By Gerry Barker
July 4, 2016
Recently, the town of Milton’s 11-member council voted to reduce the number of elected councillors to nine. It will reduce the number of wards to four and will adjust the boundaries.
According to Mayor Gordon Kranz, the process took a little more than an hour and the vote was six to five in favour of the reduction to be effective in the 2018 civic election.
The differences between the two municipalities are marked by Milton’s aggressive attraction of industrial and commercial assessment that leaves Guelph biting their dust.
Guelph’s industrial/commercial assessment is 16 per cent of the city’s total assessment. Residential assessment is 84 per cent. It has been stuck in that ratio for the past ten years.
The provincial average of industrial/commercial assessment is 40 per cent and 60 per cent residential. Guelph is not even close to that provincial average. This is one of the chief reasons that residential taxes are among the highest in the province
You can only blame the policies of the previous administration that failed to attract and sell the city on locating to the Royal City. The former Farbridge administration focused instead on a narrow schedule of environmental issues, such as the organic waste composting facility; the automated waste collection system requiring the use of bins of presorted garbage; reducing the traffic lanes on major roads to accommodate bicycle lanes. To accomplish their goals the former administration increased the full-time staff from 1,400 in 2007 to more than 2,145 this year.
Guelph has 13 councillors including the mayor. Its reliance on property taxes of the greater majority of residential properties has not only driven up taxes and user fees but also its policies of attracting and approving industry have failed miserably.
It’s no wonder the city is not attracting industry because the costs of operating in Guelph are not competitive with other municipalities in the Wellington/Halton/ Waterloo catchment area.
This performance is one of the main reasons that neighbouring Cambridge and Kitchener have operating and capital costs that are 50 per cent less than Guelph’s.
You may recall the 11-year battle to have Wal-Mart come to Guelph. Some of the same people on city council today worked hard to make sure the world’s largest retailer would never set up shop in Guelph.
The anti-Wal-Mart campaign was funded by the various labour unions, the cost of which was never known but the city spent more than a million dollars to oppose the union involvement. It became know as the anti-Big Box stores wars.
With a city staff that is 80 per cent unionized, the influences exercised by this collective hampers industrial development. In the case of Linamar, the city’s largest private employer, more than half of its workforce lives outside Guelph. Why? You may ask, it is because the cost of owning property and living in Guelph is much higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener?
This did not happen overnight. The hardcore majority of the environmentally element on three successive councils enacted polices such as attempting to reduce carbon emissions by trying to force citizens to get out of their cars and pedal.
Today, James Gordon, Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Phil Allt, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury and Karl Wettstein are the majority of city council and most times vote as one bloc.
This group is responsible for the anti-business attitude that pervades the staff.
The only way to change it is to defeat them in 2018 on the grounds of their obstructionism and collective tactics that only serve their loyalists, union members and hangers–on.
Putting council on a reduction diet has about as much chance as a Mandarin meatball heading down the pie-hole.
The present ward system suits the Group of Geven just fine because it’s easier to fund, run and win a ward seat on council rather than across the city.
If we are to create change and aggressively attract quality industry, the ward system needs to go, among reforms of governance created by the previous administration.
Here’s a heads-up on reforming the first past-the-post election of candidates. There is a group in town actively trying to have the city adopt proportional voting, an NDP platform policy.
And all this time you believed getting rid of former mayor Farbridge would bring reform, lower taxes and a council that would work for the common good, not their own personal agenda.