By Gerry Barker
April 30, 2018
The following is a recipe for real change affecting all citizens and not just the ruling class that has dominated civic politics for the past 11 years.
One serious problem citizen’s face is the lack of in depth coverage of city business and public participation. We are a city of 131,000 that is served by a twice-weekly newspaper with a corporate owner that is a mouthpiece for the administration who are served by a radio station with no reporting staff dependent on police and city press releases. There is an online newspaper that occasionally reports the real news and not just the city handouts and police blotter.
The Kitchener TV station occasionally reports on Guelph news.
The most telling news source is the Rogers Community TV group that covers city council meetings. It does not report or interview citizens or staff as its mandate is controlled by the administration.
Then there are the bloggers (guilty) who chiefly support the administration but rarely are critical or opinionated about administration operations.
Because of this mixture of traditional news sources, in my opinion, Guelph is horribly under-served when it comes to covering the news that matters most to citizens. That’s why more people are dependent on TV news and the Internet.
Fixing the situation will only occur if people stop using those local outlets as a source of news and the managements upgrade their news coverage.
Because of our method of electing members of council, in the past 11 years an idealistic group of councillors has controlled council. They are a mixed bag of folks, some good some well meaning and some married to principles that have cost millions without measurable accomplishments.
Now I’m not mentioning names right now because that’s another story for the upcoming campaign that begins tomorrow with the opening of nominations.
The political philosophy is that governments that have controlled our destiny for more than 11 years are ripe for defeat. Every four years, the people can throw long-term governments out and elect a new set of players to create a fresh government.
On the surface it would appear that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are the old tired administration that has galvanized the Ontario Progressive Conservatives to become the government.
We’ll know how that turns out the night of June 7.
The voters in Guelph face the same situation. Do we elect a new responsible group of councillors? In order to accomplish this we need to reform the membership of city council.
The Town of Milton reformed its 13-member council reducing the membership to nine including the mayor.
In Guelph we have two part-time councillors in each of the six wards. This system has strengths and weaknesses. It is politically weak because council can be dominated if seven members band together to form a voting bloc. That’s what has occurred in the past three councils.
To describe the ward councillors as part-time is ludicrous. They earn some $35,000 that is out-of-date in terms of workload including paper work, service to constituents and life style. While the responsibilities grow, in my opinion, they are grossly underpaid.
The net result is that the city cannot attract elected representatives with a very limited scale of remuneration, compared to many on staff making four and five times that of the “part-time” councillors.
The next step would be to elect two councillors at large plus the Mayor. This system will prevent the bloc voting that has dominated Guelph politics for 11 years. By now, we know the price of failed projects that have turned the city into one of the highest taxed municipalities in Ontario if not Canada. Millions has been wasted and is one of the chief reasons that Guelph’s operating budget is 50 per cent higher than that of Kitchener and Cambridge.
Bottom line: Reduce the ward councillor to one; pay them at least $90,000 with an independent professional performance review following each election.
Unfortunately, the election process cannot be changed for this year. The new council can vote to reduce its size when it enacts reforms.
Summing up: Years ago decisions were made without considering the growth of the city, its needs and effective planning. That was then and this is today.
Bad decisions made long ago and even in the past 11 years, has increased infrastructure costs to close to one half a billion dollars. Throw in the impact of inflation and the dropping value of the Canadian dollar annually and a tipping point has been reached.
You cannot keep raising property taxes and user fees; you cannot spend millions on failed environmental projects such as the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, financial and structural disaster. These are just some of the serious operational problems facing the electorate next October.
At a point in time Guelph was a small, agriculture-oriented economy town, with an Agriculture College as its main industry.
The city remains an economic island with few exits to the outside world. When the opportunity came to form a Regional government with Kitchener and Cambridge, Guelph council said no.
Since then the city has been isolated from industrial and commercial development that would bring assessment dollars to build the city. In the past 11 years the ratio of Residential assessment to Industrial-Commercial assessment is 74 per cent compared to 16 per cent and has not changed.
Only increasing that Industrial-Commercial assessment will make a dent in the annual property tax rate averaging 3.5 per cent. That does not include the property tax surcharge to repair and maintain the infrastructure.
Study and learn about your city. Knowledge leads to action to create change.
Part Two will be published May 2 and outlines specifics to reduce bloated operational costs.