The crucible of corruption and how it affects all of us

By Gerry Barker

March 4, 2019

Opinion

This past week, I experienced a five-hour examination designed to challenge my credibility as a citizen, a taxpayer and homeowner. It was a crucible to discredit my persona reputation and that of my wife and family.

I won’t go any further than that, as it has become a two year plus legal case that will be resolved so therefore I cannot comment at this time.

What I can address are the details of the 2019 budgets that are now reaching a crescendo of policies that will impact every part of your life and living in Guelph.

The core problem is the ineffectual management of the city by the staff. Let’s drift back a week or so ago.

Chief Administration Officer Derrick Thomson “parted ways” with the city. Why the sudden separation in the middle of the city budgets’ preparations over which he oversaw?

As the head of the city staff, the staff proposed a property tax rate set at 3.93 per cent.

Before getting too excited, there is a process of meeting in which the public can appear before council to express their needs and demands.

Tomorrow night, March 5, council will approve the new property tax increase.

History shows that several influences arise.

First, the sitting councillors have their chance to promote their pet projects. This creates a political adjustment such as you, as a councillor, add your project to the list. Something has to go in order to keep the property tax rate under 4 per cent.

Are you starting to get it? First, announce a staff recommendation of 3.93 per cent. This is done before the citizens request their projects be approved. There are  a wide range of projects requiring the blessing of the mayor and his council.

* They include an appeal of the Kazoo festival supporters along with the Guelph Arts council to “plead for more funding for the city’s Community Wellbeing Grant to assist small arts organizations.

* Head of the Guelph Transit union wants more funding to support finding for nameless improvement but Transit has the go-ahead to hire three more drives. Did management not have a say in this? It would be helpful if Transit would total ridership, the route usage and impact of the University student passage contribution, compared with taxpayer subsidization.

*   Steve Dyck quickly wants the city to spend another $1 million this year to fulfill its commitment to reach zero carbon emissions. Steve, the transition from fossil fuels will take at least another 50 to 75 years, if ever. Steve, how’s it working for you?

*   A delegation protested the increase in their monthly parking fees from $40 to $100. Is this part of Steve Dyck’s zero emissions proposal?

*   A number of advocates for affordable housing to accommodate those marginalized citizens to be able to have a home.

There were a number of citizens who, in the main, asked for public funding. In my opinion, this has been a problem for years. But should the municipal taxpayers be responsible? The administration can certainly support it through planning and expanding projects. Financing should come from senior governments and the private sector.

Today, we have no CAO, a triumvirate of three skilled DCAO’s in charge of the city staff its responsibilities and financing.

For 12 years I have been advocating reducing city overhead chiefly to fix the city infrastructure deficit. Unfortunately, council does not agree, instead it includes in the 2019 budget an additional 17 new employees at a cost of $9.2 million.

In my opinion this is a self-serving staff recommendation that lacks detail of where and what are these new staffers supposed to do? The city information releases don’t offer any rationale for recommending these new employees.

What Guelph needs now is a cadre of experienced and qualified staff leadership. We already have the base of individuals to refocus management and turn our city into a model that will attract businesses, technology firms and make our city a great place to live and be affordable for all.

Let’s loosen the surly bonds of misguided management that has sucked the treasury dry in the name of progress and the environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is the Tribune a newspaper or a paid lackey of the city administration?

By Gerry Barker

February 25, 2019

Opinion, based on Facts and News, written by a taxpayer and is Non-Profit

In a recent column written by Doug Coxson in the weekly Tribune, he used the word transparency in running his editorial department. There was no mention of Open Government or Accountability, aka TOGA, the other points of public responsibility of which the paper should base its coverage.

Journalism is not about labeling content so the reader can tell the difference between news, opinion and advertising.

I am reminded of an interview with Mr. Coxson two or three years ago in the Globe and Mail, in which he said that the Tribune would be conducting more “investigative reporting.”

After reading the Coxson column, the evidence shows that he doesn’t understand what or why the City of Guelph is a golden pond of opportunity to dig under the press releases and get the truth.

Here are the paper’s policies of don’t rock the boat that feeds you:

* The $34 million Organic Waste Processing Facility that turns wet waste into compost in which citizens cannot even buy. It was built to handle six times the needs of the city for 20 years and is dependent on wet waste from other municipalities.

* The wrongful dismissal trial of Urbacon Buildings Group, general contractors of the new city hall complex that ended four years later by a ruling of a Superior Court Justice that cost citizens an additional $23 million over the contracted price.

* The deal with a Detroit trucker to receive motor city recyclables. That secret agreement ended up costing Guelph more than $2 million in wages and handling poor quality Detroit feedstock.

* The more recent giveaway of Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities was another creation of closed-session transparency, Open Government and Accountability. But it did get Hydro Chair Jane Armstrong a job as Guelph’s representative on the Alectra board of directors. Our share? That’s only 436 per cent of the diluted Alectra Utility’s profits.

* The unexplained circumstances surrounding the trio of senior managers who received $98,202 in salary increase for 2015. Yes that decision by city council in closed-session was made in Dec. 10, 2015. It became public knowledge when the provincial Sunshine Lists of 2014 and 2015 were compared following release in late March 2016.

The Tribune pretends to be a newspaper. The editorial content is biased big time and could favour the city administration. There are 13 employees on the city staff whose job is communications. The Tribune is a major receiver of the news releases spewing out of city hall. Much of it reflects what the administration wants readers to hear. Any editorial challenge of the city handout material is rarely questioned or investigated.

Why is that? According to Coxson’s lecture on the newspaper’s management principle stating: “We must draw a clear line between journalism and advertising.”

I doubt the paper really follows that line. The city of Guelph buys space to publish pages of City News” over the year. It is the worse example of manipulation of the reader to believe the City News content is news and not labeled “advertising.”

It is advertising, controlled and paid by the citizens

As a reader, would it be fair to assume City News was news or, another way to control the editorial content of the Tribune? It appears that’s the case, judging from the majority of municipal news stories most of which are generated by the city administration. Most of these pieces dominate the news pages without fact checking or critical editing.

Having been commenting on the city administration for 14 years, it is egregious to believe that the newspaper has conducted any investigative reporting. Journalism is about questioning, researching, being curious and truthful, and getting both sides of the story, investigating and fact checking.

Two years ago, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, and CPA completed a detailed analysis of city operations. Using published city financial data and a report by a city consultant reviewing city operations. Mr. Fung wrote a 2,700-word analysis that, among other things, showed Guelph’s operating costs were 50 per cent higher than Cambridge or Kitchener.

That’s a news story, right? It certainly is in the public interest.

When Mr. Fung asked the Tribune to do a news story, the editor said he didn’t have the resources to fact check the material. Her added he might consider it if Mr. Fung would reduce the report to 400 words. Later Mr. Fung presented his report to city council and had only five minutes to present it.

Not one councillor asked a question. When ms. Fung left the chamber, he was mocked behind his back.

I became involved when I attempted to pay $1,400 for a half-page ad in the Tribune. Just hours before the copy deadline, the advertising manager told me the ad would not run because it was, “inflmmatory.”

Briefly, the report stated that Guelph’s operating overhead was too high compared to other comparable sized cities. He explained that by reducing the overhead, the city could save some $20 million annually that could be used to fix the city’s infrastructure over time.

Now you know what happened. In 2016, Council approved a 1 per cent property tax levy to be spent overhauling the aging infrastructure. Note, just last week there were two raw sewage spills that allowed waste to go into the Eramosa River.

The Tribune reported that sewage spill but refused a factual report by a Chartered Accountant on how to meet the infrastructure deficit.

The disappearance of responsible print journalism

Our print media picture changed in January 2016 when MetroLand Publishing closed the Daily Guelph Mercury. That left the Tribune that, at the time, had three reporters. When the Mercury shut down it had an editorial staff of seven plus some freelance writers.

In a nutshell, the politics of administrating the city have barely changed.

The number of closed-session council meetings hit 84 in the first two years of the Guthrie administration. It did not include those closed-session meetings conducted by the Strategic Option Committee assigned by council to negotiate the disposal of Guelph Hydro.

Also for four years, the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc operations were conducted in closed-sessions. Now we know the story, well much of it, of the money wasted trying to establish electric self-sufficiency and District Energy systems.

That abortive enterprise according to the consolidated audit of GMHI including Guelph Hydro by the accounting firm KPMG, cost citizens some $63 million as shareholders. Today the project is still losing money. The last figure was for 2017 and the loss was reported to be $17 million.

This entire GMHI experience was concealed from the public until May 16, 2016 when a report signed by CAO Ann Pappert and CEO of Guelph Hydro Pankaj Sardana revealed the beginning of a financial disaster and gross mismanagement. Ten days later, Ms. Pappert left the city. In July 2016, the staff produced even more details of the collapse.

Newspapers, the media including bloggers are an integral part of media and the responsible dissemination of the news. Unfortunately, more and more newspapers are closing due to dwindling ad revenue to pay the bills.

Journalism still thrives Online but when used to suppress the news then it is no longer journalism.

The Guelph Mercury Tribune is a partner of the city that spends thousands to ensure its message is being controlled, using paid advertising.

Of course MetroLand and Mr. Coxson will deny this is the case. But it’s comfy when you have a secure source of income from a client who will never go broke or leave town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Following the 12-year trail of secrecy and denial of the public interest

By Gerry Barker

February 19, 2019

I am encouraged that there is unrest among elements of the Populist left, as finally there is a realization of why council holds so many closed- sessions.

The latest critique of too many closed-sessions conducted by council came from Adam A. Donaldson, a blogger and columnist in the online news source, Guelph Today.

Adam’s political philosophy is wrapped around the causes of the left dominated city council members and a general left of centre political bent on matters of the public interest.

His Market Squared column this week asked the question why council shuts its doors to public participation? In 2015 and 2016, council held 84 closed-session meetings.

The focus is the sudden departure of Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson, described in a city press release as a “parting of the ways.” Adam joins a lot of people in the city wondering what happened.

Guelphspeaks posed a series of speculative questions about the sudden departure of the CAO in the middle of preparing the City’s 2019 budgets. The GS post has experienced one of the greatest numbers of readers in recent memory.

The 49-minute closed-session council meeting decided to appoint the three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, Scott Stewart, Colleen Clack and Trevor Lee as the troika of gate keepers of the public’s pursuit of its right to know.

I speak from experience when it comes to requesting the minutes of the Dec 10, 2015 closed-session meeting that awarded $98,202 in salary increases to three top senior city managers.

Six weeks following the launching of a lawsuit against me, November 16, 2016, I requested a copy of the minutes of that meeting. I knew the outcome but not the details including who recommended it to council and who supported it?

In April, four months later, Amberlea Gravel denied my request. They are the city-appointed special investigators of closed-session meetings.

That event occurred in April three months after the plaintiff in this lawsuit had been dismissed. The CAO, Derrick Thomson, ironically was the person who fired his once close colleague with the comment that the firing did not involve the city’s support of lawsuit. He also praised his colleague for his great contribution to the city.

Because this case is now before the courts, I cannot comment further.

But as of a week ago Friday, the three recipients of that $98.202, 2015 retroactive salary increase, are all gone.

Going back to the CAO committee of three DCAO’s, did it ever occur to members of council that its decision to foist Thomson’s job now onto three capable senior managers? Council awarded compensation for the extra duties until the end of July or until a candidate is selected.

Which of the three will attend city council meetings, both open and closed?

How are the CAO responsibilities subdivided? How is there continuity in managing? Where are the checks and balances of managing continuing operations?

This not only unfair to those senior managers but could have been avoided by appointing one of the three as acting CAO until a candidate has been chosen.

To demonstrate how these birdbrain decisions are made, consider the following report by Mr. Donaldson:

“I also looked at the City of Guelph’s own materials about the regulation of closed meetings. On the subject of reports, it says: “Whenever possible, written Closed Meeting reports are preferred over verbal reports as the former provides for a more detailed account of the confidential record.

Why?

This city council is bereft of its responsibilities to act on behalf of the public and their right to know about the city’s business.

Instead, they snuggle and hide behind a contrived closed-session protocol developed and fine-tuned over eight years by the former administration.

A case in point is the draconian Code of Conduct in which councillors, engaged in closed-sessions, cannot comment or reveal the details of those meetings. To do so will result in an investigation by the city-appointed Integrity Commissioner who is prosecutor, judge and jury of any alleged break of the Code of Conduct.

And to think we spent some $500,000 in 2013 to a Toronto consultant to develop a governance program employing Transparency, Open Government and Accountability.

On top of that, the new Guthrie council employed a supporter of the former mayor to a $93,000 per year contract to manage the new Transparency, Open Government, and Accountability program.

Wonder whatever happened to him and TOG&A?

 

 

 

 

 

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Why won’t city council tell us why the sudden departure of the CAO?

By Gerry Barker

February 13, 1019

Opinion

Who agreed to “part ways” with Thomson out the door and no explanation for a quick exit?

Near the end of last week the announcement was made that Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson had “parted ways with the city.”

Who decided he had to leave so abruptly, Thomson or Council?

The public has the right to know why the Chief Administrative Officer of the city was summarily dropped.

Was it something he said? Did he pixxed-off certain members of council including the Mayor?

Was it so terrible that neither party wanted to reveal the details?

Or was it a personality conflict between certain members of council?

Did he misappropriate public funds?

Or was it because of health issues?

Or has he accepted another job, like he did in 2016?

So what does the Mayor do? He calls yet another closed-session meeting and, to illustrate why this council fails once again and bungles another serious senior staff development.

Witness the witless creation of a Troika assigning three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers to run the store for six months while the search seeking a new boss goes on.

Is this not a crisis where three senior staff is assigned to perform the duties of an absent CAO?

This is a dumb idea. Forcing a committee of three top managers to fill in for their former boss only exemplifies the lack of business management experience of most members of council.

There is no succession plan in place for senior management. To create this Troika is an example of the misfits of knowledge by city council.

Council, in secret session has created this awkward senior management structure by increasing their compensation for up to six months following the appointment of a new CFO of the city.

This commuter is not to disparage the ability of the three remaining DCAO’s who are capable and worthy candidates for the job.

I don’t envy the situation on which the council has put them.

In the middle of the 2019 Budget creation, why did this happen?

Some history

Since 2006, there has been four CAO’s heading the city staff: Larry Kotseff, Hans Loewig, Ann Pappert and Derrick Thomson. Of the four only one actually lived in Guelph. A year following Ms. Pappert’s appointment, council gave her $20,000 to move from Waterloo to Guelph.

Of course the city should conduct a search for a new CAO and select a candidate with an independent view and ready to clean house of the dominant partisan council.

We need a CAO who understands the role of staff is to serve the public interest and not to bury those rights behind closed doors.

The record shows that the city administration have wasted millions on building a new city hall; the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc financial loss of $63 million of shareholder value; the giveaway of Guelph Hydro; the bike lane network expansion; subsidizing Guelph Transit support of a variety of services to the University of Guelph, including low property taxes on the largest land owner in the city.

These are just a handful that has drained the Guelph Treasury for projects that often lacked a business plan. Most important has been the neglect of the city infrastructure, some of which is 200 years old.

Despite warnings from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and more recently from the city staff that has put a $450 million price tag on infrastructure renewal and replacement.

In its usual response, city staff recommended to council to place a special levy of 2 per cent for infrastructure work on property taxpayers.

Even that was bungled when council decided to split the levy with 1 per cent dedicated to “City Buildings.” Sponsored by Councillors Karl Wettstein and Mark MacKinnon, the money went to the proposed South End $63 million Recreation Centre.

It was learned that professional outside planners had spent some $3.5 million on preliminary site and design of the complex.

There has been no budget planning in the capital budget for this project. It is only one example of the voodoo financial management of council, most of whom don’t understand a balance sheet or a business plan or the correlation of each. But that’s what we have a staff for, right?

Mind you, I believe the city now has much stronger and experienced senior managers to maintain fiscal responsibity and management practices.

That’s why citizens should be concerned about Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure that has not been explained.

Once the money has been spent, we cannot get it back.

That’s why it will be most important to hire a CAO of experience, proven performance and that old standby, guts, to steer our city to create a balanced and affordable community for all citizens.

We wish council Godspeed in this search for a new CAO.

 

 

 

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Does the Guelph administration keep on giving to the University of Guelph?

By Gerry Barker

February 4, 2019

Opinion

Recently, by an 8 to 4 vote council exempted the University of Guelph of paying development charges for its never-ending expansion of facilities.

That’s a great deal by any standard.

But let’s try to understand just what the city receives from the University to maintain taxpayer-supported costs including infrastructure, transportation, public safety, hospital and medical services and city administration.

City taxpayers pay for all of these categories.

Don O’Leary, the University’s Vice President of finance, administration and risk, admitted that he University is paying $1.6 million in lieu of property taxes. This special deal, created the province in 1987, is called the bed-tax.

Each post secondary institution in the province multiplies the number of students attending by $75. That number remains the same today, some 36 years later. There is no allowance for inflation or the effect on city taxpayers in terms of operational costs and population growth of the city.

The city’s operating and capital spending costs are estimated to be 395 per cent compounded, at an average of three per cent per year since the introduction of the plan.

When comparing the property tax rate proposed by the city of Toronto was 2.55 per cent. Yes there will be folks in Guelph who will dispute the fact that Guelph’s 3.93 per cent property tax rate is not valid. It’s relative because size is not what matter.

It’s how to reduce overhead and spending. By practicing more accurate forecasting managing within our means and working to increase revenues. It is not at the expense of property taxpayers. That well has been tapped too often.

But the University of Guelph owns possibly the largest total tract of urban land among the post secondary schools in the province, much of it yet to be developed.

The U of G property contains a larger portion of leased land including a multi-use subdivision known as the Arboretum. In addition, much of the commercial and offices along Stone Road pay a land lease charge to the University that owns the land. Over the years this has been a financial gold mine for the University that grows every year. Is it an increasing real estate bonanza including the Stone Road Mall?

So why are the citizens financing this in perpetuity?

Moreover, while the property tax rate has only dipped twice below three per cent per year in 9 years, The University’s contribution has remained at $75 per student.

Is this part of the $800 million economic contribution to the City of Guelph claimed by University VP O’Leary? Particularly when it is obvious that the University is in the real estate business and receives grants from the province.

Yet city council voted to continue exempting the institution from development fees for another five years.

The council vote was 8 to 4 with Coun. Dan Gibson absent. Breaking it down, voting for this largess was Mayor Guthrie, Counillors James Gordon, Phil Allt, June Hofland, Dominique O’Rourke, Mark MacKinnon, Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper. Voting against the motion were Councillors Bob Bell, Christine Billings, Rodrigo Goller and Mike Salisbury.

One of those councillors voting for the development fee exemption was Leanne Piper who is employed by the University. She should have recused herself as well as any other councillor working or associated with the University.

Who benefits from this economic generator?

. Don O’Leary addressed what the University of Guelph brings to the city. “The University is a significant economic generator and allows the economy to thrive,” he said, adding that the school supports approximately 12,000 local jobs and brings nearly $800 million worth of economic activity to the city every year.

Those economic numbers came from a University produced brochure that lacked the data source of the $800 million that the institution claims brings to the city. Further, that figure of 12,000 staff, according to the brochure, includes staff at a Toronto campus that links Humber College and another campus in South Western Ontario.

What that brochure failed to mention was the endowment fund that the University has reported to be more than $100 million. That represents 25 per cent of the entire annual city budgets.

Then the City’s General manager of Finance and Treasurer, Tara Baker, reported to councillors that Guelph could expect to see $50 million in the next decade in tax-supported growth costs. However, the study found a shortfall of $1.25 million this year that will need to be added to the capital budget, approved by council Jan. 30.

That’s not a rounding adjustment, based on the $50 million it is anticipated to be spent by taxpayers over the next ten years; that works out to $5 million a year. This current shortfall represents 25 per cent that must be added to the capital budget.

But where is the University of Guelph’s contribution to support the taxpayer’s responsibility to pay for those services, the cost of which increases exponentially every year? Oh, they don’t because council voted to exempt the University from paying property taxes and development fees.

Guelph Transit revenue threatened

Breaking news! We have learned that the Ford Government is considering allowing students to opt out of the obligatory transit pass payment each semester.

This comes when Guelph Transit announced that 50 per cent of its passenger traffic is by students, chiefly from the University of Guelph.

If this occurs, transit officials are concerned it will hit the bottom line of operating costs. The shortfall will affect the property taxpayers, as they will have to pick-up the difference.

For the record, the city already subsidizes Guelph Transit by more than $15 million annually. In other words, this service is built for the students and it is an inefficient and costly operation that is used by a minority of residents. If the Ford proposal passes, then Guelph Transit must reduce services and operating overhead.

Guelph is now Discount City

Did I tell you about the other discounts the city gives to the University?

Up to now, the city has granted a 25 per cent reduction of development fees initiated for the University. Staff reported that the full exemption will apply when it comes to community public services such as libraries, recreation, parks, and infrastructure.

The other big discount is the bed tax deal in lieu of property taxes that gives the University a huge break in land taxes. The city will argue that deal is mandated by the province. But not adjusted for 36 years?

I still maintain that the relationship between the city and the University needs a review and sharing of taxpayer costs that support the institution on a daily basis, 24-7.

There is concern that increasing development fees will immediately impact the development industry, thereby increasing housing prices and people looking elsewhere. We have already experienced developers leaving Guelph due to the rigid and unfair treatment by city officials during the eight years of the Farbridge administration.

The Mayor ran in 2014 to abolish the “Guelph Factor” that affected approval times of development proposals.

It appears the ‘Guelph Factor’ is alive and well and being just as impossible and demanding by planning and engineering staff as ever. It still takes two and three years to process a development plan.

It is the Jonah of Guelph that failed to increase commercial and industrial assessment for 12 years. It would have alleviated the pressure on residential properties. Those properties, the ATM machine of City public revenues, that have had to support sacred institutions, costly, failed environmental schemes and still, no downtown library, no south end recreation centre or adequate parking downtown.

Even the staff receives a convenience discount

Correction: city hall staffers will mostly occupy the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade, now under construction. The location is just too convenient.

We have just re-elected the same city council with only two changes. The same group that has driven up taxes and user fees and is proposing another 3.93 per cent

Increase this year in property taxes.

Remember? Mayor Guthrie promising to keep property tax increases at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index. That rate in 2014 was 1.11 per cent. In the intervening years, it has not increased by more than 2.55 per cent.

I regret Mr. Mayor, most of the Guelph electorate felt you had great promise and twice have elected you. Sorry, but you folded like a cheap suit when you went along with a 3.96 per cent property tax increase in your first budget in 2015.

And now with your second post election budget, the proposed property tax increase for 2019 is 3.93 per cen if approved by council.

Déjà vu or is it just a convenient opportunity?

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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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