Introducing a No Frills blueprint to change and control the people’s business

By Gerry Barker

July 16, 2018

The following is a detailed Action Plan to return power to the people that has been denied, covered up and mismanaged by successive councils and administrative staff.

Guelph Tomorrow is an organization created by concerned citizens to return democracy and accountability to the civic administration of the City of Guelph.

The people’s hope and expectation, following the election of Mayor Guthrie in October 2014, have been drowned in hypocrisy, blatant cover-ups, secrecy and disdain for the public trust.

The Guthrie record is clear. He capitulated authority of the public trust to the professional senior staff that perpetuated the failed policies of the two previous administrations.

Are you better off today after four years of this Guthrie administration? His record in just two instances, escalated property taxes by more than 3 per cent annually plus 2 per cent special levies. He gave Guelph Hydro, worth $228 million, away for peanuts. The value contained in the 2016 Guelph Hydro financial statement, is just the tangible assets, not including cash on hand or goodwill.

Now we learn of his “action plan” to elect friendly supporters to councillors positions to gain control of council and continue more of the same.

In my opinion, Cam Guthrie was like the month of March; “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Don’t be deceived any longer. The city council needs an election enema to stop the political wrangling, control by individuals whose performance has been dismal.

Now it’s our chance to change the administration to serve the needs of ALL the people not the few who have controlled our city for 12 years. It’s a situation that mirrors the recent demise of the Ontario Liberal Party in the provincial election.

In Guelph, the disenchanted Liberals, disdained their own candidate and turned to electing a candidate with no election experience representing a Green party with no power. Mike Schreiner espoused the same policies that drove up the debt in Guelph under the previous administrations. Mike Shriener ran as the Green Party’s Ontario Leader. He is now the boss of a party of one, Mike Schreiner, MPP.

Small guess: Mike will be wooed by the Liberal seven-member cause that needs an eighth member to be recognized as an official party in the Ontario Legislature. That will make all those Guelph Liberals happier than Doug Ford cutting the gas tax.

Here’s’ the people’s No Frills Action Plan developed by a team of fellow citizens familiar with the tawdry history of 12 years of administrations.

Guelph Tomorrow

Presents

The No Frills Action Plan

No Frills means leadership, transparency, accountability and responsibility to all the people p

No Frills Priorities

No Frills means that the city auditor will complete a full audit of city finances before submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs

No Frills means halting capital spending until an audit of the city’s finances is completed

No Frills proposes a new senior management structure change to have a City Manager heading the staff, with directors leading the major departments

No Frills recommends that the he city administrative structure will include an Executive Management team composed of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, City Manager, City Clerk and Department Directors. The City Manager will act as chair

No Frills means making every effort to kill the Guelph Hydro-Alectra merger

No Frills means using common sense, arresting spending and encouraging public participation

No Frills means reviewing the status of all reserves and clarify each for its purpose

No Frills means evaluating policies involving all subsidies, donations, and employment contracts

No Frills means eliminating the Committee of the Whole system of conducting public meetings

No Frills on the advice of the city manager, restores the committees of council with appropriate honourariums for councillors serving on committees based on attendance.

No Frills means no closed-sessions council meetings unless there are legitimate legal reasons to do so

No Frills means a complete review by the Director of Finance and the internal auditor of purchasing and procurement systems

No Frills means freezing all salary and benefit increases pending review of pay systems

No Frills means ordering a staff rationalization review by an independent authority

No Frills means reviewing all bylaws to update and remove those not applicable

No Frills means Investigating areas of increasing revenue including the University of Guelph’s ‘bed tax’ deal in lieu of property taxes.

 

No Frills Proposed Communications Plan

No Frills means reporting a summary of the financial state of the city every three months

No Frills means freezing and reviewing all communications contracts and systems

No Frills means the general manager of communications will conduct a regular media briefing weekly

No Frills pledges publishing a monthly report of the administration’s hits and misses and introducing personality profiles of council members and staff using the Guelph Hydro mailing list to distribute

No Frills means that the mayor or designate following a closed-session must release a summary following the meeting within 24 hours

 

No Frills proposed fixes of Property Taxes & User fees

No Frills means limiting property taxes to a 3 per cent increase for 2019

No Frills means an immediate elimination of the 2 per cent infrastructure levy on property owners

No Frills means eliminating the storm water levy on hydro bills

No Frills means freezing all user fees until the financial review is completed

No Frills means closing down Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.

No Frills means freezing all residential planning until a full review is completed

 

No Frills action to fix procedures, bylaws and protocols

No Frills abolishes the Integrity Commissioner, cancels the Closed Session investigators, Amberlea Gravel of London

No Frills means freezing all consultant contracts until proven justified

No Frills means a complete review of the Council Code of Conduct

No Frills means banning any closed sessions involving political strategy issues

No Frills means staff accountability

No Frills means rewarding and encouraging staff performance and efficiency

No Frills means reporting regular financial performance with a clearly defined base line

No Frills means public accessibility to the people’s house and its services

Join the crusade for change at Guelph Tomorrow.ca.

 

 

 

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9 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

9 responses to “Introducing a No Frills blueprint to change and control the people’s business

  1. James

    The GuelphTomorrow.ca website isn’t working?

  2. Matt Saunders

    Might want to talk to your friend Doug Ford about the university head tax — that’s legislated provincially and not up to Council (O. Reg. 384/98 under the Municipal Act, 2001).

    • Matt Saunders: I am well aware that the University and Community College property tax deal was passed by the provincial government in 1987 and has not increased since. Despite soaring land values in the province including property owned by the University of Guelph, the original $75 was not even indexed to reflect the rising cost of living on residents. It doesn’t means that the city should sit back and take it.

      I don’t know Doug Ford and what did he have to do with this unfair, ancient legislation? The Liberals initiated the bed tax and in 15 years did nothing to increase it. And you wonder why there are only seven Liberal members in the Legislature today?

    • Matt Saunders

      I’m glad to hear it! The implication between this article and https://guelphspeaks.wordpress.com/2018/06/17/a-contrarian-view-of-the-university-of-guelphs-economic-impact-on-our-city/ was that it was a city council decision. Any change to the regulation would have to be lobbied for at the provincial level, as you say. (As an aside, the “your friend Doug Ford” comment was a tongue-in-cheek reference to your endorsement of Ray Ferraro this past election — and the fact that the change you want would have to go through his government.)

      In any case, increasing the university student bed tax would, as you say, just be passed on to the students. With some undergraduate programs having a tuition nearing $7000 per semester, the increase would just be an added grab from the pockets of some of the more vulnerable members of our society.

      We need to view the University’s contribution to the city not in the amount of property tax it pays directly but in the amount of people it draws in to support the community: students, staff, faculty, and alumni who choose to stay. These people (I estimate 40,000 of them) pay property tax, support and start local businesses, volunteer, and make our community more vibrant and dynamic — more Guelph. The value of these contributions more than make up for the “deal” that the institution gets on its property taxes.

    • Matt Saunders: Thanks for your comment. To understand property taxes,it is not the economic benefit you speak of that pays for the city services. The University of Guelph, a city within a city, uses the 80 per cent of revenues the city receives to pay its expenses and that load falls on the property owners. It includrs the largest property owner in the city, The University of Guelph. In addition to the fees paid by students, the University depends on rental income from businesses and residents sitting on their land. Not considered is the amount on money held by the university’s endowment fund and special alumni payments towards specific physical assets and facilities.

      Your claim that 40,000 people either live here or visit was not documented or verified.

      It’s not enough that the University owned hundreds of acres of land pays less than $2 million a year in lieu of property taxes, than the rest of us have to pay. It nothing but another tax on the residents of the city to subsidize an organization through its tax structure to perpetuate an archaic and out-of date property tax freebie for a cluster of elitist organizations that have benefited for some 31 years. Somebody has had their finger on the scale.

      I cannot think of any post secondary institution that has benefited more than the University of Guelph.

      It can only become more equitable if the new council is assertive in pursuing the provincial government to change it.

      It’s time to force those institutions to manage their finances to accommodate fairness to those municipalities that after being shackled by a 31-year-old piece of legislation that is as outdated as the model T Ford.

      By just paying its fair share, the University of Guelph could lower the annual increase in property taxes by 1.5 per cent paid by residential property tax owners.

    • Matt Saunders

      Thanks for the reply Gerry! I’d like to respond to each point in turn if that’s alright.

      1. “To understand property taxes,it us not the economic benefit you speak of that pays for the city services.”

      The economic benefit of the university is that the population it draws in supports local businesses. The primary purpose of government is spend tax money judiciously to have a multiplicative effect on the economy. Take as example the plan to spending money on grade separation at the Edinburgh RD / CN Rail crossing. Building this infrastructure (according to the 2005 transportation plan) would eliminate $1 million per year in wasted time from the local economy — and have other, more-difficult-to-measure impacts like reducing traffic through residential neighbourhoods in the area as cars divert to avoid the trains. Infrastructure is worth investing in if the initial cost outlay is recouped by the efficiencies it creates. (It’s a bit more complicated in that you need to account for the time value of money — but this generalization is essentially accurate.)

      This is the key purpose of the bed tax policy. In this case, the infrastructure is the university and the cost is the reduced property tax income. The provincial government has determined that since increasing taxes on universities would inevitably come directly out of students’ pockets, that money is better off left with the students whose contributions to the economy outweigh the effect of the direct tax levy you are asking for.

      2. “The University of Guelph, a city within a city, uses the 80 per cent of revenues the city receives to pay its expenses and that load falls on the property owners.”

      I’m sorry — I don’t understand this part. It appears that you’re making the claim that the University takes 80% of the city’s revenues and the rest of the city only gets 20%. Can you please explain where you got this number from?

      3. “In addition to the fees paid by students, the University depends on rental income from businesses and residents sitting on their land. Not considered is the amount on money held by the university’s endowment fund and special alumni payments towards specific physical assets and facilities.”

      The University has a large endowment — though not as large as some — but it’s a not-for-profit organization. If we can agree that it’s doing a lot of good — for the community and the world — then I don’t see the problem with this.

      4. “Your claim that 40,000 people either live here or visit was not documented or verified.”

      Well, as I said, it’s an estimate. (A back of the envelope calculation.) Here’s how I came to the estimate: Guelph has 28000 students enrolled (undergrad + grad), 1500 faculty, and 4000 staff. Guelph has an average family size of 2.9 so the 5500 employees support an estimated 16,000 people in the city. There will be some overlap (married couples working for the university, parents with children attending) and I also considered that higher education tends to be correlated with reduced family size so I rounded down from 44,000.

      5. “It’s not enough that the University owned hundreds of acres of land pays less than $2 million a year in lieu of property taxes, than the rest of us have to pay. It nothing but another tax on the residents of the city to subsidize an organization through its tax structure to perpetuate an archaic and out-of date property tax freebie for a cluster of elitist organizations that have benefited for some 31 years. Somebody has had their finger on the scale.”

      I disagree — for the reasons listed above — but to reiterate: not taxing those students has the indirect effect of stimulating the Guelph economy to create a wider tax base overall. It’s been shown by at least one IMF study, “Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective,” that decreasing taxes on low-income individuals has a much greater economic stimulus effect than a similar decrease on the wealthy.

      If I may ask: what would the University’s fair share be? (In other words, do you have a source for the current valuation of their lands in Guelph?) We could calculate exactly how much tuition would increase, to pay for this tax increase.

    • Matt Saunders: The solution is really simple Matt. If the province had just adjusted the bed tax levy to be pegged to the Consumer Price Index we probably would not be having this debate. Inflation has a tricky impact on our lives and Private/public organizations. The impact of inflation since 1987 on the bed tax today is estimated to be some $15 in 1987 dollars.

      You have said that any increase to the bed tax charge would be passed through to the students. That is what a corporation or business would do, pass the additional cost through to the customer and down the supply chain. That’s what happened when the Wynne Liberals passed the minimum wage bill from 11.50 to $15 an hour.

      You don’t have to read or hear much of the fallout to understand the impact on the people of Ontario. The higher costs to consumers plus the increases impact of the HST has created layoffs in many businesses. This decision occurred despite adverse public reaction.

      Of course, the decision did not affect the University to any great degree because the number of employees earning the minimum wage is miniscule. Like any organization, operating costs at the U of G will increase as suppliers face the ever-increasing costs due to inflation.

      I believe that the bed tax deal must be revisited to reflect economic reality. The university and the city are partners and like any partnership there must be equality and fairness. I would hope that a reasonable solution can be reached between the new city council , the province and the university.

    • Matt Saunders

      I ran the numbers through the Bank of Canada inflation calculator: $75 in 1987 is equivalent to $146 in 2018 — and if applied to each student would result in an extra $2 million in the city’s budget. Not peanuts by any means: it’s equivalent to the tax bill for about 500 houses. (Your $15 increase, by the way, would only bring in $400,000.)

      But the solution is not “really simple” — anyone who tells you a political problem has a simple solution doesn’t understand the situation. Every economic decision has second-order effects: i.e. how does your tax hike influence people’s economic behaviour? These effects are difficult to measure. In this case, we have strong evidence that the current system of student debt is strangling our economy. Rather than being able to participate fully in the system, young people are forced to delay major purchases like houses, cars and vacations, and the reduction in demand has a cooling effect on the economy as a whole. Your proposal is to make post-secondary education even more expensive — and add even more debt to the people who can afford it the least — and the second-order effect it would have is a negative impact on the economy as a whole.

      It should also be noted that we recently *did* increase taxes on university students (in a roundabout, back-door way). Every university student is required to purchase a bus pass, and in 2016 the cost was $100 but an increase is being phased in over five years to $150: an extra $50 out of every student, per semester, equaling $100-$150 per year per student.

      Regarding the minimum wage: again, recent evidence strongly shows that an increase in the real wealth of the poorest people has a multiplicative effect on the economy. Simply put, poor people with more money use it to buy things, which results in increased sales from local businesses — and it’s not a zero-sum game. Inflation does occur, yes, but less than the minimum wage increase, for a net positive.

      In any case, I disagree with your conclusion that the recent minimum wage increase has negatively impacted Ontario. StatCan’s numbers (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/180706/t003a-eng.htm) shows that over the past year (June 2017 to June 2018) Ontario has gained 156,800 new jobs (as the labour force has only increased by 129,200), resulting in a decrease in the unemployment rate by 0.5% (from 6.4 to 5.9). Can you provide any data to back up your claim?

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