Monthly Archives: January 2019

The short memory of Susan Watson ignores history of the past 12 years

By Gerry Barker

January 28, 2019

Opinion

Editor’s Note – Before launching into another overview of unvarnished civics reports on the management of our city, I urge everyone to read and absorb the history on which I have been reporting and commenting since 2011.  The administration is in charge of our $500 million corporation. But who is really running the show?

Susan Watson, the high Priestess of the Left-leaning coalition of power figures controlling our city administration. In a letter to the media, she says: “We all care about our property tax bills.”

She then adds that we should all care about impending increased changes to the development impact by-law updating currently before city council.

Three guesses as to where this is going.

She urges readers not to believe the ‘old’ slogan that, “Growth will pay for growth.”

However, before we consider her statement that in the next ten years, citizens will subsidize development in Guelph at an estimated rate of $5 million a year or $50 million. Those figures come from Tara Baker, the city’s General Manager of Finance and Treasurer.

Ms Watson claims that in the past five years taxpayers paid $21.5 million to subsidize development in the city.

There seems to be a difference here between the city staff manager, responsible for all things accountable is projecting in public administration. Susan Watson’s recent five-year analysis of taxpayers subsidizing development does not agree with the Financial GM’s forecast.

None of these figures define ‘development.’ For example, do the figures include city development projects or are these Ms. Watson’s personal political views?

Are development impact fees charged to the Wilson street five store parkade the city is building across the road from City Hall? That’s a $22 million project.

That cost has been declared as part of the estimated $350 million renovation of the Baker Street project announced before the civic election won by Mayor Guthrie. He said a deal has been struck between the city and Windmill Developments based in Ottawa. It is called a 3P or Private, Public Participation Plan. Whoops that’s four P’s.

This apparent proposal won’t start until 2024 and take at least five to six years to complete. The joker is what is the city’s capital share of this and its public liability? What is the estimate of revenue including taxes and, wait for it! Developments fees?

Some may believe it is heresy regarding city-managed projects to dredge up some of the spectacular management failures in the past 12 years.

Whopper Alert!

Here’s a run down of some of the historical failures:

* The organic waste processing facility costing $34 million of taxpayer’s money and the public does not have access to the organic mulch by-product. It was so overbuilt to handle Guelph’s wet waste that it depends on Simcoe County and the Region of Waterloo for feed stock to keep the joint operating. To top it off, a subsidiary of the company that built the facility, operates it through a subsidiary corporation and sells the finished compost. Details of this arrangement have never been revealed to the people who financed it.

Would you agree this information is in the Public Interest?

*         *         *         *

* Along came the new city hall construction. In 2006, city council approved a contract for $42 million. In 2007, a new council took over and by September 2008, booted the general contractor off the job. The contractor sued the city for $19 million and six years later, a Superior Court judge ruled the city responsible for wrongful dismissal. The overrun cost of the entire project was $23 million.

Why did a lawsuit outcome fail the interest of Public Interest?

*         *         *         *

* The $34 million police headquarters renovation will not be completed until next December. This is a city-managed project and so far it is on schedule to avoid cost overruns coming in at contract cost. However, experience dictates that missing the 2018 completion date indicates possible cost overruns.

* The greatest city mismanaged failure was the five-year record of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) led by former mayor Karen Farbridge and aided by her former Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, who had the dual responsibility as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

The real cost of this multi-tasked attempt to create self-sufficiency in power supply and a geo-thermal heating and cooling water system to a small collection of nearby buildings. These include the city- owned Sleeman Centre, River Run theatre and Hanlon Business Park. The only information about the cost of this operation was stated in a consolidated audit of GMHI conducted by accounting firm KPMG

There was a shareholder’s liability of $63 million. That’s a loss to taxpayers in any language.

Was GMHI shrouded in closed- sessions in the Public Interest?

*         *         *         *

Does Ms. Watson object to private enterprise and its role in creating housing both affordable and upscale? Or is it another undocumented scare tactic to reflect her ongoing anti-Conservative campaign to discredit the likes of Mike Harris and Doug Ford?

Susan, look back to the future

Ms. Watson should go back 12 years to examine the track record of former mayor Karen Farbridge and close friend who was supported financially in the three elections.

The Farbridge administration thatran the city for eight years was no slouch in cutting deals with private developers. These include Tricar developments that received deferred development fees in construction of two high-rise condos. There were others given deferred development and deferred property taxes to build housing, particularly in the downtown area.

These deferments were covered by transferring funds of the Brownfield reserve fund valued at more than $30 million. One of those sites was the former LaFarge cement manufacturing plant, east of the Hanlon, south of Paisley.

The funds were set aside to clean up contaminated sites that needed remedial action to remove dangerous elements in the soil.

That Brownfield reserve transfer was done to limit the annual property tax increases and deferred development charges that would impact the city budgets over the years. Again, details of these deals have not been revealed.

But there is more

But the biggest flop of the Farbridge administration was the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. The audit of this project by accounting firm KPMG, revealed shareholder’s loss (the citizens of Guelph) was some $63 million. The details of this were published following council meetings May 16, 2016 and mid-July 2016.

This audit showed the costs of creating self-sufficiency in power and a geo-thermal underground system providing hot and cold water supplied to a few city-owned building, a church and two large high-rise conco towers near the Sleeman centre.

The Guelph Hydro giveaway

Then the new council, in 2017 voted to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities.

I remain convinced it was a terrible deal because the only thing citizens received was return of its own money. The surplus of Guelph Hydro cash of $18.5 million, that’s our money, is about to be returned to the city. Also, the city is to receive a 4.36 per cent share of 60 per cent of the Alectra Utilities profits.

Breaking news! In 2019 the city, according to budget documents, will receive a dividend of $1 million from Alectra Utilities.

So, why was it merged with Alectra when Guelph Hydro was sending an annual dividend to the city of $3 million?

The administration’s war on fossil-fueled vehicles

The reconfiguration of major city streets is another alleged development of reducing the use of fossil-fueled vehicles. In fact, the opposite has occurred as traffic congestion has substantially increased due to the shrinkage of traffic lanes on major streets to accommodate bicycle lanes.

The cost of this abortive attempt to cut emissions is in eight years: Council has spent some $300,000 annually on bike lane development. Included also was $2 million received for special bike lanes on Stone Road as part of the 2009 infrastructure program of the provincial and federal governments. Oh yes! That also included spending $75,000 on a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre. That replaced one that was working well.

What in hell has that to do with infrastructure?

Added up, there were millions spent on projects described first as optional, but the Farbridge administrations were determined to adhere to climate change and environmental projects to achieve their dream. As usual, citizens picked up the tab.

I do agree with Ms. Watson about private developers paying the costs of connecting to city roads, water and sewer lines, power distribution and public safety facilities, to name a few. But I remain confused about the financial status between private and public development.

Property taxes spiral because of kitchen table accounting

We have just gone through 12 years of council and support staff that have strayed off the reservation.

The good news is there are some moves made to install experienced money managers who can re-focus and concentrate on fixing the infrastructure and freeze the mega projects such as Innovation Guelph Reformatory lands plan and the Baker Street renovation.

Reducing overhead operating costs, debt, pie-in-the-sky projects and maintains services are more important than ever.

How do you get out of the hole, stop digging.

 

 

 

 

 

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How do we get off the Bike Bandwagon?

By Gerry Barker

January 21, 2019

Opinion

The other night council received its first blush of the $87.37 million capital spending budget. Here’s where it will be spent providing that council and lobby groups don’t add to the total. That’s what usually happens during the budget process every year.

It is an unnatural opportunity for councillors to impress and placate their constituents. It is far too tempting with the power to spend the public’s money on projects to patronize the various special interest groups and individuals.

For starters, here’s the list of Capital spending projects produced by the staff:

  • $3.325 million for contaminated site-related projects.
  • $8.361 million for corporate projects, including planning studies, vehicles and equipment and facility renewal and expansion. This figures includes planning and strategic initiatives of Baker District and the beginning of the city’s Official Plan review.
  • $4.96 million for emergency services. The majority being directed at the expansion of paramedic services.
  • $7.916 million for open spaces, recreation, culture and library. This includes renewal of equipment and facilities and additional funds to progress the South End Community Centre project.
  • $3.107 million for solid waste. Includes planning and construction for a public drop-off scale.
  • $4.683 million for stormwater management. Including repair, renewal and replacement of assets.
  • $14.502 million for transportation services. Including bridges, culverts, roads and parking.
  • $13.104 million for wastewater services.
  • $27.445 million for water services. Includes water testing and studies at two new wells potentially to be used for city expansion.

More than 63 per cent of this proposed $55.051 million capital budget is being spent on three vital services all involving potable water, treating wastewater and building wells.

I’d be the last guy to complain about spending money on our vital use of clean water and developing new supplies to meet the needs of a growing population. With the 2016 census, Guelph has grown to 131,000 residents. Recent increase in newcomers is in the 10,000 per person range that the 2016 census reported for Guelph.

That means that by 2021 Guelph’s population will be 142,000 if the rate of growth remains the same as the previous census period.

I agree with the staff recommendation, water is the top priority.

That total water spending proposal does not include $4.683 million for storm water management that is in the capital budget. But property owners are already paying a special levy of one per cent for storwater maintenance. It used to be part of the operating budget but was transferred to the citizens for payment, monthly, through their Hydro bill.

Let’s talk about demands by the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation. Translation: The tiny minority of cyclists who feel it is their right to travel the streets and be protected from those dirty, stinky and loud vehicles. They take it upon themselves to chiefly be responsible to support climate change by banning the use of fossil fuels.

But here’s the rub

Operators of motor vehicles pay taxes, licences and user fees to use the roads. In fact the City of Guelph, receives a gas tax rebated from the senior governments of more than $5 million annually. It’s rebated to the city not the people who previously paid for it at the pump. This results in the very people using fossil fueled vehicles end up subsidizing more bike lanes.

How much do the active transporters pay? They are not licensed, pay no taxes, are not insured, no mandatory bike inspection, no tests for ability to safely use the streets and know the rules of the Highway Traffic Act.

And yet, one Yvette Tendick, speaking for the Coalition, laid out their demands to be included in the 2019 Capital Budget.

The Guelph Mercury published the following profile of Yvette Tendick who joined the community editorial board in 2015.

Yvette Tendick is a primary school teacher with a bachelor of environmental studies degree. She has always had a strong interest in environmental issues. Over the years, her environmental focus has morphed from sustainability of natural ecosystems to sustainability and resilience of cities.

She is interested in the steps citizens might undertake to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels while simultaneously increasing our quality of life. She believes one way to achieve this lofty goal is through active transportation, which she engages in during her commute to work by bike or on foot.

She also has a keen interest in getting the next generation physically active, and is rather certain that city design and infrastructure are crucial to nudging all of our citizens to get moving.

Getting to the root of the deal

Now here is what she is proposing city council to do to improve cycling, aka active transportation.

  1. January 16, she told council that the city should clear up some of the trees and roots. These are putting pressure on the existing retaining wall along what will one day become a multi-use trail at Speedvale, including a proposed underpass.
  2. “So before even considering tearing down this retaining wall in a few years, a quick fix of removing the trees ASAP seems to be the first logical step in increasing the longevity of the current wall.”
  3. “Separated bike lanes are needed on Gordon from Kortright all the way to Wellington, and also on Woolwich from Woodlawn all the way to downtown,” she said.

Well, that’s a tall order.

I think after reading this report, she is asking the council to add $30,000 to the capital budget for her short term plan A to make it easier for cyclists to use the trail to downtown. Trouble is the location of this on Speedvale, some eight kilometers long, is not identified in the article. Which retaining wall? Which trees and roots? Where on Speedvale?

This is a game of assumptions that leave the rest of the citizens out of the loop.

City council, since 2007, has spent millions on developing bike lanes, reducing vehicle lanes on major routes to accommodate them.

Ms. Tendick’s profile is clear but misguided. Does she really believe that the so-called active transportation theory will work and vehicles using fossil fuels will disappear in her lifetime?

How many citizens depend on bicycles 12 months of the year?

It’s a known fact that the city has zero documentation of the number of residents using bicycles on Guelph streets and roads 12 months of the year.

The groups of environmental activists, who ride bicycles, resemble a cult bonded by the belief that they can change the way we transport ourselves while at the same time clean up the atmosphere.

I think of Kevin Costner in the movie, A Field of Dreams, in which the punch line is ‘if we build it, they will come.’

This group is the whiniest, pushy and provocateurs of social engineering for which we have already paid to placate their cause.

It is if they want to roll back society more than 150 years or, as my wife is fond of saying ‘I loved the good old days.’ Neither of us has ridden a bicycle since we were 16.

We are not alone.

How can the proponents of active bicycle transportation be so narrowly focused on the environment when most citizens cannot and never will use bicycles to get out and about?

Think of riding a bicycle to perform simple tasks such as getting groceries and needed drugs, or going to the hospital or doctor’s offices, going to the library, visiting family and friends, going to the cottage or vacation, getting to places of worship, volunteering and going to the park, theatre or your granddaughter’s recital.

Especially when it’s raining, snowing or just damned cold. It’s not a time for the Mary Poppins trick of flying under her umbrella.

Stop and think of children, seniors, the disabled, and all those outside the active transportation groups’ demographic of ages 18 to 40.

I think the expense of expanding or spending more money accommodating the cyclist group should be frozen. That is until we get the handle on our basic infrastructure needs and financial shortfall of some $450 million increasing at a rate of $20 million a year.

Has anyone calculated how much fossil fuel as been reduced as a result of building this network of bicycle lanes in the past 18 years?

We would rather be able to flush our toilet and enjoy a glass of water from the tap than paying for more bike lanes.

Are the demands of the minority greater than repairing the infrastructure of our city that serves everyone? Transportation technology is moving ahead at warp speed. Bicycles are not part of the transition.

It’s time for council to get off the Bike Bandwagon.

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It only cost Mike Schreiner $119,864 to buy a seat in the Ontario Legislature

By Gerry Barker

January 14, 2019

Opinion

Taking a look at the numbers of the recent provincial election submitted by Green Party Leader, Michael Schreiner, as reported to Elections Ontario.

All it took was a tsunami of cash for Mr. Schreiner to trample all of the other candidates in last June’s provincial election, using a boatload of money. According to Elections Ontario, the Schreiner campaign reported receiving income of $152,677.71

As reported in Guelph Today, Schreiner spent $119,864.14 to win the Guelph seat in the Ontario Legislature. He was the only Green Party candidate elected as a member to Queen’s Park. It is reported that the Green Party received some 285,000 votes across the province. It appears that Mr. Schreiner’s vote of some 29,000 in Guelph is ten per cent of the total Green Party vote cast in the province. That is impressive.

One cannot suggest that this was a stunning victory for the Greens. All he needs now are seven more Green Party candidates to attain the status of an official party in the Legislature to be recognized by the Speaker. Recently, he was quoted that he had developed friendships with an undisclosed number of PC members suggesting they may switch parties.

You have to ask the question: “ What’s in it for them?”

The Guelph Today report investigating the election finance’s story discovered that Premier Doug Ford spent $66,889.01 to get elected in the Lakeshore riding. His Progressive Conservative Party received more than 2.2 million votes, electing 73 members to the Legislature to form the government for four years.

Schreiner also spent more that Opposition Leader, Andrea Horwath, who reported spending $101,485.04 to retain her Hamilton seat and the NDP elected 40 members to the Legislature.

So, is there something wrong with this picture?

Let’s drill down into Mike Schreiner’s official financial report regarding his election submitted to Elections Ontario last September.

The Schreiner Reported Assets

His total campaign assets are $72,404.88. This is composed of cash, ($38,649.91), campaign reimbursement entitlement from 2014 civic election ($24,633.74), Accounts receivable ($1,739.90), inventory of campaign materials ($7,389.33)

Liabilities and Surplus

Accounts payable ($7,568.34), Surplus ($64,836.54 deficit). That balances with the Assets of $72,404.88.

Now here comes the interesting part under the title:

Statement of Income and Expenses from May 9 2018 to September 7, 2018

Income

Contributions                                              $58,090.43

Interest income                                                    $12.45

General Contributions at meetings                $10.00

Transfers received                                      $93,629.73

Sale of T-shirts                                                 $935.00

Total Income                                              $152,677.61

A peek at expenses

The summary of expenses includes spending $22,034.26 on salaries and benefits. Who were these paod staffers and what did they do? That’s slightly less than the total cost of the P.C. campagn supported by 14,000 votes.

Was this a case of Fort Knox against the madding crowd outside the moat, or an episode in the Game of Thrones?

Following the money, two figures catch my eye

First, the $58,090.41 in contributions does not name the contributors or the division between those donating more than $1,200 compared to those donating less. There is a specific rule about donations and contributions because some contributors do not want to be identified, but did all of them not want to be identified?

Did the campaign receive any ‘in kind’ contributions?’ This means supplying services instead of cash. Hypothetical examples could be supplying services such as courier, transporting personnel or being offered rooms or halls for for campaign meetings.

Second, the $93,629 listed as ‘Transfers Received,’ needs clarification in terms of large-scale funds transferred from where and from whom? It should be explained if for no other reason, than, to be transparent and open.

These are serious questions about financial statements such as Mr. Schreiner’s alleged association with Tides Canada. This is an environmental political action organization that has helped finance Green Party candidates in their bid to be elected to Canadian provincial governments, such as British Columbia. A province in which Tides Canada helped elect three Green Party members to the B.C. legislature.

When the grass grows, get out the lawn mower

The B.C. Green Party members hold the balance of power that supports the NDP ruling party. This has had a serious impact on the efforts of the environmental movement to halt reconstruction of the Trans-Mountain pipeline owned by the people of Canada. The renovation of the existing pipeline is to open the door to the Pacific markets for Canadian oil and natural gas.

Despite this, the environmentalists have successfully stalled the T-M construction paralyzing the process for one reason only: To halt production and export of Canadian fossil fuels to global markets.

Tides Canada is a subsidiary of Tides America that has a war chest of some $150 million to support a variety of environmental projects and sponsor political action.

Do you believe that funding of political parties and their candidates should be open and transparent? Mr. Schreiner spending $119,864 to get elected in Guelph completely smothered the financial spending of all the other candidates combined.

In my opinion, based on Mr. Schreiner’s election financial report, corporations or environmental political action committees may have helped finance the Schreiner campaign. What happens in B.C. has little relevance to the city or citizens of Guelph who are now represented by Mr. Schreiner.

But it did, as the Green party finally got a seat for the first time in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. It remains to be seen if Mr. Schreiner’s new role as a Guelph’s MPP will be beneficial to the 29,000 people who elected him.

Frankly, as a citizen, I believe Mr. Schreiner will be too busy beating his own drum to be an effective representative for Guelph.

Want proof? In all the years I worked at the Toronto Star, I never witnessed a lead editorial promoting an individual candidate as the paper did before the election. It endorsed Mike Schreiner, stating the electors in Guelph could make history electing him. And it did, with possibly a little help from his friends from far away.

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Was this appointment part of the Hydro merger?

By Gerry Barker

January 7, 2019

Opinion

Well, that’s been a weird winter so far. One day the kids are sliding down the first fairway of the Guelph Country Club and a day later there is no snow.

Even stranger is the appointment of Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong as Guelph’s representative on the Board of Directors of Alectra Utilities.

If you missed the news Guelph Hydro is now dead and no longer our property. As of the beginning of the year, Alectra Utilities took over the city’s electricity distribution system.

So, who benefits from this disposal of a $228 million successful city-owned distribution system serving some 55,000 customers?

Well we now know of one person, Jane Armstrong, a 12-year Guelph Hydro Board member and more recently the chairperson. No doubt she is a seasoned, well-qualified individual to represent our interest of things, such as electricity and who is running the system?

Patience friends, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will this takeover of our power distribution system and delivers promised services in a day.

This appointment is shrouded in secrecy. Who made the appointment of Ms. Armstrong? Was it council in secret session? Was it the board of directors of Guelph Hydro? In the release of the news in Guelph Today, there was no mention of just how she got the job.

It’s a juicy assignment reported to have a base salary of $25,000 plus travel expenses and payment for attending the Alectra board meetings.

Oh yes, it includes a four-year engagement.

But here is what bothers me. Ms. Armstrong was the co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, (SOC) appointed by council, to investigate the sale. Merger or partnership of Guelph Hydro with another municipally-owned power distribution system.

In February 2017, Ms. Armstrong replaced Hydro CEO Panaj Sardana as co-chair of SOC along with Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson.

A closed-session of SOC detailing with SOC’s board personnel changes, also decided to take the option of selling Guelph Hydro off the table. This set the stage for a merger.

This information made public by Richard Puccini who was a member of the SOC board until replaced.

The rest of the story is that Alectra Utilities, in partnership with the Guthrie administration, convinced10 members of council to support the Alectra merger December 13, 2017. Three councillors voted against the merger, Phil Allt, James Gordon and Bob Bell.

Getting back to the Armstrong appointment. As the co-chair of the SOC that recommended the merger with Alectra Utilities, the perception exists that she was in a conflict of interest.

It should be noted that no elected official or city staff were eligible to take the job under the terms of the merger agreement.

Was there any attempt to advertise the position? Were other persons interviewed for the position?

Although public money is not involved in this appointment, she is representing the interests of the citizens.

Now about that $18.5 million “special dividend” the city will receive, it’s a sick joke. It is a return of cash from Guelph Hydro that is the property of the citizens.

There is nothing like closing a deal by paying us with our own money.

Here’s another observation. The low turnout last October in the civic election may be traced back to not only indifference but also failures of people to understand the Merger deal.

I believe that was by design by the Guthrie administration that was determined to merge Guelph Hydro. The only issue left out was what did the city receive for eclipsing Guelph Hydro?

Only in Guelph, you say?

 

 

 

 

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What’s New? How is the world treating you? Sung by Linda Ronstadt with the great Nelson Riddle band

By Gerry and Barbara Barker

January 2, 2019

And now here’s something a little different.

Both of us have spent the past 36 years together. Unusual in that we spent time some 25 years prior with other partners who passed away but are not forgotten.

The result has been an integrated family with adventures and events that have created a loving and interesting human experience.

Along the way we lost a daughter and witnessed the growth of six children and 12 grandchildren. The new wave is the arrival of eight great-grandchildren.

We have been fortunate to have traveled the world including an 80-day cruise around the world visiting 28 ports of call. We have walked the Great Wall of China, ridden on the Moscow Subway, cruised the Greek Islands, ridden a clog train up the Matterhorn and kissed the Blarney Stone.

For many years we spent our winters in Sarasota, Florida visiting Gerry’s mother who lived for 101 years passing in 2001. Alas, we are unable to enjoy that aspect of our lives due in part to our advanced years.

When all is said and done, Guelph has been our favourite home for the past 15 years living in the city. Barbara was born here some 86 years ago.

Oh sure. There have been times of disagreement and disappointment, but our love for each other surmounts negativity. Barbara always says: “ Never go to bed angry.”

Well, it works most of the time.

Lately we have been filtering through our accumulated stuff. Barbara came across a poem she had written several years ago and submitted to a Poetry Publisher. She received a rave review from the organization but with all the moving and travel, it was lost until recently.

We thought you might enjoy her poem.

Trying Out My Wings

By Barbara MacDonald Barker

“We thought you might enjoy her poem.

“Trying out my wings

By Barbara MacDonald Barker

“I am trying out the wings of my mind

Testing the water cautiously

I’m frightened of things I might find

But need to live my life thoroughly

I’ll face each and every day

And learn to love and laugh again

I’ll watch the sunset’s orange rays

And walk on sand and smell the rain.”

Looking back over the past 36 years we can see the parts of our lives that are manifest in this poem.

In closing we want to tip the hat to our neighbourhood cat, Tuxedo. We are entertained by his travels around the ‘hood looking for chipmunks, the odd slow bird and the occasional bunny. He is rewarded along the way with the occasional saucer of milk and a stroke or two of his glistening coat.

Some Cat that Tuxedo!

We wish everyone a happy New Year, good health, prosperity and the company of good friends.

Life is good.

What’s new? Hope the world is treating you!

 

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