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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10 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

10 responses to “It was the day of Circus Maximus as city council again mugged the citizens

  1. Glen

    Talk about a dysfunctional bunch of elected persons.They fail to recognize that over the past decade $100 million has been wasted on a feel good green solid waste program, Urbacon lawsuit & related city hall completion costs, and the GMHI/CEI/District Energy fiasco which if the funds had been put to infrastructure renewal would have negated any levy at all. Similarly, they are so bound to the civic administration they are incapable of understanding how strategic cuts to operations would more than fund infrastructure refurbishment & expansion. They took the simple tax & spend approach to hit the taxpayers with a near 5% tax and fee hike. Only 3 councillors (Billings, Bell, Gibson) voted against the budget.The lack of respect for the taxpayers shown by the 9 other members of council is appalling and should be rewarded with them being voted out in the 2018 election, if they dare to run again.

  2. sifad

    Glen– I so agree with you, and am so disgusted and angry at being lied to, yes, LIED TO, about the “infrastructure surcharge”! What a joke! Who on this green Earth gave them the right to increase the surcharge to 1.0% to use 50% as a self-serving pot for “building projects”!! At the November 29 budget meeting with mayor guthrie ( yes, lower case), he mentioned NONE OF THIS INCREASE!!! 50% of my hard-earned money (that pays every city employee’s salary ) is going not to infrastructure to correct the poor state of pipes etc, but is being diverted!! This was NOT in the books that I looked through for the 2017 “proposed tax-supported budget”. I am so angry I could spit nickels, but they’d tax that as well!! Hurry up 2018, and watch what happens. I will not let anyone forget this.

  3. Andy

    Reading the local media coverage on the budget, it sounds pretty clear to me mayor Guthrie doesn’t plan on running for council in 2018. He can be bold because he doesn’t have to face the wrath of the voters who he lied to on a few occassions now. Time for citizens to start the vetting process for a new mayor.

  4. Jerry

    I do not agree with the 1%charge but since it passed already take the 0.5%
    and put it toward the urbacon mess,lowering the water rates.necessary and important things that would impact the whole city population not just the very few.Maybe even delay the new meters and put that money toward cutting grass on the boulevards.putting in more flowers around city to make it pretty again.Once we get our books in order then build the new library downtown and new rec center.

  5. guelphspeaks reader

    Jerry for Mayor 2018.

  6. Deanna

    I’m sorry you had to sit through the circus but it is Guelph. Spend, spend, spend!
    Who cares where the $ comes from as long as we (the council) get to spend it!
    I sent both ward six councillors emails suggesting a cost of living tax was responsible and they both responded with, “we’re priviledged to pay taxes in this great city.”
    What a bunch of hog wash or should I say goose poop!

  7. Capricorn

    Deanna, if that’s the only response you received from your ward 6 councilors, I feel it’s a very disrespectful reply.

  8. DAVID BIRTWISTLE

    Deanna-I nearly fell off of my orange crate computer chair(had to sell much of our furnishings to prepare us for the City tax grab/cap & trade/hydro bill/etc.) when I read your response-you mean you actually got a response from the 2 Ward 6 Councillors-thought they were not to respond to GUELPH taxpayers while they’re deliberating “matters of state”

  9. Jerry

    I just read online tribune that the city of Guelph is trimming the fat for the 2017 budget.
    Now before you fall of your chair laughing,this is the city trimming the fat.
    Passing a motion to set up a bike training facility for the city.
    Setting aside 5000.00 just in case there is a special event being broadcast free and the city can expand on.
    I do not know about anybody else but i think the money should be used to lower the tax rate or even the water rates or hydro rates..Every little bit counts when is this council and mayor going to realize if there is no money in the bag you can’t pay the bills.
    Balance the books first then enjoy the “pork”.

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