Monthly Archives: November 2019

There are questions remaining about the three major 2020 city budgets

By Gerry Barker

November 18, 2019

Opinion

Tonight, city council will commence trimming the “tax supported operating budget.”

City staff has already reported a 3.88 per cent property tax increase subject to change, possibly increase.

This becomes a political matter as councillors jockey to promote their own must have agenda items.

Just wondering, does the University pay the same property tax increase as the rest of us? More on this later.

For some 14 years, citizens have been shorn of accountability and transparency of the public’s interest. Did I mention the administration’s conduct of the public’s business has deliberately thwarted the public interest?

Having just spent three years defending myself against the City of Guelph, the recent decision by a judge dismissing my 130-page statement of defence supporting my motion to dismiss the case. The judge ruling centred on the alleged harm done to the plaintiff and the public interest.

The judge ruled the harm done to the plaintiff “outweighed the public interest.”

That decision is being appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.`

What has this got to do with the city budgets?

Let me say from the start, that the financial management of the city has greatly improved. There is a refreshing openness about the flow of information from the finance department.

The number of closed-session meetings has diminished and the public interest is being better served.

Running a city of this size requires rocket-science attention in terms of planning, short and long term. The city has grown exponentially in many ways including population. However, questions remain.

Setting aside the performance of the previous administration, in the past five years, there have been some major league boo-boos. Much of it was commenced by the previous administration.

Then, following the 2015 first year of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s election there were changes among the senior city managers. By March, this year the three senior managers who shared the $98,202 salary increase in a closed-session of council in December 2015, are now gone.

Sifting through the budgeting sands

Here are some current questions that affect all citizens:

* Why does the city rely on communicating with the citizens Online or through its “City News” pages in the Mercury Tribune at the public’s expense?

* What are the details of the City’s long-term strategy plan and was there public participation when this strategy was discussed and presumably approved by council?

* What is the status of the main branch library that Mayor Guthrie promised to be part of the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment during his re-election campaign? Is it true that he said the library would be the anchor in the proposed plan?

* Why was it necessary to spend some $22 million on a parking garage next to the City Hall? How was that in the public interest when most of the parking spaces are monthly and convenient to the city staff?

* What is the proposed total number of public employees, including permanent, part-time and those on contract?

* What was the actual cost in 2018 of consultants, legal and other professional serves?

* There has been extensive work on Speedvale Avenue between Woolwich and Manhattan Court this past summer, What is the ultimate plan to relocate power lines underground. What is the rationale and source of funding for this project that three years ago, the staff estimated the cost to be $15 million?

* More importantly, is the plan to widen Speedvale to permit bike lanes and restrict traffic lanes from four lanes to two on the city’s major east west route?

* What is the financial impact of increased assessment for new construction and existing properties in the city?

* The staff is proposing a 3.88 property tax increase for 2020. Why is it being predicted to be more than 4.5 per cent before the trimming starts tonight, what ever that means?

* Why is the city administration plumping for five new buses but is the library, remember the promises made over the years, getting benched again?

* Why hasn’t the city pursued the University of Guelph’s sweetheart deal that in lieu of paying property taxes, it is based on charging each registered student $75 per year? Why was this rate locked-in by the province 33 years ago? Did your property taxes not increase every one of those 33 years and at a rate exceeding the rate of inflation?

* Shouldn’t the Guelph General Hospital’s $4.5 million requested grant be included in the capital budget, not tax supported operating budget?

* Is it time to approve annual subsidized operating grants to vital services such as public safety organizations, and critical care facilities?

* Why is the supply of water, potable, waste and storm, not included in the tax supported operating budget? It’s just another tax on top of the property tax annual increases.

* What is the definition of infrastructure? What are the parameters of renewal of our aging infrastructure, some of it 200 years old? Should there not be detailed explanation annually to show how the money is being spent?

* What is the latest information about the ratio of assessment between residential property and commercial/industrial? It has been locked into 84 per cent residential versus 16 per cent commercial/industrial. This is a massive burden on taxpayers.

* There is a mixed bag of special levies swirling around the budget soup.

Aside from the huge property tax deal subsidy granted annually to the University, what are their other subsidies paid to city operations?

Let’s review where your money is going:

Transit, pension benefits, boards remunerations, wellbeing donations, Hillside festival, staff travel, expense accounts, community city organizations, severance costs, employee bonuses, and gifts.

Add to the list, long-term suspended development including property tax grants and collection of unpaid taxes and offences fines.

The city’s chief source of revenue comes from property values and taxes.

In my opinion, successive provincial governments have failed to work with the 445 provincial municipalities to alleviate all the egregious downloading of costs.

Certainly there are some offsetting grants but this city needs a house cleaning to reduce costs and increase revenue without socking it every year to the property taxpayers.

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Remembering those who have fallen in the service of our country

By Gerry Barker

November 11. 2019

Remembering my two uncles – John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker killed in action in 1916 and 1918.

They were my father’s brothers, John the oldest and Thomas the youngest. My father Francis Cecil Barker and my aunt Gladys Barker, also served in the first world war.

I was a teenager during World War 2 and never knew John or Thomas whose names I now carry with respect and honour.

When I was 12 in 1942, I spent part of my summer with aunt Gladys and uncle Jaspser at their farm in Byron, outside London. Aunt Gladys decided it was time for me to drive a car. After a few lessons I learned to shift gears, use the clutch and brakes. Then aunt Gladys decided I was ready to solo and away I went using the country roads.

Aunt Gladys never had any children. So my cousin Diana and I were the designated surrogates and were spoiled purple. Those summers will never be forgotten.

My aunt and uncle had a horse on their country home and aunt Gladys helped me saddle the horse and, after a couple of trots, around the property, I set out to visit my friends up the road. Everything was going great until the horse decided to head back home and there was nothing I could do to persuade the horse to take me to visit my friend.

Keep in mind, at age 12, horse gender recognition had not developed. A horse is a horse, of course it’s a horse.

That’s when I learned that you can lead a horse to water but I learned the relationship ended there.

My father passed away in 1941 and I was shipped off to Appleby College. My mother and grandmother were engaged in war services operated by the YWCA, They were posted to #14 Service Flying Training School outside of Aylmer. Their job was to serve light snacks, mend uniforms and counsel the never ending parade of aspiring young pilots.

These were 18 and 19 year old boys from all over the commonwealth. I was able to spend part of my summers there and was made an honourary Service Policeman whose job was to raise and lower the bar across the entrance to the base. I was issued with a pith helmet and SP armband.

One day, a a group pf British sailors arrived to complete their flight training. Their uniforms were worn out and my mother and grandmother were kept busy mending the uniforms. One of them was Johnny Johnston who would sit down and talk to me about his life as a sailor. I asked him how he knew how to properly wear his hat. He flipped it over and showed me the lining. On one side was a red strip and on the other a green one. See, he said, red is for port and, green for starboard.

That was my first introduction to seafaring. Upon graduation, he gave me that hat and I treasured it for some time.

A few months later he received his wings and was posted to the Fleet Air Arm. We later learned he was killed in action, attacking the German Bismark battleship.

I was attending Aurora high school in 1947 when I joined the Queen’s York Rangers, 1st American Regiment, 25th Armoured Regiment as a Trooper. The unit was the York County Regiment, based in Fort York Armoury in Toronto and Aurora.

The Aurora group were known as Charlie Squadron and we were issued with two brand new General Sherman tanks and two Canadian-built Grizzly tanks powered by circular aircraft engines. We also received a General Stuart Honey light tank powered by twin Cadillac engines and Hydromatic drive. It was used during the war as a recconaisance tank attached to an armoured regiment.

I obtained my commission as a First Lieutenant in 1951 at the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Camp Borden and the Meaford tank range.

As part of celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, I was assigned to drive the Honey tank to York Township from Aurora escorted by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Just north of Richmond Hill traveling on Highway 11, the police waved us down. The officer approached and asked me if I knew how fast we were going. It was 55 MPH. He asked how fast will it go? I said, “we haven’t tried that yet..”

At the end of the day, we gassed up the tank from Jerry cans and headed for home escorted by police.

I served for nine years including active and reserve service. My civilian job as a reporter photographer with the Toronto Star made it difficult to attend parades and training exercises. I retired to the supplementary reserve

In 2006 my Ranger comrade Captain (retired) Peter Styrmo, invited me to join the Ranger Officer’s Association. From there I joined the Regimental Council.

I was appointed chairman of the finance committee. In 2018, I retired from the Council. They were years of great accomplishments and fellowship. It was part of preserving the 250-year history pf the oldest regiment in the Canadian order of battle.

It has been a part of my life that I will never forget.

And so, it’s time to fade away with wonderful military life experiences.

Most of all today is a day of pausing to remember those who fought for us and paid the supreme sacrifice.

 

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This U of G professor believes the 2020 Guelph Police budget increase of 9.81 per cent outweighs the need

By Gerry Barker

November 4, 2019

Opinion

Dr. Rene Van Acker, dean of the Ontario Agriculture College, part of the University of Guelph is urging people to protest this increase requested by the Guelph Police Services Board.

It seems to be a clash between the academic ivory towers and the 24/7 protection and services of our community.

The professor obviously has never performed shift work, carried a gun, investigated fatal collisions and major criminal occurrences, attended domestic violence calls, and responded quickly to cases that engage citizens.

In short, this is a city with a university sitting in the middle. Often, Guelph police are called for support to control student behaviour on and off campus.

Think weekend’s downtown, homecoming, St. Patrick’s Day, and political protests.

It seems stranger to read the professor’s letter to the editor in which he refers to the proposed 2020 police budget as “outweighing the need.”

How would Dr. van Aker know the details of police operations to make such a statement?

He ignores the night and day risks that our police endure on a routine shift. He criticizes the Mayor that he “senses” that people want a professional and responsive police service, night or day. And Mayor Guthrie should know because he sits on the Police Services Board along with Coun. Christine Billings.

So the unsubstantiated complaints from Van Aker over the 2020 police budget rings hollow because he does not identify the needs of the police services.

The Ontario Sunshine List shows that three times in the past six years, Van Acker has received more than a 7 per cent salary increase. It was topped off in 2018 with an increase of 7.69 per cent earning a yearly salary of $235,000 plus benefits.

Dr. Van Aker should look beyond the police services budget and consider all the other services that citizens pay for, including the public safety personnel who are engaged around the clock.

The city administration must raise sufficient revenue to pay for the scores of public services plus the cost of primary and secondary boards of education. One can only imagine the operating costs of those institutions that function 10 months of the year.

The U of G pays $1,600,000 per year in lieu of property taxes. The payment is based on the number of registered students, currently estimated at 22,000. This was a deal granted in 1987 to public post-secondary institutions. The rate is still fixed at $75 and has not changed since.

Lets compare the impact of inflation that this deal has ignored for more than 32 years. All costs have increased. Are your property taxes fixed for 32 years? Has the university increased tuition and student fees and land leases in which it derives income?

Keep in mind that the chief revenue sources of the city are property taxes and user fees.

Our property taxes have more than doubled in the 16 years we have lived in Guelph. It is this property tax deal with the University and Conestoga Community College that remains fixed and only increases when additional students enroll.

About Guelph Transit

Students are required to pay $75 per semester for bus passes. It’s ironic that this mandatory contribution to access public transit is twice what the University of Guelph pays the city in lieu of property taxes.

This is particularly advantageous to the university because it is, we believe, to be the largest landowner in the city. The management over the years has leased its land to a variety of commercial and residential developments.

Seeing that these developments are on University lands, does this sweetheart deal extend to those leased properties as well?

In the 32 years of this arrangement, the city has grown, requiring citizens to pay for the need for increased city services. That is a subsidy that is unfair and needs revision.

Unfortunately, this would have to be a decision by the provincial government. It involves more than 600 post-secondary institutions in the province.

Our representative in the Ontario Legislature is Mike Schreiner, Ontario leader of the Green Party, a party of one.

This affects a number of municipalities and an independent committee of mayors and chief Financial Officers need to negotiate with the government to update the property tax arrangement.

It will be a daunting task and predictably the University of Guelph will oppose changes to any proposal that will increase their property tax commitment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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