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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18 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

18 responses to “It’s not about tax and spend in Guelph; it’s now about spend and tax

  1. Steph

    My landlord already told me my water bill is going up because of the storm water fee. She also warned me she would have to pass on the special levy increase to me or sell the apartment which will probably make me move if it becomes owner-occupied. All the councillors ever speak of are property owners – and I am surprised not any of the so called left councillors (and two forme NDP candidates) never defend renters. I haven’t received a pay increase since 2011, and I make just under $15/hr with no benefits or pension. Guelph-owned hydro and water rates have gone up a lot . The transit fare has gone up at the same time with a reduction in transit frequency. Yet this council and these NDP-left politicians somehow found $500,000 to give the Guelph Storm hockey owners (who are millionaire themselves) for each of the next 10 years. And the Storm don’t even pay minimum wage to their players. How is this fair? Our council only cares to gives city staff big raises, fast tracks and bypasses the rules for rich developers like the Dublin street apartment, places private hockey club owners above transit riders, and now turns around and tell everyone to pay for infrastructure which they neglected to deal with. I’m sorry, if infrastructure is such a big priority then then why the Guelph Storm deal? Why don’t they place a hiring freeze and not fill vacancies? Why did they continue to spend money on GMHI and not cancel it altogether? Why did they waive property taxes to the downtown condos at WC Woods, and a bunch of other properties like the Pietry building. And I am sure there are others out there we can mention. Farbridge said no to the levy, yet these NDP councillors are asking residents to make a sacrifice and prioritize infrastructure with this levy, – but how can we believe infrastructure is a priority when they themselves haven’t walked the talk to demonstrate prioritizing existing money they collect towards this infrastructure gap and prefer to cozy up to the interests of millionaire developers and hockey owners then average working people just trying to make ends meet every month.

  2. Joe Black

    This place get better and better ?

  3. Glen

    A 1% levy compounds over 10 years to 10.5% above any property tax increases. A 2% levy compounds to 21.8%.
    No candidate or councillor campaigned for a levy in 2014.
    For those on a fixed income, or approaching retirement, who would find it difficult to pay that increase, a councillor has suggested that
    “There are many ways a homeowner can extract equity in their homes if they do not have the cash to pay their homeowner tax obligations”.
    Translation – take a reverse mortgage or add to an existing mortgage to pay civic taxes!
    This is a blatant socialist assault on the sanctity of private home ownership that must not be allowed to occur. Be very afraid of this proposal that attacks home ownership.
    It is curious that the 1% levy being is supported by councillors who are: a failed NDP provincial candidate, 2 councillors who served on the GMHI board during the District Energy related million dollar losses, and the 4th named rookie councillor supporting it is the one who was quoted above on extracting home equity. Just as curious is that NO councillor campaigned during 2014 civic election on imposing a levy!
    In the past decade there has been nearly $100 million wasted on a feel good green solid waste program ($55m), Urbacon ($8.5 m lawsuit + costs to complete city hall by other contractors, $15m) , and lately the GMHI/CEI/District Energy fiasco ( $11m + $65m impaired assets) while the non- social engineering infrastructure crumbled.
    Contact your councillors before the 7 Dec 16 budget meeting and tell them to stop any levy being imposed and to fund infrastructure thru operating cuts.

  4. Marc

    Did we ever find out how the city is making up the short fall from the loss revenue the Storm used to pay? My son’s coach at this weekends minor hockey practice told the parents the arena fees are going up to pay for it. It is a shame if they give the Storm this money, and then take it out on the kids.

    • Andre

      Yeah – I heard the same thing. I’m going to have to pull my kids out of hockey cause its getting ridiculous. This council pays millionaires to have a hockey team but doesn’t support children playing hockey.
      — Gerry just to correct you, Steph was correct, it is $500,000 each year for 10 years for a total of $5,000,0000 http://guelph.ctvnews.ca/guelph-storm-reach-10-year-deal-to-stay-at-sleeman-centre-1.2998261
      They should have put that money towards infrastructure as opposed to the pockets of the Storm owners.

    • Andre: Thanks for setting me straight. Your point is well taken and the first priority is providing the young players in minor hockey with affordable ice time and equipment. I know I was a the father of a minor league player years ago. I don’t know how parents today can manage to keep their youngsters in the game. I note the release said the Storm have raised or donated some $3 million for non profit organizations. Did any go toward developing minor hockey?

  5. guelphspeaks reader

    According to the city numbers posted here last month, less than one million dollars, representing a mere 0.9% of the city services budget, was spent on infrastructure last year.
    Would be interested if that is a percentage common to other municipalities.

  6. concerned

    It is time to consider leaving Guelph. The councillors in Guelph just don’t care about the average person. Their interests come first. My children and their families have left or in the process of leaving Guelph. It looks like we won’t be far behind. (Get a bigger mortgage to pay taxes and be happy about it.) You can sure tell that we are paying our councillors and staff way to much

  7. Laura

    Mark Mackinnon intends to bring a motion forward to increase the special infrastructure levy to 1% instead of .5% I guess he expects those on fixed incomes to takeout a reverse mortgage to pay for tax increases. Or sell your house. It is sad that seniors and others who have worked so hard to buy a a place to live and also those who rent face ever increasing taxes and utilities bills because of the outright mismanagement of our tax dollars and utilities. The failure of council members to realize that the only way to reduce costs are to consider a reduction of city staff and to freeze new hires, restructure existing jobs by cutting administrative positions is one of the few ways of cutting city cost and at least maintaining tax increases to the cost of living each year.
    Farbridge wanted a 2% plus special levy which I think was for downtown redevelopment not infrastructure in general.

  8. Laura

    One wonders if some of the infrastructure levy will be used to clean up all the contaminated sites owned by the city which include all the leaking landfills along the speed river, imico, the fountain fountain street parking lot and others. The city has due diligence because of source water protection to remediate all these sites. site remediation costs millions of dollars as evidenced by the money spent at 5 Arthur Street so it could be redeveloped. Most of this money came from the City’s brownfield reserve and was paid for thru our property taxes yet not one affordable housing unit went into this redevelopment.
    The city has known about these public ally owned sites for years. the infilling of the Speed River banks with garbage is past practice that will now have to be dealt with. The Wellington Interchange is built on an old leaking landfill how will they remediate that?

  9. geo

    Infrastructure problems so bad we have to create a special separate tax to deal with them and the usual suspects are already talking about pissing the money away on something else.
    Every year punitive tax increases and every year nothing to show for it.
    This is where the Donald Trump’s come from.

  10. Elaine

    My opinion is these councillors do not have the brains that God gave geese. Imagine, another increase and owners and renters are just expected to pony up and if they can’t afford it, oh well, just take out a mortgage, add to an existing mortgage/line of credit or move. And here we go, money supposed to be spent on decaying infrastructure can also be spent on building projects. Yep, I can already hear the toilet flushing as council pees away the money on pet projects. And you can bet that if Guelph Hydro is sold that money will also be foolishly spent and that trough will be dry and there will be even more tax/fee increases. The next elections are not until 2018 so just imagine the stupidity still to come…

  11. DAVID BIRTWISTLE

    The additional 0.5% for the levy is to cover the costs of: toilet facilities for the “DOWNTOWN” after several councillors take various junkets to other cities having such facilities;more building facade renovations(ain’t the “DOWNTOWN” amazingly beautiful with such efforts so far?!);enclosed,heated/air conditioned spectator facilities for the ice rink/wading pool fronting on City Hall;bicycle lanes at the transit terminal;and etc.

  12. Brent

    ONLY THREE ON COUNCIL REJECTED THE ONE PERCENT LEVY…KUDOS TO BELL AND GIBSON OF WARD ONE, AND CHRISTINE BILLINGS OF WARD 4. CHRISTINE REMINDED ALL MEMBERS OF COUNCIL BEFORE THE VOTE TO CONSIDER THE TOTAL BURDEN TO BE BORN BY RATE PAYERS INCLUDING THE STORM WATER LEVY AND OTHER INCREASES SUCH AS WATER AND ELECTRICITY..BLESS HER SOUL…BUT AS PER USUAL SHE WAS IGNORED LIKE KOVACH BEFORE HER….SADLY MAYOR GUTHRIE COMPLETELY FORGOT HIS ELECTION PLATFORM AND LEFT HIS VOTERS OUT TO DRY…I HOPE HE IS SERIOUS ABOUT THIS STAFFING REVIEW AND IT IS NOT MORE WINDOW DRESSING RELATING TO HOW HARD IT IS TO CUT COSTS WITH 80% OF OUR MONEY GOING TO RICH COMPENSATION PACKAGES PARTICULARLY AT THE TOP.

  13. sifad

    I am mad as hell and will not take it any more!! We ALL need to get out to the front of the very pricey city hall when Mayor Guthrie is there and let our displeasure be known VERY LOUDLY!! The town hall meetings were ust a pat on the head, and the budget meetings were also. Nothing was to come of it. November 29 budget meeting showed me just how much the Mayor has changed his tune from when he was on council. No more being a polite little Canadian Guelphite— Let’s do something loud and visible, out in public, and have everyone come along!!! I am so steamed !!!!!!!!!

  14. Glen

    Sifad: You echo the feelings of many of us.
    Yeah, the town hall meetings were just a pat on the head (or perhaps rear end) window dressing and now we get a cruel kick in the ass with a near 5% increase in taxes & fees.

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