By Gerry Barker
November 14, 2916
The man in charge of our administration finances has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh the documented proof that compared per capita costs with other Ontario cities is irrelevant when it comes to Guelph’s financial situation.
I give Mr. Amorosi the silver tongue award for twisting and manipulating the facts. Here’s an example:
Guelph citizen Pat Fung, CA, CPA presented to council in September referred the statement made by Mr. Amorosi during the 2016 budget talks last December.
“The DCAO (Amorosi) stated the staff budgets has been reduced in successive years.”
Well, what’s Mr. Amorosi’s definition of “budgets?”
Here’s his explanation: Mr. Fung used the city’s official audited statements to show that expenses have increased by 52 per cent since Mr. Amorosi joined the staff in 2008. The chief of city finances claimed that he was referring to “reduced budgets in successive years” as part of the budget preparation. He referenced using data from starting point to presentation to council as evidence to support this – Mr. Fung’s statement disregards this context.”
Welcome to Amorosi-Speak.
The DCAO, responsible for the most important portfolio in the City of Guelph’s Corporate portfolio, shoots down the legitimate analysis prepared by a financial expert, that clearly shows our public finances are not on a “solid financial foundation” as Mr. Amorosi keeps saying.
Is he now telling council that Pat Fung does not understand budgeting? Is he saying he doesn’t understand “context?” For the record, Mr. Fung has done more corporate budgets and analysis including, reducing overhead costs than Mark Amorosi has ever experienced as a Human Resources trained specialist.
So if Mark Amorosi believes that city expenses did not rise by 52 per cent in eight years, why have our citizen’s expenses living in Guelph payable to the city, its subsidiary corporations and cost sharing with outside institutions, have collectively increased by an estimated 80 per cent? It is particularly interesting when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by only 16 per cent during the same period.
Let us count the ways of how our Guelph costs have risen during the same eight years. Property taxes have almost doubled; electricity charges have increased by 42 per cent in four years; water bills have increased by more than 83 per cent since 2007; transit subsidy of 15 million a year; bicycle lanes development annual subsidy of $300,000; waste management operational losses of $270,000 a year; now the city is charging residents wanting to deliver trash to the multi-million dollar Waste Management Innovation Resource Centre $5 to use the facility the citizens financed.
The liability nobody in charge wants to talk about
But the biggie current white elephant liability is the cost of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI), managed by Guelph Municipal Holding Inc (GMHI) that has worthless assets. GMHI is bound by legal contracts that must be unwound. Add a debt load estimated to be $90 million including an impaired asset of some $69 million, as stated in the city’s 2015 annual audited financial statement. It’s now sitting on the city books as an impaired asset that GMHI has no financial ability to pay back or even hold tangible underlying assets.
That was originally a loan from Guelph Hydro that GMHI controlled when the former Mayor and her GHMI board folded Guelph Hydro into GMHI. Now the city has moved Guelph Hydro to become a city-controlled department eliminating any former arms length relationship with the utility.
Why did council do this? Because it is paving the way to sell Guelph Hydro to pay off the GMHI debacle and get that impaired asset off the city books. It is possible that the sale could bring in some $150,000.
Do we really want to have Mr. Amorosi get his hands on $150 million after the dubious track record of the previous Farbridge administration and now the Guthrie administration? Is it oblivious of what has occurred to the city’s finances in the past two years?
Mr. Fung’s analysis is dead on. Guelph has serious spending problems that is not going away.
Here’s why. There are the political reasons and there is the cost of operations.
First, let’s consider finances. As Mr. Fung has accurately pointed out, the city has a very high cost of operational overhead. It’s 50 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge. In his analysis he pointed out that staff costs are eating a large piece of the operating budget. This area is manageable and does not affect services to the public.
Cutting the city administration overhead is not being considered
But Mr. Amorosi refuses to even consider reducing staff. In fact in his first two budgets as chief of finance, he persuaded council to add some 40 additional full-time staff.
Judging from the reports coming out of city hall regarding the 2017 budget, we could be facing a total city tax and user fee increases of 5 per cent. First, there is the staff proposal of 1.96 per cent; then add the proposed .5 per cent, ten-year special levy for infrastructure maintenance; then add the annual assessment increase on property; the storm water levy of $4 a month added to your hydro bill; your water levy that will be increased by 4 per cent starting in January; your hydro bill over which the city now has control; Premier Wynne’s carbon tax will be billed starting in January on your hydro bill; the high cost of just moving around in Guelph, transit, parking, increased traffic congestion.
These are citizens’ pocketbook costs that Mr. Amorosi fails to calculate when the 2017 budget is being presented, not just to city council but to we “per capita citizens” who actually pay the greatest proportion of the approved budget.
According to the city Human Resources department there are some 1.440 city-staff only employees. of which 55.5 per cent do not live in Guelph including Mr. Amorosi and Mr. Thomson. Wonder why some 799 city employees don’t live where they work or don’t pay taxes? Is it possible that Guelph is too expensive in which to reside?
Council still doesn’t get it
It is interesting that council voted 11 to 1 to adopt the ten-year property tax special levy to pay for the infrastructure backlog that eight years of the Farbridge administration failed to address. Failed that is because of investing in other priorities such as bike lanes; vehicle lane reductions; Urbacon lawsuit; overbuilt Waste Management Innovation Resource Centre on Dunlop Drive; the Communality Energy Initiative and focusing on downtown redevelopment.
But the Farbridge administration had no capital to build a south-end recreational centre or a new downtown library. Unless the operational overhead costs are not substantially reduced, don’t expect either of these projects to be built in the next ten years. The Chief Administrative Officer has stated that the nine-year capital spending budget is already $170 million short of capital and it’s only a year old.
It’s more than establishing priorities; it’s about serving the needs of the people, the “per capita citizens” whose needs have been ignored and left behind. Not by just the dedicated Ms. Farbridge loyalists, but present control of the city by James Gordon and the rest of the Bloc of Seven on council.
With thousands of litres of water leaking from municipal pipes why is council talking about Nestle?
And what are they talking about? It’s about the underground aquifer from which Guelph and other communities draw their water. Instead they focus on Nestle drawing water at Aberfoyle urging the province to control bottled water operations.
Yet they say or do nothing about the tremendous leakage of water from the city’s aging pipes. The amount of water taken by Nestle is miniscule compared to the water wasted and leakage problem in Guelph. Their solution? Increase taxes to pay for repairs.
Do we really trust this administration to use our money to be spent on infrastructure repairs with its record of tapping into dedicated reserves over the last ten years to balance the city books?
Sorry that my trust in this administration to work for the people has long vanished.
I am reminded of a motion, I believe it was in the 2015 budget to spend $50,000 to solve the infestation of Canada geese in the city parks, particularly those located adjacent to water. Recently during my wife’s morning walk; sidestepping the goose pooh, she counted 127 geese in Riverside Park.
If council and staff can’t handle the goose problem, how can we expect it to solve the mismanagement of our “per capita” finances?
If you have not read the Fung analysis, it can be obtained from http://www.guelphspeaks