly compounded increases since year one.

The second report recommends changing funding of storm water management from the current property tax supported method to a user fee regime. There are 2 problem areas with this concept that will adversely impact the taxpayers. First, this program requires the building of a bureaucracy to administer it.

Already, the city has too many Full-Time Employees (FTE) for its size, with the rate of growth of FTE’s repeatedly outstripping the growth of population.

Secondly, there is no mechanism in the annual budgeting process to ensure that the portion of the annual tax currently allocated for storm water management is not filled by frivolous tax and spend city staff foisting some dubious new “want” on a gullible council.

The perceived need for these two new assaults on taxpayer wallets is clearly due to the ongoing incompetence of the previous councils and city staff over the past 15 years to properly fund these infrastructure areas.

Glen N. Tolhurst


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