Monthly Archives: September 2018

Glossy magazine Vital Signs takes a statistical peek at us and ignores key financial data

By Gerry Barker

October 1, 2918

With a civic election just three weeks away a consortium of the University of Guelph, the Guelph Community Foundation and the Oaktree project funded by the Mactaggert family, has produced a book of numbers that are interesting but missing the real numbers.

The real numbers? They are the financial data of the two municipalities that are measured and their ability to meet the demands of the people, the province, plus controlling debt and partnership obligations.

What puzzles me most is, what is the objective here? The data includes percentages of the two municipalities in area including crime, trees planted, waste diversion, mental health stats, obesity, median household income and unemployment stats, to name a few of the plethora of data. In fact some of the data was dated, it was taken more than four to five e years ago.

Who is the audience for this? Will it be delivered to all households in both municipalities?

I must say it is a interesting effort to inform people who love statistics. What it fails to do is interpret the data in relationship to today’s community needs and costs. Nowhere does it mention property tax rates that represent the largest portion of revenue to the municipality.

What about the $23 million spent on new City Hale over-budget?

Missing are the facts of mismanagement in Guelph’s case that has cost the city many millions of dollars.

It is a classic academic social study that has little relevance to those earning a living and able to afford living in Guelph. For 12 years this has charged annually, on average, increasing property taxes by more than three per cent. Just two years ago, Guelph council imposed a two per cent special levy on property taxpayers to pay for neglected infrastructure needs.

City staff estimated the infrastructure renovation and replacement costs to be more than $400 million.

But to everyone’s surprise, half of that levy was spent on “city buildings.” It went toward building a new $63 million south end recreation centre. There is no denying that such a project is needed but when the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, says the ten-year capital spending budget is $170 million in the hole, you won’t read about that in Vital Signs.

Then Mayor Guthrie announces that the city is getting a new downtown library. Here’s the problem. The mayor says the city has entered a Public Private Partnership (3P) agreement with an Ottawa developer. The library is part of an estimated $350 million project to redevelop the downtown Baker Street parking lot. Here’s the hitch: The shovels will not go into the ground until 2024. It will take four to five years to complete the job.

Still to be negotiated the city’s share of the 3P deal. Do you think this project is a Vital Sign? Did not read anything about that in the magazine.

That construction time frame is based on the renovation of the downtown police headquarters that is now entering year five and is still not complete. Nor do we know what the end cost will be on the $34 million project approved in August 2014

So the friends of the library should tone down the happy talk volume. It is difficult to figure out why this massive project makes sense when the city could build a new downtown library for $53 million.

The city building projects in the past 12 years have been over-priced and under- performing.

So the feel good publication Vital Signs omits the key element of accountability and transparency. Too much city business is done in closed sessions. In the first two years of Mr. Guthrie’s leadership there were 82 closed session meetings conducted by council.

The Mayor was handed a rock concering the GMHI debacle

Mayor Guthrie inherited a monumental mess concerning the operation of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc involving the Distruct Energy plans. That operation, headed by the former mayor, has cost the city millions and is still running a deficit of $17 million as of 2016. It is estimated that current deficit may exceed $20 million

In 2017 the Mayor announced the merger of Guelph Hydro and Electra Inc. A majority of council approved the deal December 13, 2017. The Ontario Energy Board has yet to approve the merger that will turn over a going, profitable and successful city-owned power distribution system in exchange for a tiny 4.63 per cent of Alectra Utilities profits. Did I mention it only shares, along with other municipalities connected to Alectra, 60 per cent of those Alectra profits?

As I have said, Vital Signs is a shotgun example of a lot of data that does not directly affect the citizens of Guelph and Wellington County. Much of it is history and in many cases not applicable to the needs of today’s populations.

While the Guelph Community Foundation and the Mactaggert family had good intentions, the publication missed the mark of not including the financial impact on the people that pay the bills.

Again I ask the question: Who was the target audience? What is the expectation of benefits to the people who live in these two communities?

Is this the purpose of the Guelph Community Foundation, an organization I personally trust and believe?

I would describe Vital Signs as a “justification” publication sponsored by the University of Guelph. Lately there has been a concentrated campaign by the University to justify its economic impact on the City of Guelph.

In my opinion, this signals an attempt to derail a growing demand to replace the property tax in lieu present system, to have the institution pay its fair share of property taxes. Statements have been made that any increase would be passed through to the students.

This is a huge corporation that owns millions in properties and rents back to users.

At the same time it is reported that the University’s endowment fund is worth some $100 million.

The result is the property taxpayers are subsidizing the University supplyong services the cost of which go far beyond the estimated $1.7 million the city received in lieu of property taxes.

The property tax deal has not changed in 31 years, Here’s how it works: For every student attending the university, it pays $75 in lieu of property taxes. Considering the holdings of the University of Guelph that has to be the bargain of the century.

You won’t read about that statistic in Vital Signs.

BREAKING NEWS!

guelphtomorrow.ca

The new website guelphtomorrow.ca is now live on the web. It concentrates on commentary and news about the civic election campaign and the players. It’s different and stresses informing citizens and promoting public participation including voting October 22. Enjoy!

 

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How Mayor Guthrie interfered in the Guelph P.C. campaign

via How Mayor Guthrie interfered in the Guelph P.C. campaign

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September 23, 2018 · 11:23 pm

How Mayor Guthrie interfered in the Guelph P.C. campaign

By Gerry Barker

September 24, 2018

A year ago, guelphspeaks.ca received a tip that the P.C party was interested in having Mayor Guthrie as its candidate. Mayor Guthrie denied he was available and the matter disappeared. Until that is, when the election Writ was dropped by the Liberal government slated for June 7, 2018.

Prior to that, in Late January, the P.C. Leader, Patrick Brown, who Mr. Guthrie, is alleged to befriend, was forced to resign over alleged sexual misconduct. Across the province, P.C. riding associations were thrown into a tizzy as the party leadership had to redefined and hold a leadershuo convention that Doug Ford won.

In Guelph, there was a crisis in selecting a candidate because of interference from the Tory team inToronto.

And now, for the rest of the story.

I like to call it Pizza-gate for reasons soon to be revealed.

Guelph PC Riding Association President, Bob Coole, and his campaign team were interviewing and seeking candidates to carry the PC banner in the June election. A front-runner at the time was lawyer, Peter McSherry who dropped out. While the Association was working to set up a nomination convention because there were other candidates interested in running, a message came from P.C. headquarters in Toronto.

The gist was not to proceed with the nomination meeting because, without identifying the individual, team Toronto said they had a candidate and the nomination convention would possibly not be necessary.

The Tory riding association was confused and concerned about losing time to get a candidate nominated and organized for the June 7 election.

There was speculation of who the pre-selected candidate would be.

When asked, Mayor Guthrie steadfastly denied he was the one because he loved his job as Mayor and would be seeking re-election.

What the Mayor never revealed was the secret recruiting campaign that along with Coun. Dan Gibson worked to nominate candidates to support him if elected Mayor.

If this was a horse race, this action might be compared to hedging your bet.

Some of those team Guthrie candidates allegedly are members of the Lakeside Evangelical Church. Both Mr. Guthrie and Mr. Gibson are members of that church.

It is still perfectly legal but not above board.

Mr. Gibson admitted to this writer that he had spent weeks talking and recruiting candidates although their religious affiliation was not included in discussions.

Nor should a candidate’s religious affiliation be a factor in any election.

Unknown to the voting public was the Mayor’s political stick handling to become the P.C. candidate in the June provincial election while publicly denying he was seeking the nomination.

Unfortunately, the question of religious affiliation pointed out by some opponents of Mr. Guthrie, who charged him with creating a slate to favour his mayoralty.

What these people are claiming is nuts and blatantly untrue.

For eight years, the progressives left in Guelph ran a slate of supporters of then Mayor Karen Farbridge.

In my opinion, the chickens have come home to roost. The NDP slate of candidates are facing imminent defeat, based on the record of wasted millions on projects such as the new City Hall and the GMHI debacle, to name two. But in the past four years the progressive’s Bloc of Seven, held a majority on council and played a role of obstructionism and stalled necessary reforms.

Playing both sides of the street

Let’s return to the Mayor’s sabotage of the Guelph P.C. Riding Association’s abortive attempts to conduct a legal nomination convention. The P.C. headquarters team was complicit in creating the delay because it refused to confirm the identity of their chosen candidate. And they never did.

As a result of the Mayor’s action behind the scene, a nomination meeting was never held.

In the midst of the P.C. Association turmoil of uncertainty, Mr. Coole received a telephone call from Mayor Guthrie asking him to lunch and suggested they meet at a pizza restaurant located in a Stone Road plaza. In the course of that meeting, Mr. Guthrie said he was interested in receiving the P.C. nomination but only by acclamation.

Mr. Coole advised him that the nomination process involved other candidates and he could not recommend to his board the request by the Mayor. By now, some weeks had gone by and the P.C.’s had no candidates.

To fill the gap, the riding association attracted two candidates, former city councillor Ray Ferarro and a Rockwood veterinarian. The PC headquarter’s team interviewed both. But time to hold a nomination meeting had almost run out.

The new PC leader, Doug Ford, on a Saturday three weeks before the election, named Mr. Ferarro as the Guelph P.C. candidate among 18 others in ridings across the province.

On May 1st, nominations for city council opened with Mayor Guthrie and four new individuals signing up for council.

It became apparent that the Mayor was setting up a slate of supporting candidates who shared similar interests and beliefs.

But in doing so, he sabotaged the Guelph P.C. Riding Association’s efforts to run a fair and open nomination convention.

Unfortunately for Mr. Guthrie, blind ambition led to the P.C.’s getting hammered in the June provincial election. As a member of the Conservative Party, he is now considered persona non grata.

Voters have no choice but to elect Cam Guthrie as our mayor. If he struggled in the past four years dealing with a strong opposition, this next four years will not be any easier.

He must speak truth to power.

 

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Why is the city wasting staff time planning the Reformatory lands?

via Why is the city wasting staff time planning the Reformatory lands?

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September 19, 2018 · 11:31 pm

Why is the city wasting staff time planning the Reformatory lands?

By Gerry Barker September 20, 2018 Last week, Coun. Bob Bell persuaded Mayor Cam Guthrie to attend a squatter’s campsite in a forested wood located on the provincially owned Reformatory lands. It was a site of tents and litter including drug paraphernalia. Mayor Guthrie responded saying the property management outfit, hired by the province, said it was the planning to clean up the squatter’s campsites on the property. Let’s drill down and check out the background of these lands that the city has been lusting for. Lusting you say? Yes, for the eight years of the Farbridge administration, city staff spent multi-hours designing a satellite city on property the city does not own. The project was named “Innovation Guelph” and the design model includes all aspects of planning such as infrastructure, street layouts, zoning of lands, residential density. There is no doubt that this ongoing effort by city staff was costly and we will never know how much because the YTD staff costs are buried in the city’s financial statements. Staff resources wasted on sketchy Innovation Guelph dream Further. the Guthrie administration that has no jurisdiction of the Reformatory lands is still continuing the planning exercise according to a staff recommendation made last winter. This is a huge investment of public funds on someone else’s property. In present circumstances, it is not possible that the Ford administration is in any way ready to give the asset away to the city or anyone else. It has been on the market with no apparent takers. So what’s going on? Again, the citizens are left out. Best guess is the city is hoping to secure the property using a Public Participation Plan (3P) with a private partner. That partner would benefit with full access using the development plans already paid for by the citizens. This way, the city would get its satellite city with little further funding and gain a boatload of new property tax assessment. Hold the phone! The Guthrie administration has already announced the Baker Street redevelopment project, another 3P deal with an Ottawa-based developer that currently has an estimated $350 million price tag. The city claims it has already invested $29 million in the Baler Street redevelopment. The proposal lumps in the $22 million Wilson Street five-story parkade adjacent to city hall and now under construction. It appears the only way to pay for all this is to approve the sale of recreational pot that becomes legal October 17. The Ford government says it will be up to the municipalities to decide whether to allow it. Baker Street redevelopment is 10 years from completion Trouble is that shovels don’t go in the ground for five years (2024). The estimated construction period is four years. For those folks cheering the announcement that a new downtown library is the main tenant in the project, have at least ten years before the doors open, if ever. On top of that, the cost to the public side of the Baker Street 3P is unknown. The staff can only guess about the cost to citizens and they’re not telling because they cannot estimate costs five years from now. This comes at a time when the Mayor is also promising, if elected, that ground will be broken next year for the $63 million South End recreation centre. More than $3 million has already been spent by the city preparing the design and facilities site plan. Finally, there is the problem in Guelph of a volatile soup of booze, drugs, violence, filth, and sex mixed with immaturity and irresponsibility. This has been escalating for the past 12 years with three administrations, dominated by leftist progressives who have failed to provide affordable housing for the poor, homeless and working Canadians living under the poverty line. One of the problems is that County Wellington administers social and affordable housing. This has not worked out over the years as statistics show that Guelph has not provided the necessary affordable housing or social support for the growing numbers of members of our society. These are the forgotten people, living under often-awful conditions in our city, who have been virtually bypassed in terms of proper housing and shelter. The effort of the NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) has been the chief refuge for many of these folks but municipal government has to step up to stop the lawlessness, crime and social disrespect. The Mayor wants to hire more police. It’s only a piece of the puzzle to solve a serious problem. And who would know and understand the problem better than our police who deal with this 24/7. The new council should make solving this problem a top priority. Assemble a fact-finding task force composed of councillors, NGO representatives, emergency first responders including police, fire and EMS, University of Guelph, Service club members, Guelph General Hospital, development industry and Wellington County. It is important from the get-go that the problems must be identified then prepared for an action plan based on real-time information and make specific recommendations. Finally, raise the money. Guelph has always been a city of generosity toward causes for those less fortunate. It will take time to complete the task but with patience and clarity of the issues there will come resolution. When that happens, citizens will be proud to call Guelph, The Royal City.      

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Part One: A candid look at Cam Guthrie’s re-election platform

By Gerry Barker

September 17, 2018

Well, four years of the Guthrie Administration have gone by and are you better off today than October 2014?

The good news is that if you operate a business, are a public employee and have a good job, things are a little better, particularly if you own a home.

But we live in uncertain times. The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is on the edge of foundering. This has a direct effect on Guelph where there are more than 6,000 employees at Linamar plants alone, not including the small feeders plants to Linamar. They may see their jobs evaporate if the U.S. imposes tariffs on cars and auto parts built in Ontario and shipped south daily.

Let’s be fair. This potential economic threat is not in Cam Guthrie’s wheelhouse. It does become a problem when Guelph citizens employed in the private sector including the auto industry, retail and service operations lose their jobs and cannot pay their bills if NAFTA falls apart.

If this does occur, it will be a national disaster, the likes of which we have never seen since the Great Depression.

Guelph Citizens who escape this potential economic fallout are public employees including those working for the city, estimated to be 2,800, plus the University of Guelph and Conestoga College, staffs of the provincial and federal government living in Guelph.

I remain hopeful that NAFTA will survive although there will be changes that will affect some Canadians especially in the agriculture sector of our economy.

The Guthrie Plan for a Better Guelph

There is the obvious stuff to placate the progressive members of the new council. Stuff like affordable housing and communities, promoting the urban forest and canopy of trees, dumping single use plastics in city buildings, supporting the thousands of labour union members, and increasing and maintaining social services. Keep in mind that 80 per cent of the city staff are active members of unions and associations.

The mayor comes off as a law and order guy who wants to spend $750,000 every year hiring new officers. His mantra is safety, safety for everyone. As a member of the Guelph Police Services board, Mr. Guthrie is up close and personal with the growth of crime in the city. His solution is to spend more money adding more cops.

But there are serious drug problems on the downtown streets that have not been corrected in the past 15 years. Panhandlers, drunks, drug dealers and homeless people plague the streets downtown, particularly at night and weekends. For eight months of the year it is exacerbated by the weekend influx of University students and out-of-town rowdies.

It’s a volatile soup of booze, drugs, violence, and sex mixed with immaturity and irresponsibility.

Hiring more police is not the only answer, Mr. Mayor. As the next mayor, you need to set up a task force to investigate how other university cities handle the problem such as Kingston, Toronto, Waterloo, London, Windsor and Ottawa. Also the investigation should include Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria.

The task force should be talking to Mayors and Police chiefs. It should also plan and complete its investigation material and report back to council within four months. This only addresses the control and enforcement issues. The social issues are ongoing endemic problems that need support from the provincial and federal governments.

Those folks employed on the front lines of this situation should not only be part of the Mayor’s Task Force to make the city safe for everyone, but supported by city council.

In my opinion, this remains a lingering boil on the underbelly of our city. It is time to lance it.

In his platform, he mayor does not address the high cost of living in Guelph. In four years, property taxes in the city have increased by an estimated 15 per cent, including increases in assessment and inflation.

It remains a conundrum when during his election campaign he promised to keep the property tax rate at the same level as the Consumer Price Index and get rid of the Guelph Factor. Not sure what that meant but believe he was referring to the cost and difficulty of doing business with and in Guelph.

Noting that has occurred, when I hear a story about a certain city employee who is responsible for protecting wild species, who I’m told, has veto power to deny development proposals. In this case, it was bullfrogs residing in a small wetland on a property applying for and receiving a variance to proceed.

So, the Guelph Factor remains alive. The Mayor’s proposal is to continue with the staff review processes that have been ongoing in the city.

For what it’s worth Mr. Mayor, you will become the mayor of the Century if you can lead your new council to reduce the operational overhead of our city.

Your support of the South End $63 million Recreation Centre and the main library project, also known as the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment plan, remain pixie dust in the business of the city.

The rhetoric is great, political but financially fanciful.

But then, when you are on the cusp of retuning as Mayor, you are entitled, and known, to change your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gelph’s Green MPP ignites the fears of Climate Change at Carden Street rally

By Gerry Barker

September 10, 2018

Will that be regular or high test?

An estimated 250 people turned up at a Climate Change rally on Carden Street last Saturday. They heard the one and only MPP Mike Schreiner, proclaimed Ontario leader of the one-man Green Party in the Ontario Legislature, press the “right” environmentalist buttons to the assembled crowd.

Or was that the “left button?”

Here’s a trip down memory lane.

I remember the comment by former councillor Maggie Laidlaw 10 years ago and I’m paraphrasing: “In 20 years there won’t be any cars on Guelph streets.”

Well, Maggie, ten years later there are more cars, trucks and buses on our streets than ever, creating traffic congestion and lack of downtown core parking. Even the number of gas stations has been reduced.

Since the Maggie opinion, some 12,000 new residents have chosen Guelph as their home. In 10 years the city staff has increased by 650. Go figure.

At the time, Maggie was an ardent proponent of commuting to work, rain or shine, on her bicycle. She advocated that the bicycle was the precursor of active transportation in Guelph making some of us with well-muscled calves and thighs.

City council went along with this theory and in 2007 started spending millions on bike lanes, particularly on major streets. In 2009 alone more than $2 million was spent putting bike lanes on Stone Road. Each year since, the city has spent $300,000 developing bike lanes.

That project, along with a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre, was financed by a special infrastructure grant divided between the federal and provincial governments and the city. The city’s share was $26 million but it did not have the money. So, it called a note for $30 million owed by Guelph Hydro. Details of spending the money were never really disclosed. It is known that there was little left of the cash infusion.

To bolster their decision to reduce vehicle emissions, council agreed to repave a number of major roads with four lanes for vehicles, and remarking the finished product with two lanes disappearing, wider bike lanes and a left turn centre lane.

Are you starting to see the source of traffic congestion and inadequate parking? Truth to tell is that money went into environmental projects that were poorly planned and executed. The city now called it the District Energy plan that included supplying hot and cold water to five buildings adjacent to the Sleeman Centre using experimental thermal underground technology.

Guelph’s expensive war on vehicles

Bike lanes, solar panels on public buildings, street lane squeezing and plans to build large scale natural gas generating plants to make the city self sufficient in terms of electricity, contributed to millions being misspent. Inspired by former mayor, Karen Farbridge, the spending under under the Community Energy Innovation cost the city millions.

The trouble with these “climate change” developments was a lack of statistical information about the use of the bike lanes. Even more important was that many of these arbitrary changes resulted in a marked bike lane starting at one point and ending before the end of the street. Examples are Stevenson, Silver Creek, Downey and Woolwich.

Today, the city still has a $400 million under-funded infrastructure deficit that is being handled through a property tax levy of one per cent or $4.4 million each year. In the 2018 budget, half of that is coming from reserve funds and the remainder from property taxpayers.

At that rate, it will take 99.9 years to clear the deficit. But that’s not inflation adjusted or available reserves for catastrophic weather events.

If the University of Guelph just paid its share of property taxes based on that paid by property owners in the city, that is adjusted annually, that money would help restore fairness and make our city stronger financially and more livable.

Linamar, employing some 6,000 workers, pays its share of property taxes. Why is making auto parts any different than graduating students? Guelph residents subsidize the University but not Linamar.

The active transportation crowd or cyclists use city streets at no cost. Many do not pay taxes, and their numbers are unknown by city staff. There was one staff report of a count of traffic on Downey Road of cyclists and vehicles. It was an independent study that revealed in an eight-hour period there were some 900 cyclists using Downey Road and 4,700 vehicles.

The tail is wagging the dog

If this is any indication that the tail is wagging the dog, I don’t know what is.

Climate Change is caused by many factors as fossil fuel use is slowly diminishing. The carbon dioxide emissions of the 400 active volcanoes in the world plus excessive destruction of forested lands, heavy use of coal in many countries including India and China are major contributors of climate change.

Of course the growing world population and growth of the middle class in under-developed countries, places enormous pressure to generate power now leading into a new era of more responsible use of power generation sources.

Finally, the earth is going through a natural change over which we have no control.

Instead we should be concerned about how our city, our province and our country are being managed.

We have just experienced a major change in the provincial government. Next month we have the opportunity to elect a responsible civic government in Guelph. Next year we will elect a new government in Ottawa.

These are opportunities to express your desire by more democratic representation.

It’s now our turn to change.

 

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