Monthly Archives: February 2016

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.

 

 

 

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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

Guelph

 

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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

Guelph

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That media corporate giant sucking sound has changed Guelph forever

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 2, 2016

When the Guelph Mercury closed its doors forever last week, as a result of a TorStar corporate decision by subsidiary MetroLand Publishing, the impact has changed the sources of news of a city of more than 122,000, to rely on a remaining handful of professional journalists.

With a single twice a week newspaper remaining with a full-time editorial staff of three, it takes no imagination to discover the huge vacuum of real news that has been created.

On the periphery of news coverage, there is the Rogers Community TV whose chief source of “news” is televising the Guelph council meetings. For those of us in the city that do not subscribe to Rogers services, that’s about as useful as a news source as horns on an ant.

Then we have the Kitchener CTV TV station. Its news coverage consists of 60-second video spots, using an on-camera reporter who does a toss-back to the anchor. This is real news? This outfit is now bereft because one of it’s chief sources was the Guelph Mercury that employed a staff of 10 editors and reporters who spent those long hours digesting and reporting civic affairs, community events, crime and interesting profiles of people.

That essential material coverage is now gone.

I must confess that I will truly miss the Mercury. I am, generally speaking, a one-man band. I do not have the personnel, time or energy to replace the Mercury and its former team of editors and reporters.

What I am most concerned about is that this news vacuum will further give the city administration, unfettered control of the corporation news, and the slant that it has been practising since 2007.

But what I do possess, for the past nine years, is a huge library of material that is mostly critical of the city’s administration.

Since the Mercury’s closing, the number of daily visitors to my blog, guelphspeaks.ca, has tripled. The reason was that I recognized the actions of the five members of council who literally defected from their responsibilities, Monday, January 25, when they walked out.

Then, when challenged to explain their action, I’d call it a strike, because they refused to answer. Instead, Coun. Phil Allt, one of the strikers, said it was “to defend the integrity of the corporation and staff.”

This all occurred during the week of the Mercury’s death throes.

Well, what’s new about this development?

There is a plethora of rumours and calls for the five councillors to resign.

This is a serious problem with the Ontario Municipal Act. The only way a councillor can be dismissed is for overt criminal activity, stealing public money and misrepresenting their credentials.

Even if there were charges relating to any of these fault lines, the councillor charged would still be in office by the next election, because of the time the courts could allocate court time to adjudicate the case. Usually it’s two years.

The provincial government must review and change these ironbound securities that municipal elected representatives are protected. What is needed is a mechanism to recall elected officials for malfeasance, failure to meet their fiduciary responsibilities and not turning up for official public meetings.

This outrageous political coitis interruptous must be met with public reaction and action. The greatest weapon the electors have is installing fear into their elected representatives. They do it by sending messages in many forms to the offending councillors, expressing their rejection of the way the defecting councillor has misbehaved in the people’s interest.

Make no mistake, a steady response complaining to these offending councillors who have stopped the city’s business, will have a telling effect in 2018, if they decide to run again.

If you need any evidence of this kind of political action, look no further than to see what happened in 2014 to council incumbents Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw, Ian Findlay, Todd Dennis, and Lise Burcher.

They were defeated or quit because of public pressure. It had little to do with the Guelph Mercury or Guelph Tribune; it was a quiet revolution by the people who protested the action of the previous administration.

It is time now to act against this group who have accomplished the continuation of the Farbridge administration that has seen large tax and user fee increases in just one year in office.

It’s now up to we the people to act.

Reminder: The Letter Box is now open for letters to the editor. Send you letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com for publication.

 

 

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