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.


The new website 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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