Monthly Archives: December 2019

The city budget documents are opaque and missing are the devil in the details

By Gerry Barker

December 9, 2019

Opinion

Let me start by saying that the budget reports I have read downloaded from the city website, are concise and informative.

The budget is broken into three parts. There is the capital-spending budget; the tax supported operating budget and the non-tax supported budget.

Council has approved all three budgets and the overall impact on property tax is 3.91 per cent for 2020. When the property assessments are released by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, (MPAC), the tax rate increase is adjusted in April

It is certain the rate will increase the property tax rate to probably the highest in the past 15 years.

What is lacking here are the numbers. What is the total cost of the tax-supported operating budget? It represents the largest chunk of revenue in the city budget.

While we’re at it, tell us about the status of the reserve funds, total value, how is the money invested, what are the investments types and terms, and who is responsible for managing these funds?

Are these reserves ever used to balance the city books at year-end when the Financial Information Report is completed and sent to the province?

Noting that $170,000 is being transferred to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund, the total to $50,000. Is it possible to produce the status of all reserve funds annually with the budget approvals?

Here’s what I think the city budget reports should contain:

2019 budget- Accrual – difference 2020 Budget Comparison 2019 actual

Revenue stated first. Next comes Expenses for each budget category

Revenue

Property taxes, special levies,

Reserve Funds by amount and name income/withdrawal (attach note)

Investment income

Development fees

Building permits

Bylaw permits including parking, special events, and infractions

Provincial grants, gas tax refund, carbon tax refund, infrastructure

Federal grants including infrastructure, transit

Guelph transit – Bus passes, University students, rider passes and single payer fees

Property taxes recovered

Fines

Rentals of city property

Deposits for services

Water – potable – wastewater – Storm water

Real Estate sales

Expenses

City Staff costs:

Bonuses – Expenses full-time – part-time – casual – contract – consultants

Benefits – OMERS, other labour organizations – travel and staff expenses

City property maintenance costs

Legal and professional fees

Infrastructure – roads, sewers, water distribution systems

Police

Fire

EMS

Sleeman Centre

Hanlon Business Park

Government – council – boards

Donations – Wellness – community projects

Environmental – bike lanes and trails renewable energy maintenance

Electricity

Natural Gas

City Vehicle reports capital costs, facilities

HST costs

The Elliot

The Library

The Evergreen Senior’s Centre

Fines

Debt – Amount Servicing costs term and lender

There will be some revenue and expense category I have missed. If nothing else, adopting this makes it easy to compare and track the city operations. There would be many supporting notes to round out each category.

To be blunt, this is in the public interest and over the years there has been no rationalization of reserve fund intake and pay out. In my opinion this appears to be a method of using reserves whenever a need arises regardless of the reserve fund designation.

Moving on to the capital budget. Council has approved spending $151.6 million in 2020. The approval states it includes projects to be started or completed in 2020.

But here is the wrinkle: Council received the 10-year capital-spending forecast of “just over” $1.7 billion. That averages some $170 million projected capital spending for the next ten years.

During 2020, council will confirm that the following projects be commenced in the next ten years: The new central downtown library, The Baker district parkade and the South End Community Centre.

Two of these major projects have been promised for many years. In fact the city has already invested more than $3 million on the South End project from operating funds.

That familiar tactic, kick these projects down the road

I regret suggesting that these decision and promises are political designed to satisfy the stakeholders. They are words with little action.

Remember most of this council voted to give Guelph Hydro away when there were interested parties prepared to buy the utility. This council, save for two new councillors, are the same members who voted 10 to 3 to give away the well-run and profitable city-owned utility.

All I ask from the administration is to inform the public, in plain English, of what the city gained in approving the Guelph Hydrp

disposal, of which most of the negotiations were conducted in closed-sessions.

Hoodwinked is an understatement and most members of our council were expertly mesmerized and taken like hicks at the circus.

To the victors belong the spoils

Well, Derrick Thomson can’t complain, he walked away with a $67,000 performance bonus for his work in the Hydro giveaway. He’s now gone and his co-chair of the committee charged with disposing Guelph Hydro, Chair Jane Armstrong, was appointed by city council to represent Guelph. She was appointed to the Board of Directors of Alectra Utilities earning $25,000 a year plus travel expenses. Her five-year appointment will earn her $125,000.

I believe the city has a much more qualified senior management in place now but there remains some old habits of lying by omission and obscuring details of responsible operations.

The reports do not reveal the outcome of the Guelph Police Services request for a budget increase of $3.9 million. It did say that Guelph Transit was approved to spend $1.720,000 to increase services to the Hanson Business Park and expand community bus services and the spare bus ratio.

I agree with Coun. Dan Gibson who questioed the need for ridership data. We need to see that detailed data over a 12 month period necessary to assess the needs of Guelph public transit.

I know that there is tremendous customer impact between September and April when 22,000 students arrive.

But we have to ask: Why did the city purchase five buses last year and not have the staff to operate them? The type of buses and the operating fuel is not known. With the plan to the “greening” of public transit, one would believe that would affect the need of capital to reach that goal.

How much is this system costing the city in subsidies and what must the taxpayers pony up to keep it afloat?

The increasing costs ofsupporting those in need

These aforementioned issues reflect spending money to support a minority audience to rehabilitate drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill and the disaffected. They represent Canada’s walking wounded.

Guelph over the years has become a Mecca of societies’ underclass. Dealing with it has many times, ignored the problem. The University has a role to play to work with the city authorities to reduce the lawless behaviour occurring downtown.

Yes, affordable housing is a part solution. Why can’t the city leverage private developers to include affordable housing?

The staffing of trained individuals is needed to conduct appropriate rehabilitation and support is daunting. Also seeking funding for specific projects from both levels of senior governments could lead to operating successful programs to help those in need and less fortunate.

A good start would be to conduct a staff rationalization to help reduce the bulging city overhead.

 

 

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The police budget deferment demonstrates council’s ignorance of how our public safety service works on our behalf 24/7

By Gerry Barker

December 2, 2019

Opinion

Coun. June Hofland, has indicated that she may ask the Police Services Board to spread out “its big budget ask” over two or three years.

The former chair of the council finance committee for three years in the Farbridge administration, Ms. Hofland was also on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc board of direcors. With her years of experience, she would logically understand the relationship between city council and the Police Board.

She said she intended to discuss the 10 per cent Police Budget increase of $3.9 million with the chair of the Police Board before the final vote on the city budget, is taken on December 3.

If city council were a TV sitcom, you wouldn’t need a laugh track.

But their behavior overseeing the public’s business is no laughing matter.

Its time to start dumping the administration’s garbage can

But Ms. Hofland isn’t a throwback to Gilligan’s Island; she’s just an amiable stooge for her fellow councillors, Curly, Joe and Moe.

Editor’ note: Having been sued by these same guys three years ago, I hesitate to identify them but I’m confident you can figure it out.

These three gems stated they would support Ms. Hofland’s approach to discuss the Police Budget with the chair of the Police Board. It’s called the hands-on approach.

Trouble is, that’s not permitted because the Police Services Board is an independent body, not subject to council intervention in its financial requirements or operations.

In fact, the Police Board is empowered to seek resolution of their service requirements from a province-appointed mediator to review the budget if city council reneges.

Why not talk to Police Board members, the Mayor and Coun. Billings?

So if those four councillors supported the Hofland proposal, why didn’t they talk to the Mayor and Coun. Christine Billings who are members of the Police Board?

It’s interesting to me that in August 2014, just before council was denied capital spending due to the October civic election, the Farbridge council approved spending $34 million on renovation of the downtown police HQ.

The project is scheduled for completion at the end of this month, five years later.

This capital project was to be financed with $3 million from the Police Board reserve, diverting development fees from private projects and adding to the city debt.

This decision came on the heels of being forced to spend $23 million over budget to complete the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall. It was only the tip of the iceberg that was caused by vital mismanagement of the project by city contract staff. A judgment by Justice Donald MacKenzie confirmed wrongful dismissal of the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Gtoup.

Along came GMHI

One of the serious problems facing the Guthrie administration was the former mayor’s pet project to use Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc to make Guelph self-sufficient in terms of power generation. The plan introduced geo-thermal heating and cooling to a handful of downtown buildings, including two new high-rise condominiums.

The former Mayor was also chair of the GMHI board of directors that took control of Guelph Hydro and installed solar-generating panels on many public buildings to generate electricity. It was only the beginning of creating a district Energy plan.

None of these major projects were conducted with oversight or participation of the public. June Hofland was a member of the GMHI board of directors but never commented or spoke up about the operations.

The shoe dropped in May 2016 with a report of the financial mess GMHI was in. It was followed in July with a staff analysis that was devastating. Then came an independent, consolidated audit of GMHI by the accounting firm KPMG.

It revealed a shareholder’s liability of $66 million. This was never denied by city council.

This has been the genesis of disastrous toxic mixture of poor planning, crazy-legs fiscal management wasting public money, and, mostly done in secret.

This is the damning 14-year legacy of overtaxing property and user fees with yearly increasing by more than twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index maintained by StatCan.

It was toxic because the Mayor of the city was also the chair of GMHI with a loyal supporting cast of councillors and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, who also doubled as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

Pappert knew in 2015 that she could be in trouble as two reports of the GMHI operations were a devastating indictment of a failure to manage and oversee the impact on the city’s finances.

The record shows she started her exit from the city in late 2015 by requesting the cash value of her unused sick and vacation benefits from the Human Resources Department.

And who was in charge of that department? Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Mark Amorosi.

In December 2015, council held two closed-session meeting. One was to award CAO Pappert with a $27,000 performance bonus along with an additional $10,000 for assorted benefits. DCAO Amorosi and Derrick Thomson each received increases that were part of a total $98,202 shared among the three senior managers.

The other closed-session meeting, also held in December 2015, approved an indemnification bylaw that the city would pay all legal costs of any employee and elected official who faced a legal procedure.

City council was directly involved in both these closed-sessions that was not revealed to the public until March 31, 2016. By that time Mr. Thomson had left to take a job with the town of Caledon.

Two weeks after the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published, CAO Pappert gave notice of her resignation. She agreed to stay on until May 26, 2016, when Derrick Thomson returned in June to accept the CAO position.

These two top managers benefited further in 2016, 2018 and 2019. First in March 2017 the 2016 Sunshine List showed that Ms. Papper received $263,000 for five-month’s work.

In 2018, Mr.Thomson received a salary of $335,000 that included a performance bonus of $67,000. He “parted ways with the city in February 2019 just before the 2018 Sunshine List was published.

This is how our city council conducts our business.

The following is an outline on how to regain control of our city.

What can be done about it?

Simple answer is get involved. Get organized to challenge this council that has demonstrated it cannot manage a two-car funeral.

Council is about to start a review of changing ward boundaries. This should only be reviewed by an independent committee, appointed by the mayor elect incorporating public participation.

I believe that a major change must come to create more efficiency, fairness and is accountable to control the operations with the city staff.

Greater transparency will be achieved with an independent staff rationalization from top to bottom, including council and senior city staff.

A first step is to reduce the size of council to nine. This would involve redefining job descriptions in concert with the staff rationalization program. The rationalization should cover every employee, full and part-time and contracted workers.

An independent committee of civilians would be appointed to outline the responsibilities and communication rules. This would include streamlining procedures, rewriting the staff and elected official’s Code of Conduct. It would eliminate the Integrity Commissioner and the closed-session investigators.

The indemnification bylaw will be eliminated.

Civic Elections will include online voting. Proportional voting will not be used.

There will be a review of all bylaws and reserve funds status. This will be revealed to the public.

City communications will be revised to allow citizens to select to receive regular information online or hard copy through their electric bill.

Minutes of all council, committee and board meetings will be available within a fixed time, determined by length and content.

All council and committee votes will be recorded and distributed to citizens as part of the communications plan.

Finance and legal departments will review city advertising policies.

All pending legal cases against the city will be reviewed and the status revealed to the public, but not legal strategy or tactics..

Councillors, staff or citizens should never be threatened by anyone. This is subject to the revised Code of Conduct.

The new council will operate in public and at the convenience of all citizens.

Citizens will be respected and receive prompt replies from staff regarding their request.

Realignment of organization

Reduce to four wards with one councillor. Each representative to be paid $60,000 per year and reviewed by the CAO and designated senior staff.

Elected at large is the Mayor who will receive $180, 000 plus defined expenses.

The four full-time councillors, elected at large, would receive $100,000 plus expenses and adjusted annually using the CPI as the benchmark.

These four councillors will have direct oversight of Finance, Public Operations, Clerk’s office and Legal department, Environmental services. Specifics to come.

Now I realize that there will be severe opposition to these proposals. But unless we, the public, don’t empty the garbage can, there will be more of the same to come.

The opportunity to change only occurs every four years.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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