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