By Gerry Barker
November 26, 2016
Recently, Mayor Guthrie told a citizen that because Brampton terminated 25 city managers last September, that such a culling was not in the cards for Guelph.
Breaking News! According to the Toronto Star, the city of Brampton is preparing to dismiss another 20 managers. Now Brampton is a city of more than 400.000 people. Guelph has a population of 130,000. That’s about 33 per cent of Brampton’s population.
Our city staff is more than 2,300 including city hall staff, police, fire, EMS and managerial staff. Yep! There are a lot of managers that are rarely accounted for when the HR departmemt publishes its annual report. We do know that 1,940 Full-time Equivalent, (FTE’s) emplyees belong to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, OMERS. But that does not include the managers who belong to their own association with their own benefits package, part-timers or contracted employees.
The delicious irony is that Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffery, was Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 2012 when she refused to send in a forensic audit team to investigate the City of Guelph’s finances. The petition was requested by GrassRoots Guelph, signed by 162 Guelph Citizens when only 50 were required . Instead, her letter welcomed citizen participation in public affairs but the parties had to sort this out themselves. She left the Ministry and the Liberal Party four months later
The irony? As mayor of Brampton, she’s now asking the Ministry to assist the city to sort out the financial mess in Brampton she inherited. Welcome to the club!
This is just one example of how our city management approaches the excessive costs of overhead with which taxpayers are annually saddled. You have to question why two cities close by, Kitchener and Cambridge, have operating and capital budgets costing 50 per cent less than Guelph.
This is not a fact that was pulled out of the air to make political hay but the unvarnished truth developed from the three cities’ audited financial reports in 2014, going back to 2011. 2014 was a benchmark year for civic government because it was an election year.
This was the data analyzed by Guelph Resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, who, using the official audited statements of Guelph, Kitchener and Cambridge, developed a comprehensive report that Guelph’s council and senior staff has ignored. Part of that eight–page study was ridiculed by members of council and staff after Mr. Fung completed his five-minute presentation, and had left the chamber.
And yet Mark Amorosi eschews the comparison telling us the city is in “sound financial condition.” As a Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) he is Guelph’s senior manager overseeing Finance, Human Resources, and the City Clerk’s office, Information Technology, Project Management and Court Services.
He insists that Mr. Fung’s analysis, observations relating to citizen’s cost per-capita is irrelevant. If Mr. Amorosi doesn’t care about what citizens must pay to live in Guelph, why doesn’t the city council?
Mr. Amorosi today is still also chief advisor reporting to Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) Derrick Thomson. As such, according to city documents, he is playing a major role in planning the city’s 2017 operating and capital spending budgets. Last year the city budget hit a record $382 million. This is Mr. Amorosi’s third city budget since taking over Finance in November 2014.
For 2015 and 2016, annual budgets, including property taxes have increased by 6.92 per cent. This year, employing a couple of deft financial maneuvers, the cost to citizens will range between 3.5 and 5 per cent. On December 7, we will get the final figure when council approves the 2017 budget.
Here is something to keep in mind. The assessment of all properties in the city will automatically increase in 2017.That allows the administration some wiggle room to cover additional overhead instead of seeking ways to reduce operating costs.
One minor adjustment was to shift storm water system costs to the non-tax supported account that will be payable through your hydro bill same as potable water services and electric power. It’s not a huge deal but it requires addition staff, estimated to cost $400,000 annually to service the storm water billing.
The second hit to the pocketbook is a staff-proposed .5 per cent infrastructure levy for ten years that will be added to the capital spending budget instead of the operating budget.
It will affect property tax but is excluded from the operating budget. No matter how you slice the salami, it’s still salami.
In Toronto, Mayor John Tory made it clear yesterday that raising property taxes cannot finance infrastructure and transit expansion. Instead he proposed making the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway as toll roads with revenue dedicated to maintain the city’s aging infrastructure and finance needed transit expansion that has been underfunded for 20 years.
Is this starting to ring a bell in Guelph? In eight years the former administration headed by Mayor Karen Farbridge, did not address the aging infrastructure despite being warned by the Association of Ontario Municipalities, (AMO) which estimates the infrastructure shortfall in the City of Guelph is $260 million. That estimate was two years ago.
Bottom line? Guelph has a spending problem where millions have been wasted on projects that have consumed your tax dollars to create a “world class city in terms of funding of waste management, environmental projects with no basic business plans and mismanagement of city projects costing more than $120 million.
On a Personal Note
Folks, I’ve been reporting the City of Guelph management for ten years. I’m a citizen and pay taxes here. I’m just a guy who has spent a lifetime covering everything from the Beatles first North American Tour for the Toronto Star, to be an Assistant Managing Editor of the 370-person Star newsroom. It was one of the most dynamic and accomplished editorial staff in the country. I also managed municipal, provincial and federal candidates’ election campaigns. I have no particular political affiliation, but when asked, I describe myself as a Red Tory who believes in fiscal management of our affairs and supporting the social issues that make our country great.
I care about this city where my wife, who was born here, and I live.
It angers me that our management is continuing the action plans of the previous administration that were rejected by the voters in Octrober 2014.
I am proud that many citizens, all of whom have joined the opposition to waste and spending by a politicized administration.
It is interesting that the Guelph Mercury Tribune reporters and editor keep referring xertain individuals as being part of GrassRoots Guelph, a citizens activist organizations that has been silent for more than two years.
If there ever was a newspaper, I use the term loosely, that is so married to the city’s communication department, it’s the Guelph Tribune.
It’s as naked as a jaybird not willing to investigate or support any opposition by our citizen, but just using the self-serving pablum being fed by the 12-person city communications department.
Did I mention that the city communications staff is also overseen by DCAO Mark Amorosi?
This folks, is how managed news creates absolute control of the message and political power.
Our city administration cannot keep jacling up taxes to pay for failed programs and projects that were mismanaged.