By Gerry Barker
August 15, 2916
(In response to your letter to the editor of the Guelph Tribune August11, 2016)
What an unwarranted broadside against a citizen who dared to challenge the operations of the city under the stewardship of you and your six progressives on council.
Hardly know where to start but let’s reply to your vision of the city and the current culture. You state your job, as a councillor is to advocate for such vital issues as: “Housing, poverty, a living wage, food security, environmental sustainability and climate change. Stop there. Those items described as vital are not the responsibility of city council. You’ve taken them from the NDP national playbook, a party to which you belong.
Let me sketch it out for you. You are responsible for the city infrastructure, everything from fixing the sidewalks, potholes and underground services that have been neglected for eight years. In addition, keeping the traffic moving, public safety, recreation, adequate water supply and waste management, municipal bylaws and planning.
So much so, that this “efficient” staff you describe, (not sure which senior manager you are defending), proposed a 2 per cent, ten-year special property tax levy last December to repair and update the city infrastructure. If approved, it would generate $250 million in ten years. Provided past budgeting practices are followed, that will force an indexed property tax increase of more than 5 per cent per year. It does not include the effect of inflation and higher costs.
But that proposal was booted up to the 2017 budget discussions that start this fall. A similar situation happened when the 2015 budget was approved. This included spending $600,000 on new bicycle lanes on Woodlawn Road (Highway 7).
You see James, it makes people who know the basics of financial management, nervous when Coun. Mike Salisbury tells council that the $300,000 earmarked for bike lanes was not spent in 2014. So, so let’s double it. You and your progressive colleagues went along with it.
You deliberately duped the public without understanding that money not spent in the previous year cannot be rolled over. It’s because it affects the requirement that a municipality must report a balanced financial statement.
Where was Coun. June Hofland, Chair of Finance, when this was proposed? Or where was the Chief Financial Officer? Oh! Sorry I forgot we didn’t have one on staff. Not even the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer in charge of finance, Mark Amorosi, spoke up. Nor did Ann Pappert, Chiuef Administrative Officer, question the Salisbury motion.
When you start imposing policies and projects based on a political party’s objectives, then people say help! And James, more and more people are objecting to the way you and your leftist colleagues are perpetuating an agenda. Voters rejected that agenda in October 2014. It was the Farbridge agenda that caused many financial disasters in the past eight years.
If you and your colleagues understood the financial problems, then you should demand a forensic audit to clear the air. You have already received independent warnings from consultants that the reserves are being depleted and one stated the situation raises a “red flag.”
You claim that you and your colleagues in the Bloc of Seven “do not see too much gravy in the system.”
Let me help you to find more “gravy” that will help return the city to financial stability and reduce the burden on taxpayers.
* Reduce the cost of staff that is currently consuming 80 per cent of property tax revenue. Now I am aware of the close ties between staff and elected officials who depend on the staff when making decisions. That’s okay but in my opinion, the reverse has occurred with the elected officials, (the Bloc of Seven) telling the staff to follow their agenda and their policies.
* Shut down the District Energy project. Why you and your colleagues use the excuse that a money-losing project should be maintained that has already lost $37.1 million, is beyond belief. Especially when the CEO of GMHI estimates it will cost an additional $60 million to even get close to breaking even.
* The Wellbeing program should be shut down because the city cannot afford to give money away when the city must balance its books. For the past five years it did so by taking money from the reserves. James, that’s your “efficient staff” consistently overspending its own budget.
* The RiverRun theatre and the Sleeman Centre together are losing $780,000 a year. You say that no city in Canada makes a profit on its culture centres. Perhaps you might consider just managing to break even with proper management? So, you feel it’s okay for Guelph to heavily subsidize these sites?
Again James, look at your former council colleagues who allowed this to occur over the past five years according to figures released in 2014. Our new DCAO, Colleen Clack, previously was General Manager of Tourism and Culture and responsible for the two culture centres.
* The recent deal with the privately owned Guelph Storm Hockey Club was negotiated by Ms. Clack and approved by council. The new ten-year deal includes the city accepting a lower portion of the receipts. This has the effect of driving up the city subsidy of the Sleeman. Yet you claim that the money brought into the city by tourists and fans who spend on food and assorted items makes it worthwhile. And your statement that for every dollar spent on city-owned facilities, you get two bucks back. And your source for this is?
* There is a full gravy boat in Guelph Transit where the employees have the highest overtime charges of any other department. It’s a system designed to serve the annual eight-month visitation of 20,000 undergraduates of the University of Guelph. Previous attempts to reduce service in the summer, weekends and statutory holidays, were rebuffed by your colleagues past and present. That’s an estimated $16 million annual subsidy.
* It’s time to suspend the bike lane program that costs $300,000 a year. Until we get our financial house in order, this program reeks of gravy. We can no longer afford it.
I’ve been writing about the city operations for many years. The personalities that have wasted millions on self-serving pet projects and esoteric efforts to change the world are using taxpayer’s money. You gloss over that residents have to pay provincial and federal income taxes, taxes on fuel, electricity, insurance, liquor and cigarettes, vehicle licenses, clothing, vehicles, maintenance and repairs to property, entertainment, camping, travel, to name a few. And, Starting in January, we will be paying HST on a new carbon tax added to our electricity bills. That James, is the ultimate progresssive outcome, slap a tax on the tax.
And you say you don’t like to pay property taxes over which you have direct control is a specious statement. This council in its first two years in office has jacked up property taxes by 6.96 per cent, water bills by 8.2 per cent. Your unelected colleagues at Guelph Hydro have increased the cost of electricity by 42 per cent in the past four years. Now we know where some of that money went, to GMHI.
So, is it any wonder that the total city assessment ratio is stuck at 16 per cent commercial and industrial and 84 per cent residential? Guelph is one of the most expensive cities in the country in which to live. If you keep it up, the city will follow the dive of property values in Alberta where your NDP coleagues are in charge.
That will result in depressed property values in Guelph as people leave and drastically reduce the city’s ability to pay its bills. We are already experiencing a provincial Liberal government whose spending and policies is continuing a massive deficit that has plagued the province’s finances for more than seven years.
The manufacturing base in Ontario has been decimated by the high costs of services. These include rising costs of electricity, taxation, soaring housing values in the major cities, a deteriating infrastructure, education, gridlock, all exacerbated by the growing carrying costs of debt and deficits. A situation in which more than half of all provincial revenue is used to pay interest on growing debt.
In 2007, the Guelph Community Energy Plan documents said that the co-generation projects would provide a platform to attract new business and industrial/commercial investment. But the needle has not moved in eight years. We are still stuck with one of the worst residential/commercial industrial ratios for a city this size in Ontario.
Does this justify this council and previous like-minded councils, to embark on energy and environmental schemes that were beyond the responsibility of a ward councillor in any city?
What excuse is there to see the growth of Full-time Eqivalent Employees (FTE’s) climb from 1,450 in 2010 ro more than 2.100 today? That’s a 33 per cent increase during a period when Guelph’s population increased by just 8.5 per cent. In just two years in office, your council has added 40 new FTE members to the staff.
Your soggy explanation of trying to justify your performance by dumping on a concerned citizen only points to the failed performance of you and your colleagues.
James, if you can’t stand the heat, then step away from the fireplace and serve your constituents that elected you. Do you ever talk to citizens about their concerns and I’m not just refering to those ward two voters who elected you?
On a final point, James, perhaps you should explain your role when the former civic museum property on Dublin Street was sold to private purchasers. You supported the proposal that claimed would provide cheap space to budding artists and computer developers. We both know that never happened and the property is now occupied by upscale tenants. The city manager of realty, Jim Stokes, resigned shortly after the deal was completed amid rumours there was a higher bid. Your thoughts?
The record shows there is no room for party politics in any municipality including Guelph.
I think you owe Bob Moore an apology.