By Gerry Barker
October 28, 2019
Why did four city councillors not show up to vote spending $197 million on a maintenance and transit garage? Council voted 6-3 to proceed with planning the project which will take 25 years to complete.
The vote was as follows:
IN FAVOUR: Mayor Guthrie, Councillors Allt, Gibson, Goller, Gordon and Hofland (6)
AGAINST: Councillors Bell, Piper and Salisbury (3)
ABSENT FOR VOTE: Councillors Billings, Downer, MacKinnon and O’Rourke (4)
That’s 46.15 per cent of the 13 members elected to council making this decision.
Considering the outcome, why was it so necessary to hold the meeting on federal Election Day?
It happened last Monday night when council met to approve spending $197 million on a new consolidated operations complex next to the Waste Resources Innovation Complex, aka the city dump, off Watson Road.
Council voted to proceed with preliminary planning. It is remarkable that six councillors voted to spend $197 million by 2045. If by some miracle there will be seven successive councils elected and each agrees to continue this plan.
But here is the kicker. Coun. Mike Salisbury seconded the motion to proceed with the project moved by Coun. Dan Gibson. When it was time to vote, Salisbury was one of three councillors voting against the motion.
What happened? Did some councillor say they would second the motion but failed to turn up?
Here is the actual amended motion approved by six councillors:
That staff be directed to proceed with planning and design for a consolidated City Operations Campus consisting of operations facilities for Transit, Operations, Fleet Maintenance, and Corporate Building Maintenance located on the City owned Dunlop Drive property and that the final decision on a new city operations campus be determined following the presentation of a detailed business case and staging plan being provided to Council.
Not even the Government of Canada would commit that amount of money on a single-fixed service facility to be completed in 25 years.
Of course it has been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Get out the Togas staff; looks like you will break the Guinness World Record for long-term planning.
Next, a staff proposal to apply another tax levy on taxpayers
I predict the cost will zoom in the next 25 years if all seven successive councils go along with it, based on just inflation to an astronomical $400 million. The affect of inflation impacts on increased labour costs, materials including cement, steel, bricks, lumber, tools, consultants, vehicles, fuel, insurance, finance charges, change orders.
The special levy is estimated to provide $50 million in capital to help pay for the project in the next ten years. This is beginning to smell like that $350 million Baker Street renaissance Private and Public project to include a library. That was a proposal Mayor Guthrie announced before last year’s civic election.
Is this a moon-shot by council?
In view of this latest display of staff self-serving planning, after 18 years when former Mayor Karen Farbridge announced council would build a new downtown library, it appears council has benched it again.
Those six councillors won’t be around to witness the ribbon cutting in 2045. So why would they approve a 25-year project of such magnitude? Is this some magical municipal financial proposal that would be created by David Copperfield … now you see it, and now you don’t?
The preliminary plan, authorized by the six coucillors, focuses on building a new Guelph Transit maintenance and operations facility. That is only estimated to cost $80 million.
How will the administration finance projects already in the pipeline?
What about those two capital projects including the downtown library, ($68 million), the South End Community Centre, ($68 million). That adds up to $136 million. The new well construction project, ($30 million) adding two new deep wells is included in the 2020 capital budget. Not in this list is the $450 million for infrastructure that is currently being financed by one per cent levy on property taxes.
A report published in the Mercury Tribune outlined cost of the South End Community complex of $68 million. In 2021, $58 million will be available chiefly from development charges. That leaves a gap of $10 million. Some of that missing amount has already been spent from city operating funds passed by the previous council. In the 2022 capiital budget there is another $587,140 for maintenance equipment.
Now there is wind of another property tax levy. Pardon my cynicism but when the administration blows $66 million on Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc and gives Guelph Hydro away for pennies on the dollar, what do we expect?
Staff predicts another 60,000 new residents by 2045
Does this group of six councillors seriously believe this is even remotely possible?
They decided these long-range capital projects to justify their egos, loyalty and survival. The city staff is also married to senior management who know what they are doing. Or more likely, are some members of council listening to their supporters and ignoring the financial requirements of such a huge project.
The process started Monday without analysis of how all those other capital projects will be financed. They made a decision that did not include a business plan.
It’s time to serve the people’s immediate needs
I can think of immediate needs for a new dowtown library, plus a major construction of two new wells to supply future needs (already in the 2020 Capital Budget). Is the Guelph Innovation District plan still alive?
The 2020 capital budget is $151.6 million subject to public and council review. The ten-year capital spending forecasts that by 2029 the total will be $1.7 billion.
According to DCAO Trevor Lee: “The ten-year plan is funded based on asset management principles that lays out the long-term investment needs for our city.
Our General Hospital is asking the city for $4.7 million to expand to meet the needs of a growing population.
These are a few of the pressing issues that affect all citizens, not just the working conditions of the staff. Spending $22 million plus on a parking garage next to city hall will basically serve the city employees. More than two-thirds of the parking spaces are only available to monthly users. Guess who they are?
City council has continued to ignore the downtown area. despite the promise by the former mayor that the downtown would be a vibrant and exciting place for everyone.
How did that turn out?
The property tax deal is a hidden subsidy to the U of G
I’ll wrap up this pet beef. When is city council going to influence the provincial government to amend the 32-year property tax deal granted to all post secondary institutions? They only pay $75 a year per registered student in lieu of property taxes.
The University of Guelph has a huge advantage under this outdated plan because it is in the property land rental business, obtaining income from properties it owns along Stone Road plus hundreds of acres currently not in use. That acreage can be leased to developers with no impact on the city property tax deal with the province.
Bottom line is the city receives approximately $1,65 million per year based on 22.000 students in lieu of property taxes. Meanwhile, the University leases it land to developers and the city receives no property tax assessment income.
How does this compare to Linamar’s property taxes with 19 plants operating in the city?
Yet citizens owning property receive annual tax bills that in recent years increases by an average of 3 per cent. In 32 years how much of an increase has the University paid in lieu of property taxes? Zero.
It has been going on for years and Guelph residents are subsidizing city services pertaining to the University and the community college.
This is iniquitous and has not been upgraded since inception to even allow for inflation.
This places a huge burden on city residents who must subsidize transit, infrastructure, police, fire and EMS services to the growing city and university/community college population. In the 2020 budget, the police services board is requesting a 10 per cent increase in the police budget.
By 2045, the staff estimates there will be 60,000 new citizens living here.
It’s something to think about.