By Gerry Barker
July 27, 2016 (revised)
This week Mayor Guthrie announced that the Guelph Storm junior hockey club would remain in Guelph for another ten years.
I’m a hockey fan but this deal has the strong odour of an inside deal.
Here’s the financial skinny.
Deputy Chief Administration Officer (DCAO) Colleen Clack told a citizen recently that between 2011 and 2015, the taxpayers subsidized the Sleeman Centre averaging $249,000 a year.
Why under her responsibility as General Manager of Tourism and Culture, was she responsible for managing these two facilities? According to her own figures, the River Run Theatre is losing more than $531,000 annually and the Sleeman Centre is losing $249,000 each year. That’s $780,000 a year! Now that was under the old contract signed by the previous owners of the team and was honoured by the new owners. Now remember, this building is owned and managed by the city.
We the public have no idea of the terms of the old Storm contract or details of the new one. We can tell you that three individuals own the team with the chairman, Rick Gaetz, who also is chairman of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) executive committee.
It would appear that Ms. Clack, as lead negotiator for the city, agreed to lower the percentage of the city’s share of receipts. This was because the team owners said that the financial arrangement with the city was one of the costliest in the 20-team OHL. Was this a case of the lambs being led to the slaughter?
Again, no figures were produced to confirm this claim. There was no business plan presented to council, just a request to lower the city’s share of the revenues. Council approved the new deal. Again, the public was not informed of the details.
Why are we in business with a hockey team?
Why is this a shared revenue deal at all? As Mayor Guthrie said “We are the landlord and the Storm is a tenant.” Under that definition, the Storm should pay a negotiated lease payment amount for use of the Arena. The city has no business participating in the operation of a privately-owned major junior hockey club.
Why should the citizens be expected to subsidize the hockey club through this sharing of receipts or revenue? Because under the sketchy details of this deal, we are subsidizing the team.
Bottom line, if the Sleeman was losing $249,000 under the former agreement and has agreed to take a lesser part of the revenue pie, doesn’t this increase the amount of losses the Sleeman generates each year?
This is one of the oldest ploys in the book. Threaten to move the team and everyone on council goes into a funk. It went from a business decision to an emotional one in a nano second. Once again, the city comes out the loser. But do members of council get complimentary seats and VIP perks? Just wondering.
But there were Storm supporters claiming the economic advantages that the Storm allegedly brings to the city. It’s an interesting take with no measurement of the actual economic affect on the actual cost of running a city of this size.
For every dollar of revenue that is removed there has to be a truthful explanation as to how it affects the citizens. Does this deal benefit the majority of residents? Or is it just the owners of the team? The players are reported to be paid less than minimum wage
The fact that the building is shut down for three months in the summer adds more cost to the taxpayers. Why should the Storm occupation of the Sleeman Centre receive a 12-month deal when it is used, depending on reaching the OHL playoffs, for just some nine months?
In five years, there has been no attempt by the city administration to seek other users of the facility to help pay for maintenance, staff and operational costs. Why doesn’t the administration tell us how much the taxpayers must now pay to keep the Storm in town?
We’re already subsidizing the River Run Theatre across the street to the tune of $531,000 each year. Or take Guelph Transit that is subsidized by the taxpayers of some $15 million a year.
Is this what Coun. James Gordon refers to as an investment? He should understand the difference between capital costs and operational cost. These are only two examples of bad decisions that reduce revenues and reflect emotion rather than practicality.
You cannot run a city by spending money that has little or no benefit to the majority of citizens. This is one reason how the city has got itself in such a financial mess.
Reserves have been drastically depleted due to bad judgment and responsibility. The Community Energy Initiative cannot service in its present configuration without further investment. The administration has acknowledged it will require another $60 million to upgrade the two District Energy Nodes to meet future financial and performance obligations.
Coincidence or did they place an order before the deal was approved?
Yet eight members of city council voted to run the money-losing District Energy Nodes “as is” without further investment for another eight months to prove, what?
The same day, July 18, council approved the “as is” option of an eight-month extension of District Energy, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) and advertised for a “Business Advisor” on a one-year contract to work for GMHI.
This council vote was held close to midnight, July 18, so the ad for the Business Advisor had to be placed before council approved the extension.
This is an outrageous and deliberate attempt to keep the District Energy Nodes alive despite the findings of the Deloitte consultant’s three recommendation options. Council voted earlier in the session not to proceed with Option three which was to continue operating the District Energy Nodes with more financing to make it viable.
This runs counter to the terms of the District Energy proposal “as is” option that stated there would be no further investment in the project. One would presume that includes adding to the staff.
It is now apparent that these two deals were cooked up behind closed-doors, without any public input or consideration.
We have a Frankenstein council, with the majority obsessed with holding power, controlling us, with most of the majority not understanding for that of which they are responsible. So they depend on the judgment of senior staff. Shades of Urbacon and generally most councillors vote as they are told!
An atmosphere of incompetence pervades our city leadership. It acts like a boil that we keep picking at until it festers.
The mother of all leaks
Mayor Cam Guthrie is chairman of GMHI. Yet the advertisement for a GMHI Business Advisor was posted during the day, hours before the council decision to accept the “as is” option around midnight.
But here is the question: Mayor Guthrie voted against the motion to accept the “as is” option. Is it not strange that the chair of GMHI was unaware of the staff posting to add another GMHI employee, hours before council approved it?
The action by staff illustrates why city council is disfunctional. That decision to post for another GMHI employee was apparently made without the knowledge of the Mayor. Someone in the administration, staff or elected members made that decision knowing full well the council would vote for it that night.
There were three votes that night. The first was to receive the staff report based on the findings of the Deloitte consultants containing three options, 13-0. The second was to continue the “as is” option, 13-0.
The third vote was 8 to 5 with all members of the Bloc of Seven plus Coun. Bob Bell voting to include a city-wide CEI and District Energy strategy presentation no later than Q1 of 2017. Only Mayor Cam Guthrie, Councillors Christine Billings, Dan Gibson, Andy Van Hellemond and Mark MacKinnon voted against the motion. The fact remains that this vote confirmed extending the DE operations for another eight months.
There will be more on this later. It is a complete breakdown of the public trust and the person or persons who perpetrated it should be fired or resign.
But hey! We have a junior hockey team for another ten years but we’ll never know the cost