When Gerry met Sally and other taxing issues

By Gerry Barker

September 11, 2017

Heard from a number of people this week questioning administration decisions that end up costing citizens. Here are three examples.

The pitch to spend $90,000 for security guards at City Hall

The first example is a report that the city wants to hire five security officers plus a vehicle to protect the city staff from the taxpayers who are entitled to voice their complaints at the welcome desk in the foyer of our city hall.

The lead in the local weekly was that the Mayor overheard an individual being rude with the staff at the customer service desk. Turns out, according to the city supplied statistics, that in 2016, there were 448 security calls for staff assistance at city hall and 216 police responses. The occurrences are increasing this year.

The staff is recommending hiring two security guards as well as purchasing a vehicle for their use at an estimated cost of $90,000. The matter was deferred until the 2018 budget negotiations commence later this year.

In the grand scheme of things it could be argued that $90K is no big deal when the whole city operating budget will be more than $350 million. But it is a big deal.

As a public service here are some considerations.

* Under what authority can these proposed security guards act? Will they be armed? Why is a vehicle required if they are stationed at City Hall? What kind of training and background will be required?

The role of the police is quite clear. They are required to protect public property. But it seems that the degree of service staff discomfort in certain situations determines who should respond for assistance.

It is tricky and happens often, totaling 664 calls in 2016 for a quick decision by service staff as to whom to call for assistance. I am curious over those numbers compared to other peer cities and how they handle encounters with the public staff.

The report in the weekly said issues include: “Disturbances, drug related calls, intoxication, trespassing, theft, vandalism, assault against staff and the public.”

It would appear all those occurrences called for police response except “disturbances”. Aren’t all those examples disturbances?

Here are a couple of immediate solutions:

One, select two volunteers from the current staff, train them with no reduction in their previous salary, skip the vehicle and have them in uniform during the hours the city hall is open to the public. No increase in costs because we are already paying them.

Along comes Sally

The other solution is to have a trained Doberman named Sally behind the counter in full view and tied to a quick release button. Sally would become the guardian of the service desk at City Hall but not to be petted. There is a technicality, who walks the dog and who is the handler? Sally could do double duty chasing the geese from the parks when not guarding city hall.

The other benefit is Sally could have pups and begin a Doberman dynasty being guardians of the public places. And the overhead of training and controlling Sally would be dog chow compared to the $90,000 recommended by the staff.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. But this is a management problem that involves personnel training, discipline and police support. The Mayor is right when he says City Hall should be safe and open to the public. He may also investigate why there appears to be an increasing number of incidents at the service desk. Perhaps it may be the increasing dissatisfaction with the city operations?

*            *            *            *

After six years, why is Guelph’s recycling operation losing $2.5 million a year?

A report by Tony Saxon in the online report Guelph Today, says that the blue box system of collecting recyclable materials is costing $2.5 million annually less than the $4.9 million that the facility recovers after sorting.

Here are a couple of problems. One is the revelation that Environmental Services is accepting containers of recyclable material from Simcoe County. The other is another area of the deal struck with the Region of Waterloo to process 20,000 tonnes of wet waste to be processed in the $34 million organic waste compost facility. That target has yet to be reached but volumes of wet waste from Waterloo are increasing.

While the two are not related they are part of the six departments of the city’s waste management organization. What connects them is decisions by the previous administration turning Guelph into a waste dump for other municipalities. Why do citizens have to finance overbuilt facilities costing an estimated $55 million in capital funding to service other municipalities?

Neither of these facilities has met its operating costs since inception. In the case of the organic composting plant, it is not operated by city personnel but by a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the builder of the facility. It’s ironic that Guelph citizens who financed the facility cannot even obtain any compost provided by the plant. It’s sold elsewhere.

Did waste management not learn anything about accepting recyclables from Detroit that cost some $1.5 million when the alleged contract was shut down? Solid Waste General Manager, Dean Wyman, told council that an extra shift was needed to process the Detroit material but the city would make $370,000 per year. The fallout of this and other mismanagement issues included the retirement of former Executive Director Janet Laird of Environmental Services, and GM Wyman who resigned to take a job in Edmonton.

The historical reasons for this waste management failure to deliver results costing millions of dollars rests with the former Farbridge administration. Public funds invested in a variety of projects and schemes were designed to slow delivery of garbage to the land fill site.

That target alone has failed, as there is still a high percentage of waste still going to the landfill since 2011, when the organic processing facility became operational.

This was all the doing of the council of the period headed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge. She was aided by a cadre of supporters who believed that the money they were spending was making their city a world-class leader in waste management.

The decision to import other municipalities’ garbage to Guelph was an example of the terrible business plans associated with these waste management projects. Already there are rumblings of outsourcing the operations to private enterprise. The unions that could be affected are readying their opposition.

Here is a one example of how outsourcing will pay off and save up to $4.9 million per year. Cut a deal with Waste Management to process Guelph’s recyclables in their upscale automated plant. Depending on the terms of the Simcoe County contract, wrap it up. Shut down the Guelph recycling facility.

All that is required is political will. It’s something to think about when the 2018 budget is being crafted for next year’s civic election.

The people are the key to making change. They did it in 2014 when Cam Guthrie defeated the former Mayor by more than 5,000 votes. It can happen again.

*            *            *            *

Guelph Transit route changes map is like interpreting a Salvador Dali painting

The city news section of the local weekly printed a full-page diagram of the new route changes of Guelph Transit. I do not use Guelph Transit but if I did, I would need an interpreter trying to follow that ad illustration.

Someone commented that the new routes are designed to serve the 20,000 incoming University students. There is no doubt they are imporant customers as they must pay $75 per semester for a bus pass. The average course includes two semesters per school year that amounts to $3 million in revenue every seven months.

The next questioin is what is the total budget of Guelph Transit? The last time I checked about four years ago, the city was subsidizing the system by $12 million. That being true, it would appear that the citizens are paying a huge price every year to supply public transportation. It is a system used by less than ten per cent of the permanent population.

Guelph needs a system of public transit, if for no other reason than to cope with the growing mobile population and changing demographics. But it went off the rails in the previous administration. As long as I can remember in ten yeas of commenting, there has been a transit strike by the union representing the workers. Also there was the matter in 2013 when an audit by the internal auditor of the system’s overtime charges revealed a cost of $1 million for a staff of about 350. That year it averaged $2,857 for each employee.

More worrying is the number of Guelph Transit general managers who have been employed and released. So what’s wrong? The first thing is to bring clarity and transparency to the table. This could result in everyone on staff being accountable.

It is unreasonable for a system this size with our city geography to be profitable. If, as former councillor Maggie Laidlaw once predicted, there would be no cars on Guelph streets within 20 years – I believe we have ten years to go to fulfill her prediction. Maggie was an ardent cyclist, rain or shine and believed that fossil-fueled vehicles had to go.

Well, the opposite has occurred and there are more cars and trucks on our streets than ever before. And the traffic congestion has been exacerbated by the previous administration’s policies to reduce vehicle traffic lanes on major routes to accommodate wider bicycle lanes that frequently start somewhere and end nowhere.

This social experiment has cost millions at the expense of ignoring badly needed infrastructure repair and replacement. The city staff recently stated the cost to carry out necessary infrastructure needs was more than $400 million.

There are a number of bus pull-offs that could allow buses to pull off the main road to load and unload patrons. These pull off inserts would halt the stopping of all vehicles when a bus must stay on the road to allow passengers to load or unload. Costly? Yes, but a necessary accommodation for traffic to move without delays.

We need the system but not at this price. It is difficult to understand why buses are running routes mostly empty daily, particularly in the summer months. In my opinion, indicates that Guelph Transit needs to do a serious rethink of its task based on total city usage by residents and the students.

 

 

 

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16 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

16 responses to “When Gerry met Sally and other taxing issues

  1. I don’t think you haven’t been following the Transit issue for quite sometime now as your information is out of date and incorrect.

    Students now pay $125 per semester with increases every year until 2021 when it will be $150 per semester. – https://csaonline.ca/transit

    City Council already reduced Guelph Transit’s budget! Summer service was cut in 2016 saving $778,000 and continued in 2017. There have been less buses running in summertime when ridership is typically lower so less so called empty buses.Holiday service was also reduced to hourly cutting over $100,000 out of the budget. They did put back $75,000 due to ridership issues meaning people do ride buses in the summer! – https://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/6744179-guelph-transit-adding-extra-buses-to-calm-anger-over-reduced-service/

    The City locked out the Transit workers. There was no strike. The Farbridge council and (your friend) previous HR director plus the 2nd GM hired after firing the 1st one spun it as strike when it never was.

    The realignment done by the current Transit manager is about putting buses where the ridership is and did it within the existing budget. Yes it is U of G centric, however, when you leave 40 or so bus loads of people along Gordon Street it doesn’t help. These changes will get those passengers and increase ridership which in turn means more revenue plus more grants from Feds and Prov since ridership is tied to funding.

    The city currently funds transit below other cities! It is now in the 36% range. Under Farbridge it was in the 40% range.

    So called empty buses exist in every city! From Toronto to Brantford – There will always be times where there will be an empty bus for part of the trip. It doesn’t mean it was empty all the time but the changes done here today will keep buses more full, especially the 99 Mainline running the spine of the city.

    The first GM was let go to the mis-mangement of the route changes done in 2011. The 2nd GM was let go due to disagreement on spending money and issues with some staff below him (who are now also gone). The current GM is here to clean up the mess and IMO has done a great job so far.

    • Transit in Guelph: Thanks for the update. Yes, some of my info was stale and I stand corrected. It is refreshing to receive such clear and understandable information. I am curious about your reference to “my friend” the former HR director. He was no friend of mine if we are talking about the same individual. Thanks again for bringing me up to date.

  2. Joe Black

    ……and the lack of right turn lanes , buses pull over so traffic doesn’t have to stop behind them.

  3. Louis

    It’s pure liberal logic right there, hire security Because they don’t want to deal with pissed off taxpayers.

    The security probably will just be rentacops anyways with no powers to arrest people and not even armed.

  4. eleanir ross

    The reworked bus system is a sad joke. Clearly designed to meet the needs of the University students and no one else. The routes have been ‘shortened and compacted’ the brochure says. They have been gutted. I am appalled. No buses to city buildings like schools, museums, housing complexes and the West end rec center. No bus past the Elliot. No bus past the Seniors Housing on Grange. No bus stop on Bristol St that serves four apartment building. Thus bus now runs down Wellington with no stops to get downtown faster. The bus no longer goes into the front door of the West end. It now steps on Imperial Rd, stalling traffic and leaving seniors, disabled, rehab clients, parents with small children and school children of all ages walking hundreds of yards in and out. Many can not do it especially in the winter. But the students on Gordon st have a stop right outside their apartment building with every 10 min service. City hall has completely ignored the needs of people who have no car and no other option to get around. The city has spent tens of millions of dollars on bike lanes where no one rides a bike and is planning to spend a quarter of a million dollars a year to clear walking paths so healthy privileged people can stroll out in winter but refuses to build a bus system that actually picks up people and takes them where they need to go. People who have no other option. We should mandate that all people at city hall have to get to and from work by bus, not build them a multi million dollar car park. I am so sad and heart sick for the elderly, the disabled, people on fixed incomes and the working poor. They have been treated so badly by this change and they have no voice and no one seems to care.

    • Eleanir Ross: Your comment should be read by every citizen. The Transit system is vital to all citizens who are seniors, disabled,working poor or have no other means of transportation. Your examples of the route changes affect that very group of people. I have said the system was set up to serve the University population even though it is subsidized by all citizens who pay the bills. There is no easy solution but perhaps the city should establish a Public Advisory Committee to oversee and recommend improving service. Such PAC should be composed of 65 per cent users of the Transit service.

    • There is already a Council appointed Transit Advisory Committee made up of riders and alike.

    • Transit Guelph: I would be interested as to who serves on the committee and their background. Did they have any input about the route changes etc? Thanks again for the info.

    • Follow up with Transit and they will give you the information.

  5. Jerry

    Instead of 90.000 for a car and two security guards how about putting up a few walls and security glass.It works for the provincial and federal governments so i am sure it could work for us. And also the costs will not rise on a yearly basis.Hey that was easy maybe i should take a crack at being a staffer at city hall.Save a lot of tax payers money and then we would have extra money for the new public library or rec centre out the west end.Oh wait i do not have any degrees that say i spent 8 years at a university and do not know nothing about the real world.So i guess that will not work.

  6. Glen

    WOW, Gerry you really picked a number of good topics with which to nail the city hall & its boffins.
    Why has the city not published the list of security “incidents” so taxpayers can see the nature of the supposed problem? How many were for stray critters on city property? Why is a vehicle needed? Is it to go between city hall & a coffee shop? Sally the doberman may “drop a load” in city hall and add to the the odor of wasted money that permeates the place.
    Why not subcontract the whole recycling mess to the outfit in Cambridge?
    How many of the 32 workers who were surplus after the end of the Detroit fiasco are still on Guelph city payroll somewhere?
    Excellent points raised by Eleanir wrt transit. How about the mayor, the CAO, the DCAO under who transit falls, the GM of transit, and the city hall disability coordinator all get in manual wheel chairs and go from the bus stop on Downey in front of the Y, along Downey to Woodland Glen Dr, up the inclined Woodland Glen Drive to the driveway entrance to the Y parking lot, and then roll towards the main front door. How many of those presumably able bodied people would be able to do it? How many seniors and persons with disabilities are on the Transit Advisory Committee?

  7. Glen

    Transit In Guelph – does the 1 senior on the Transit Advisory Committee with mobility issues use public transit?

    • Glen: Who knows? The individual may be the token disabled person. Although the city recently advertised for some vacancies of some of the advisory boards, the originals were all appointed by the former mayor. Maybe it’s time to have an advisory board review by, wait for it, a new advisory, advisory board. G

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