Part Two: How to change our city by reducing operating costs, property taxes and user fees

By Gerry Barker

May 3, 2018

Here is a list of changes that a new council will face to effect change. For every action there is a reaction including job security, money, public services and that old standby, entitlement.

Some will say these proposed reforms are draconian and the staff service to the public will be seriously affected. Let’s look at some examples:

Bike lane expansion;

Waste management costs;

The wellbeing program;

Grants to non-governmental organizations;

Materials and service procurement checks and balances;

Subsidies to Guelph Transit and other organizations;

Cost of water and electricity;

Legal and consultant costs;

Staff reduction through rationalization;

Planning and development costs;

Debt management and costs;

Staff and council expenses;

Advertising costs;

Budget variances;

Reserves rationalization and replenishment;

Review all staff contracts.

You be the judge.

Let’s start with an action plan.

* Stop the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra even if it means hiring an energy experienced lawyer to make our case before the Ontario Energy Board.

*   Make no specific promises about lowering property taxes until council receives a full, independent analysis of proposed budgets in 2019 and 2020.

* Review all bylaws to establish effectiveness, relavence and currency.

* Close down the recyclables’ operation of Dunlop Road and negotiate a deal with Waste Management to take our recyclable materials to its plant in Cambridge.

* Hire an Auditor General to oversee all spending and systems who reports directly to council every three months.

* Review the council Code of Conduct and dismiss the Integrity Commissioner. Also dismiss the Amberlea-Gravel special closed-session investigators. Replace A-G with the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office closed-session investigative team.

* All closed-session agenda require approval of the Mayor, and two designated councillors. The public must be informed in advance of any such meeting, the reason and outcome. The Mayor must file a separate report to briefly explain the reason, outcome without using names. Residents have the right to request the minutes based on impact and cost of a closed-session meeting. If challenged by any resident, authority to allow a closed-session council meeting will be made by an outside appointed adjudicator.

* Adopt the recommendations of the Pat Fung report that outlined how the city can reduce its overhead to save $20 million a year.

* Confine the committee of the whole system to only vote on a motion, because most of the issues have already been discussed in closed-sessions. The committee of the whole meetings are still too long and time wasting.

* Review all rules concerning public participation including notifying all citizens of council meetings. Reliance on such notices excludes many citizens who do not have access to computers.

* Restore Online voting for the 2022 civic election.

* Order the internal auditor to investigate the following.

*  Rules and regulation of procurement of supplies and services including systems’ controls, verification of work performed. Any order exceeding $1,500 must be  made by a Request For Proposal (RFP) and publicized Online and in the local      newspaper.

*  Commence a formal review of Guelph Transit operations including an audit of the last three departmental budgets.

*   Appoint a public advisory committee to work with Transit management to plan a more efficient system.

*  Freeze the bike lane budget until a thorough study is completed to ascertain future viability and usage.

* Develop a plan within 90 days to reduce full-time staff, part-time staff and contract employees by ten per cent by December 2019. The Police, Fire and EMS will be exempted.

* Cancel the ”City News” advertising pages in the Guelph Tribune. Replace with weekly online reports and supply a print copy to residents without a computer.

* Examine and redefine the role of the communications department.

* Cancel the two per cent property tax surcharge and the storm water charges added to the hydro bills.

* The finance department will send a quarterly copy of the financial status of the city as it pertains to the city budget (variances) and non-budgeted charges.

* In all new staff contracts the accumulation of unused sick leave and vacation time will be eliminated. Use it in a calendar year or lose it. An arbitration board composed of two councillors and three civilians will oversee any derivations or exceptions.

* Appoint a new accountability committee composed of three councillors and three civilians to examine and recommend reducing the amount of funding the city provides many organizations and services.

* With council and staff, prioritize budget items by October 15 each year.

* Drop all planning department work on the Reformatory lands.

* Halt the intensification emphasis on future developments and freeze all plans. Commence planning subdivisions of single-family homes in a range of price points.

* Cancel free downtown parking for all employees.

* Review all payments made to non-governmental organizations.

The city is not a bank or a lender. All such requests must be considered by the staff and approved by council. Such requests will be frozen until the state of the city finances is positively corrected and overhead is substantially reduced to lower property taxes.

The terms and results of the annual city financial audit, as required by the province, must be made public Online and in print to those requesting it.

Similarly, a summary of the Financial Information Report to the province must be available by Jan 31 the year following.

The direction of these issues has a two-fold affect. The first is to returtn the power to the people through its elected representative. Second, the staff influence will be more focused on executing the reforms and thereby restoring open government, and meeting the will of the people.

All citizens should be on guard to prevent the financial disasters of the previous and current administrations.

Next October the people have their say on how they want their city to function and seize opportunities to develop smartly and gradually lower our taxes and user fees.

 

 

 

 

 

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