Monthly Archives: December 2016

Wynne Government degrades space for homeowners with its high-density housing policies

By Gerry Barker

December 26, 2016

Former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion reported to Premier Kathleen Wynne that the Province’s rules of urban development were imposing anti “sprawl” restrictions on builders and citizens. The government is engaged in forcing urban municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area to build high-density housing (HDH) – strip-linked homes, low rise condos and town houses.

These policies are frustrating the human desire for space where they live. I call it government degradation of personal space.

There is a basic human desire to have a home where there is freedom of movement and a place for families to grow. The latest demands of the pointy-headed planners in downtown Toronto, is to increase the number of households and jobs per hectare from 50 to 80. In already urbanized areas, the increase rises from 40 residences per hectare to 60.

There are two terrible long-term caveats to consider in this provincial decision. One is affordability of single-family homes. The cost of these homes will rise exponentially as builders of those homes either flee to other distant jurisdictions or switch to build HDH homes. As the number of single-family homes decreases, the cost of housing in Metropolitan areas in the province will explode. It is already happening in Toronto.

Those municipal leaders who are in favour of high-density homes dismiss this argument. Mostly because it’s about revenue. Those HDH developments deliver millions in added revenue because the increased number of residences deliver more revenue per hectare than single-family development. The HDH residences are taxed not only for operating and capital spending by the city but provide increased assessment, contributing to the municipality’s bottom line.

The Province’s experts say this is greater use of land and less strain on civic services. But every time your assessment increases, your taxes go up.

The story of HDH in Guelph

You do not have to travel far in Guelph to see the high-density developments that were planned and approved by the Farbridge administration in her eight years as mayor. She saw the value in boosting revenue from these developments south of Arkel to Clair Road east of Victoria and Gordon Street.

Another more recent HDH development is on Eastview Road adjacent to the former Guelph landfill site.

In eight years, the Farbridge administration did not approve any single-family home development in the city. It is a city with hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, much of it owned by the University of Guelph.

This is what I call cramming people into a residence that has no street parking, waste removal, with many forced to use private contractors because the city collection vehicles cannot maneuver. Yet, many residents in these HDH developments still pay for waste collection through their taxes.

The former mayor and her council supporters, were well ahead of the curve ten years ago when they launched the HDH development program while explaining it was part of the Provincial government’s “Places to Grow,” policy.

Farbridge campaigned in 2006 that the city had to stop urban sprawl (read that single family homes). I remember a column written by Tony Leighton in the Mercury at the time, complaining that the single-family homes built in Guelph were all the same with little design or panache (my word). I recall the term “cookie-cutter development” used.

That was the beginning of planning a city without including single-family home development. The basic planning principle of mixed-use development was thrust aside by the Farbridge Administration for all the wrong reasons. The most glaring was the abandonment of develeoping affordable housing in Guelph by the administration for eight years.

City angles for getting something for nothing

Today, ten years later, we have a city council determined to (a) gain control of the 549 acres of the Reformatory lands without paying the Province, and (b) sending the mayor to consult with Premier Kathleen Wynne, MPP Liz Sandals and MP Lloyd Longfield. The inclusion of Longfield escapes me as the lands are totally out of his jurisdiction.

The administration is proposing a “collaborative accommodation” with the Province. This would justify the estimated thousands of dollars already spent by city employees to plan a bucolic “Vision,” a Euro-style, ground efficient complex, that is self-contained with shopping, work sites and bicycles. Perhaps a few electric motorized scooters.

Now the Provincial Liberals are anxious to overcome their revenue deficits by next year, according to Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Do you believe that the city administration, is sending our mayor to persuade lending us the rights to plan the lands without paying for it? The Wynne government can be blamed for a lot of mistakes but I don’t believe this will be one of them.

Think about it. If the Province allowed this modern version of lend lease, can you imagine the rest of Ontario’s 445 municipalities will demand a similar deal to gain ownership of provincial lands?

It then brings up the question: If the working agreement between the city and Province regarding the reformatory lands expired in 2014, why is the staff bringing it up now? Who is pushing this? Is it the staff or the majority of Council who support another failed Farbridge initiative?

The staff admits there is no money to purchase the property. This is self-evident, as the administration cannot afford to build the Wilson Street Parkade, South End recreation centre or a new downtown library.

These are all long term, capital projects that former and present administrations have failed to fulfill.

Where did the money go?

Taxes and user fees have increased steadily.

The answer is that our money has been spent with irresponsible abandon on building monuments to self aggrandizement such as the Waste Resources Innovation Centre on Dunlop Road; and increasing city staff to a point that is unsustainable when compared to similar sized cities; the multi-million dollar losses Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc endured that was personally chaired by the former mayor and Chief Executive officer, Ann Pappert; The $23 million loss building the new City Hall complex.

These are some of the reasons why there is a capital funding deficit of $170 million, according to Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson.

If the city cannot afford to purchase the lands, how does the administration sell the idea of putting a large-scale development on lands they do not own? Doesn’t the owner of the lands have to approve the plan of subdivision and go through the long approval process? How is the public, the Ontario Municipal Board that would have to adjudicate any objections to the plan and, interested parties become involved in the process?

On a slightly different topic, a release by a Guelph radio station last week declared the salary for CAO Thomson was $230,000 fixed for three years. What was new information is that his contract includes six weeks vacation plus an extra week in lieu of overtime. It is difficult to comprehend why the CAO should be rewarded for working overtime. This means that the CAO will be off the job 13.4 per cent of his time in office each year of the contract.

Then there is the car allowance of $800 a week or $9,600 per year. That is a taxable benefit. When he was Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, his car allowance was $6,300 a year.

It appears Mr. Thomson’s annual remuneration totals $239,600 or $4,607 a week.

What the release didn’t mention was the effect of the cost of Mr. Thomson’s pension or the other perks of his office.

Mayor Guthrie felt it was a fair arrangement and praised Mr. Thomsom for revealing some of the details of his executive pay.

Now, if only the mayor would reveal the details of the $98,202 increases that went to former CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson for 2015. It would reinforce his dedication to open government and his fiduciary responsibility to the people.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why is the Staff promoting another failed Farbridge vision project?

By Gerry Barker

December 19, 2016

Help! Tonight council will debate a Staff proposal that literally demands the province to review its dispersal of the former Reformatory property. Staff recommends that council direct the Mayor to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne and six of her cabinet ministers including President of the Treasury Board, Guelph MPP Liz Sandals.

It is now complicated with the resignation of the Minister of Community Safety and Corrections, David Orazietti, MPP for Sault Ste. Marrie.

This Staff recommendation is a power move that hit a brick wall at Queen’s Park. Minister Sandals was too busy to return phone calls. Her staff referred the matter to Infrastructure Ontario Communications Advisor Ian McConachie. He said that municipalities have the opportunity to purchase the property at market value.

In case you are wondering, the market value of raw land in the area is estimated to be $50,000 an acre multiplied by 549 acres is $27,950,000. That average land price is probably conservative given the soaring costs of land and housing.

To its credit, the staff report says: “However, the city cannot afford to buy this land.”

It goes on to say that the city should not respond to an expression of interest, the precursor of selling the land, if and when the province decides to sell the 549 acres.

The staff fears that if the property is sold to the highest bidder the purchaser won’t share the city’s vision of land use in which they call the Guelph Innovation District (GID) of 1,100 acres. The Reformatory lands represent half of that total.

This was a vision originally launched by the former Farbridge administration. The use of staff resources to work on laying out the plan for the lands, was one of the reasons there were serious staff delays in processing other subdivision and business development. Over eight years, it earned Guelph the dubious distinction of “being a difficult place in which to do business.”

The cost of all this planning and engineering conducted on property that the city did not own, is another concealment of wasted spending. But at what costs?

Well here are some current examples.

There is no funding available today to build either or both, the South-End Recreation Centre or the badly needed downtown main library. The current estimated capital required is $125 million. That’s today, it will be greater five years from now due to inflation and increased borrowing costs.

Or, how about the estimated $107 million, blown on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), Envida Community Energy Corp. and Guelph Hydro. Citizens will probably never know how this failed Community Energy Initiative, personally headed by the former mayor, drove up their electricity bills. The increase was 45 per cent in four years. Also, former CAO Ann Pappert was named by Ms. Farbridge as CEO of GMHI for four years. Small world.

This brings up two failures of management to collect money due to the city.

The first is that several years ago, failure to collect $180,000 from certain residents in the Lowes Road and Dawn Avenue area who failed to pay between $7,000 and $10,000 in local improvement charges for converting wells and septic systems to the city system. The rub is that a number of people did pay.

The other example of mismanagement is the collection of fines levied in the provincial court that the city manages in the old city hall. More than $4.5 million is determined to be “uncollectable.” That’s just for 2015.

Then there is the Urbacon case in which our new city hall cost $23 million more than the original contract.

Moving on, the millions that were spent on the Dunlop Drive Waste Resource Innovation Centre that, according to an internal audit, cost taxpayers some $270,000 a year just to keep the doors open. And if you want to rid yourself in yard waste, it’ll cost you five bucks.

As one citizen complained at the weigh scale: “But I’m a citizen and my taxes paid for this place.” Security!

And let’s not forget the Detroit deal in which the Motor City shipped recyclable material for processing in Guelph. Instead of 100 per cent materials it turned out that only 60 per cent was used for recycling. There are reports the deal cost the city more than $3 million. Both the senior management officials allegedly responsible for cutting this deal are no longer with the city.

From out of the ashes

Now we learn that the Staff is attempting to resurrect the GID. On the one hand it recommends that council “direct” the mayor to hold talks with Premier Wynne and six of her cabinet colleagues to expedite gaining ownership and control to ensure the ‘vision” of the GID land-usage plan.

These conditions include a “carbon neutral development.” Create a mixed use community and a research and development cluster.

Today the Staff is urging the Province to accept its GID vision by setting up a collaborative arrangement that would result in achieving joint city/provincial growth, environmental and economic development goals.

My first question is: “What’s in this for the Province who owns the land?”

My second question is, why the Staff is even considering this huge project when they know there is insufficient financial support to accomplish this?

My third question is, how much has already been spent in terms of staff costs and consultants to advance this project?

The working arrangement the city had with the Province over these lands expired in 2014.

So now the Staff, which should know better than any living being in the city, is attempted to perpetuate another failed vision project of the previous administration. Oh! Maybe it’s because most of the senior staff that were involved during the costly planning of the GID are still there.

The recent 2017 budget approval by council for the third time in a row, refuses to reduce operating costs, instead, continues to increase them with an unnecessary property tax levy and adding more staff.

Both staff and Council were presented with a comprehensive plan to reduce costs and avoid the property tax levy brought to their attention by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA. It was an eight-page, detailed review and proposal using data from four years of the city’s own Financial Information Report’s, filed with the Province annually. It was ignored by the administration.

Mayor Guthrie has been a vociferous supporter of the senior staff. First, it was his defence of former CAO Ann Pappert when he threatened a citizen with legal action because she outlined the former CAO’s record of mismanaging the city. Now the Mayor’s executive team that he describes as smoothly running the city, is the best he’s ever experienced.

Now more than ever it’s time to recruit an Auditor General to oversee the operation of our city. It’s necessary because too much power has been given to the staff without checks or balances. The CAO has absolute control over all the staff. The Mayor seems to lack control of events including annual budgets.

My main complaint is that His Worship never explained to the citizens why those three senior managers received increases totaling $98,202 for 2015.

****

Having said that, on a personal note to all, Barbara and I wish you and yours the best for the holidays and may the New Year bring health, happiness, peace and goodwill.

****

Correction: The figure pf $275,000,000 in paragraph four of the original posting was incorrect. The estimated total cost of the Reformatory acres is $27,500,000. Guelph speaks regrets this error that may have misled readers. GB

 

 

 

 

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A 19th century French philosopher exposes Guelph’s disasterous socialist experiment

By Gerry Barker

December 15, 2016

This week a commentary in the National Post addressed Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new “Patients First Act.” With an approval rating of less than 14 per cent, Ms. Wynne is desperate to resuscitate her failing tenure with another plan that will directly affect the traditional sanctity of doctor-patient confidentiality.

This Act will allow government agents to inspect the doctor’s business and an individual’s medical records without a warrant. They may copy records and doctor’s business details. They may question a patient on matters relevant to their investigation. This macabre Act Bill 41 is supposed to monitor local integrated health networks to ensure these organizations, controlled by central planning, are delivering efficient, compassionate service.

Didn’t the Stalinist Communist central -planning -system failures lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union?

This law treats our right to privacy with casual disdain. Section 12.1 (6) says inspectors can’t look at your records without either (a) your consent, or “(b) in such circumstances as may be prescribed.” And keep your arm up, because in a blizzard of Wynne-Speak jargon, Bill 41 alters 19 different statutes. These days, that’s how government works.

Alexis Charles Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a 19th century French diplomat, political scientist, and historian.

He warned, writing in Democracy in America, that given half a chance the state “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform … The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Isn’t that a stunning portrait of the administration of the city of Guelph? Isn’tlike the crumbling of the Soviet Union, after ten years of authoritarian control of our city by a group of leftists, led for much of that time by former Mayor Karen Farbridge?

In Guelph, these central planning powers are rampant across the city’s administration. Look no further than the recent 2017 budget, approved by nine members of council with only three opposing, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Bob Bell. Coun. Phil Allt was unable to attend for medical reasons.

In the past two years, seven members of city council, supporters of the former mayor’s agenda, has dominated continuing central planning polices to turn our city into a socialist community that failed to evaporate with her defeat in 2014. Want to talk about the millions spent on waste management? Reducing vehicle lanes on major roads to accommodate bicycle lanes? Turning new developments into high-density housing with no open space and most with no garbage collection?

Comparing democracy with Socialism

Here is another apt quote of M. Tocqueville: “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: Equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

That’s how it works in Guelph and the Liberal government in the Province of Ontario that has endured 13 years in Office. Both governments are shameless and dedicated to a socialistic agenda under the guise of progressive action.

The finances of both governments are in a shambles. In Guelph, we are experiencing an administration that continues it’s spending on projects large and small but with little attention on the costs associated with running a $500 million corporation.

Here are some examples:

The 1,950 city staff, not counting the managerial staff or part-time workers, is bloated and badly needs a rationalization study, preferably performed by third party experts to, dare I say it, cut the fat?

Witness that a year ago when council was told that a total staff rationalization program would cost $550,000. Adding13 new staff for 2017 costing more than twice that seems incredibly stupid and careless of the people’s money. The majority control of the administration seems only capable of hitting the property tax ATM’s and wallets of the people with a state that “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform”: Alexis Tocqueville.

Here’s another example of your council playing with your money. The 2016 budget included $700,000 for new parking meter heads so the city could use the revenue to help pay for the proposed Wilson Street Parking garage next door to city hall. Sounds like a plan, right? Well the parking meter heads were pushed into the 2018 budget. Council voted to use some $650,000 of it to launch a final design of the proposed South End Recreation Centre. The end price tag of the design plan was an estimated $3.500,000. That’s just to design the actual complex, mind you..

They did this without any capital to build the estimated $65 million centre. Again, the $60 million downtown library was pushed into the unknown future. The authors of all this were the two Ward 6 councillors and the majority went along with it. It’s nothing but a political move to ensure that Mark MacKinnon and Karl Wettstein get re-elected. Residents in Ward 6 are being used by council to believe their Recreation Centre is on its way

A final thought on this boondoggle: The $3.5 million design plan has a lifespan of five years. Factoring in inflation and the continued make-believe financial theories by staff and council, there will be an estimated $70 million needed to spend on the South End Centre.

The approval of council to budget $5,000 for a concert by some well-known band in the future that the Mayor got all tizzy about probably because he may get invited to play the drums with a name band.

Cam, why not spend it on the geese that are fouling our parks so the folks attending don’t have to sidestep the droppings?

Only some outside expertise on how to live within our means and a lot of common sense will straitghen out the Guelph finances. It has taken 10 years to put the city in this hole; it will probably take another ten years to make our city affordable and livable again.

Aux Barricades, Mes Amis!

 

 

 

 

 

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Why does the city administration ignore reducing the costs of overhead?

 

By Gerry Barker

December 12, 2016

To the people who manage our city – the senior staff and city council – last Wednesday’s 2017 budget discussion was just another day at the office.

Again we face increased taxes with little attempt to reduce the costs of living in Guelph that have substantially increased since the advent of the Farbridge dominated council in 2007.

The root cause is the cult of infallibility. It is a state of government that largely ignores the basic interests of the citizens. For eight years, there was no recourse for citizens to object or complain about the rising costs of living here.

Then along came Urbacon and the citizens reacted predictably by defeating the mayor and two of her loyalist councillors while two other decided not to run.

Yes, the only recourse a citizen has occurs every four years. There is no right to recall or dismiss elected officials. Nor is there any opportunity to question the management, the hired professionals, who, for ten years now, have continued the failed policies of the former Farbridge administration.

Nothing has changed since 2014. There are now eight councillors who continue to support the past record of mismanagement, that wasted millions on failed projects, and worst of all, lack the expertise or willingness to reform a broken government.

Now we know that the Group of Seven progressives, who have been in control of city council for ten years, believe they are infallible when it comes to running our city. At the same time the four realists on council face a difficult, if not impossible task of reforming the way the city is currently being managed. In the middle is Mayor Guthrie who walks a tightrope between the two factions in an attempt to maintain harmony and compromise.

It is now painfully apparent that the eight progressives’ stubbornly believe that they are infallible and know what’s best for the city and its residents. They are mostly ordinary folks with limited experience in overseeing a corporation worth more than $500 million. What they do have is the support of a senior management that essentially is running the city.

Citizens make their views known but are largely ignored.

Even when an experienced professional expert, Pat Fung CPA CA, presents a thorough eight-page analysis of four years plus, of city financial operations compared to other like-sized cities, the senior staff and Group of Seven progressives ignore the details and solid advice.

In fact they added ten new permanent employees to the staff. Four were Paramedics to serve Erin Township through an agreement with the township.

So while the weekly Guelph Pravda newspaper weighs in claiming that the new budget cuts the fat, somebody must have had a thumb of that scale.

The Fung report nails the root cause of our runaway taxes on all levels. Property taxes are up 10.08 per cent since the Mayor was elected. Remember? He promised to create a “Better Guelph” and keep property tax increases to the rate of inflation. How’s that working for you?

For some inexplicable reason, the senior staff fails to consider what each resident must pay to live in this city. They disregard the ever-growing cost of staff and liabilities, electricity, water, storm water maintenance, Wynne’s carbon tax and city services user fees. My complaint lies with the annual assessment increases that hit property owners every year. Each property valuation uptick adds revenue to the city.

Regardless, we still get stuck again with a budget increase of $3.13 per cent. Oh! We are told that a house assessed at $350,000 with the increase of 1 per cent, jokingly known as the “infrastructure levy,” that the increase will only amount to $120.

I had hopes that CAO Derrick Thomson would clean up the high cost of operations that are 50 per cent higher that either Kitchener or Cambridge. Despite the warning of the progressive, cutting overhead costs does not mean cutting public services. It’s a myth perpetrated annually. Thomson did not help when he warned last September that public services would not be cut in the 2017 budget but did not mention overhead.

Yep, the thumb is still on the scale and the people are stuck with it.

When they believe they are right and continue to tap the purses and wallets of the people, that’s because they believe they are infallible. There is only one guy I know that carries the rite of infallibility, and he lives in Rome.

The only way it can change is coming in October 2018 when we can elect responsible and experienced people to represent the people’s interests. When you have a councillor, Mark MacKinnon, says that because your home has increased in value, you can take out a reverse mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage or take out a second or third mortgage to pay your taxes. Spoken like a mortgage expert.

 

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It was the day of Circus Maximus as city council again mugged the citizens

By Gerry Barker

December 8, 2016

The news from council, by a 9 to 3 margin, approved the 2017 budget with the cost to citizens of 3.13 per cent. Since March 2015, the Guthrie administration has increased property taxes 10.08 per cent. The three principled councillors who voted against the budget were Christine Billings, Bob Bell and Dan Gibson.

But that’s not all, folks. It does not include the extra fees we have to pay to turn on the lights; get potable water to cook and bathe; pay to service the city storm water control system; the Wynne government’s carbon tax starting next month that will be buried in you hydro bill; the hidden cost of ever increasing assessment on your property; and now the property tax levy that is in place for ten years in which the council can increase at will annually.

Our mayor, the one who most citizens voted for in 2014, and who promised to keep property taxes at the rate of inflation has, in two years, failed to control expenses. It was the key point made by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA who prepared an eight-page analysis of the city finances. His underlying data showed that expenses and operating costs, i.e. overhead, could be reduced to a point when a property tax levy would not be necessary to repair the aging infrastructure. The Guthrie administration turned a blind eye on Mr. Fung’s analysis. Instead, the mayor voted for acceptance of the budget along with eight other members of council.

I spent three hours Wednesday afternoon, December 7, watching our city councillors approve the 2017 city budget. I apologize; the Mayor announced at 5:10 a 25-minute break to allow the staff members to scarfe down pre-ordered pizza.

I confess, I couldn’t take another several hours of wrangling, spite, childishness and self-serving missions.

I returned to my car and was ticketed for $30 for failing to pay for parking in the Wilson street parking lot to attend a council meeting. P.S. I tried to use my credit card but could not read the instructions on the poorly lit instruction screen. I assumed with the shambled conditions entering the Wilson parking lot that the enforcement bunnies would lay off. Boy! Was I wrong?

It makes one wonder why the city can enforce its bylaws but fail to get rid of the geese polluting the public parks. But I digress.

In my time spent, watching the councillors perform; I realized that some need adult supervision.

Here are some examples:

There was no specific mention of replenishing those reserves that were tapped to pay the Urbacon Settlement. There is still no explanation about those 2015 pay increases received by the three top executive of the city. Still few details of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) wind-up, as announced a couple of months ago. There was no explanation of the 2016 budget variances and if negative, what is the source of funding?

Cuncillors June Hofland and Mike Salisbury got into a hissy fit about not being informed of some funds coming from unexpected sources two days before the meeting. CAO Derrick Thomson said the Guelph Hydro Dividend would be $1.9 million this year, a $400,000 increase. The councillors’ responses were lively and critical of the CAO for not telling them until the eve of approving the 2017 budget.

It gets better. Coun. Christine Billings, a council appointed member of the Health Board, when questioned, says the Public Health Board sent out an agenda Monday night for consideration at their meeting Wednesday night. The briefing notes to council representatives Ms. Billings, Ms. Hofland and Mark MacKinnon stated that there was consideration to return $751,000 to the city as a one-time return of capital for the building of the Public Health headquarters on Stone Road and in Orangeville.

Ms.Hofland pouted that she told the Public Health administration that she could not attend the meeting due to her obligations to attend the city budget meeting.

She admitted not reading the briefing note but still complained that she should have been advised before the budget meetings.

While all this wrangling was going on, the Health Board had not approved any rebate to the city. The briefing notes indicated a vote on rebating $751,000. A report said that the amount was $770,000 approved by the Health Board and would be transferred to the infrastructure reserve fund along with the extra $400,000 from Guelph Hydro.

Two issues that passed

Two important issues approved by a majority of council directly affecting citizens, were the 1 per cent property tax levy. The staff recommended a .5 per cent tax levy for ten years to repair and maintain the city infrastructure that had been neglected by the previous administration. The motion stated that the 1 per cent levy would be divided with half going to infrastructure and the other half going to “city buildings.”

So what “city buildings” are the proponents talking about?

As a public service here is my take on where the money is going.

Earlier in the meeting the council agreed to shelve a $700,000 charge in the 2016 budget for buying new parking meter heads. Instead, use $650,000 to pay for a South End Recreation Centre design to include hockey rinks, library, swimming pools, senior centre, and community activity rooms.

During the discussion it was asked about the lifespan of the final design plan of the project and the Staff said five years. So, a faction of council pushed to use a tax levy not just to replace leaking infrastructure but build the South Ed rec centre. That levy at current rates will earn about $13 million over ten years. It’s a drop in the bucket if there is not additional financing to start the project within five years because of the inflation factor. That project will cost much more than $60 million in five years.

This is another example of pure political theatre that is practised with your money without any say in the matter.

The other increase was hiring more full-time staff costing $999,150. It includes four additional Para-medics for Erin Township ($351,808) that is part of service agreement with the County of Wellington; four senior employees earning more than $100,000 and two lower paid Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees.

The staff recommended 13 new positions of which council rejected three.

It would seem that with some 1,440 FTE’s working for the city that surely some of those jobs could be filled internally with the exception of the Para-medics. It is yet another example of staff adding more to the overhead.

The staff proposed an operating budget for 2017 of $222.9 million compared to the 2016 budget of $216 million. It is a 3.1 per cent increase or $6.9 million.

The Ward 6tag team of Councillors Wettstein and MacKinnon, persuaded council to proceed with a detailed design of the proposed South End recreation centre.

The hitch is there is no provision in the capital budget to pay for the project. The current estimate is $60 million that will increase annually before the shovels hit the ground. Note reference above.

Oddly enough, Coun. James Gordon. who sits on the Library board was silent during this discussion. That’s another $60 million for a new downtown Library. The Mayor said there is a possibility that both projects could be completed with a 3 P partnership with private investment holding partial ownership.

Citizens should be concerned when the Mayor pats himself on the back stating this was the smoothest preparation of a city budget he’s ever seen. After approving three consecutive budget increases totaling 10.08 per cent, he’d better start thinking about the next one, the 2018 civic election year.

The wild bunch

Meanwhile, council let’s get back to basics and do something about those wild geese occupying our parks. Speaking from personal experience, the breeding season begins in March. My wife, Barbara, has counted 127 geese wintering in Riverside Park today. That’s a potential of 64 females laying eggs to create from six to eight goslings. That’s a potential 496 hatchlings in just one park munching and pooping on the fresh new grass in the park.

Even the mayor agrees with me on this.

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It’s not about tax and spend in Guelph; it’s now about spend and tax

By Gerry Barker

December 5, 2016

Editor’s note: I want to thank all those folks who have expressed support for me and www.guelphspeaks.ca.

Here we are nearing the end of the 2017 budget exercise to determine the taxes and fees the citizens will have to pay next year.

Wednesday, December 7, council will finalize the 2017 budget. It has been a carefully orchestrated process to meet a number of capital spending proposals and operating expenses that council is facing today and next year and the years following.

Along comes Ward 6 Councillor Mark MacKinnon stating he intends to introduce a motion to increase the special property tax levy from .5 per cent, as proposed by staff, to 1 per cent for 2017. Councillors Cathy Downer, June Hofland and James Gordon will join his motion but for different reasons as it turned out.

Let’s examine the motives and background of these four members of city council.

Mr. MacKinnon has implied that paying taxes is a privilege of citizenship and citizens owning property should mortgage their properties to pay their taxes. Further, he argues that with the increasing equity in private properties is reason to force people to pay for the wasteful spending of previous administrations. This outrageous theory is the hallmark of the previous administration. The property taxes and user fee increases in the past 10 years have soared in Guelph to a point where the city operating and capital spending costs are 50 per cent greater than either Kitchener and Cambridge.

The MacKinnon theory is that we all have to pay taxes and user fees whatever council demands. Question: Does that mean that when property values decline, that taxes are lowered?

First, during this entire 2017 budget process the fiscal elephant in the room has been the condition of the city’s infrastructure. There is ample reason for concern. Following a lead by Coun. James Gordon, council spent hours debating the state of the aquifer that supplies water to the city. His target was Nestle who draw on the same aquifer, one of the largest fresh water sites in the world. The fact that the Nestle bottling operations are not in Guelph, failed to deter Gordon and his fellow travelers from trying to plug the Nestle draws.

Which brings us back to the Guelph infrastructure problem. It is reported that the underground water pipes are leaking far more aquifer water that the draws by Nestle. You have to give Mr. Gordon credit. His water crusade caught the eye of the Wynne government and they are debating stopping Private Corporations from drawing water from Ontario sources

Question: Why is attacking a private company licensed to draw water more important to city council than working to fix our leaking infrastructure?

The city infrastructure now needs capital spending of more than $200 million according to an estimate of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

Ward 5 Coun. Cathy Downer, is a member of AMO and presumably she concurs with the estimated cost of restoring the city’s vital infrastructure. It has been starved of funding for nine years because money was being spent on major waste management and other environmental projects. Ms. Downer, although not on council from 2006 to 2014, was a close personal friend of the former Mayor, Karen Farbridge, and was her campaign manager for the 2010 civic election that the Mayor won.

So while Ms. Downer supports doubling the levy for 2017 she wants to split the funding with half going to infrastructure and the other half going toward “city building projects.” She did not detail which city building projects she had in mind.

Ward 3 Coun. June Hofland, agrees with the Downer position in supporting the 1 per cent levy motion. She took it a tiny step further saying that “city building” included partial funding of the south end recreation centre.

To sort this out, this Wednesday night, council will vote on the motion to double the levy for one year. The staff proposed a .5 per cent levy on property taxes for ten years with a reopening of the levy on a regular basis. The staff did not propose doubling the levy in the first year.

Let’s review. Coun. MacKinnon believes that citizens must pay taxes and fees even if they have to increase the mortgage on their homes.

Coun. James Gordon takes the position that fighting a private corporation is more important than solving a serious infrastructure problem in the city he represents.

Coun. June Hofland, supports doubling the levy to 1 per cent but splits the funds to support a recreation centre in Ward 6. That derails the staff proposal to take a longer view to solve the neglected infrastructure problem. She was a member of council during the Farbridge administration and apparently, in her mind, infrastructure repairs and maintenance was not a priority for eight years.

Cathy Downer was not on the Farbridge council. Her proposal to split the property tax levy between operating budget and capital spending, defeats the urgent intent to clean up a neglected mess underneath our city.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the proposals made to council and staff by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, to reduce the operating overhead without affecting services. Staff and Council has largely ignored his recommendations freezing the 2016 budget, reducing staff and non-essential projects.

His analysis of audited city financial statements for four years plus the report of city hired consultants BMA of Hamilton, led to his detailed report that has been received by thousands of citizens.

If the elected officials that you supported don’t listen and react to proposals made by a highly qualified financial professional, what alternative do we have?

Your turn for action comes October 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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