Why are the citizens still paying the legal costs of a former employee who was fired for cause?

By Gerry Barker

December 16, 2019

Opinion

The following facts support how the abuse of political power that is far too prevalent in terms of fair comment and freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights.

FACT – For the record, my wife and I are residents of the City of Guelph.

FACT – In 2016, I wrote 10 blog posts as outlining Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi’s statement of claim in which he sued me for defamation. The posts were critical of his role in secretly concealing a total of $98,202 salary increases shared by three senior executives including Amorosi.

FACT – These increases were awarded December 10, 2015 in a closed-session of city council.

FACT – It has never been revealed whether these increases were paid retroactively for 2015 or were received throughout the year before the approval.

FACT -I was served in August 2016 with a demand to apologize to Mark Amorosi for publishing posts on guelphspeaks.ca, critical of the city administration for concealing senior staff salary increases for 2015.

FACT – The lawyer representing Mr. Amorosi, wrote the demand for an apology. The terms included that he would write it. He demanded that it had to be posted at the top of the guelphspeaks blog for 30 days. This demand was rejected.

FACT –  Amorosi’s counsel stated to my counsel that if I refused, he would recommend legal action.

FACT – On November 15 2016, Amorosi announced on the front page of the Guelph Mercury Tribune newspaper that he was suing Barker for $500,000 damages. It was based on defamation as a result of the alleged critical posts. He stated in the article that the City of Guelph was paying his legal expenses.

FACT – In January 2017, Mr. Barker requested a copy of the minutes of the Dec. 10 closed-session meeting of council, and it was denied in April with no explanation.

FACT – On February 9, 2017, Amorosi was fired for cause published in the Mercury Tribune newspaper. He left the city February 20.

FACT – In a sworn statement Amorosi testified that “he agreed to leave” when confronted with an an inadvertent release from the Information Technology department. It forwarded some 50,000 confidential emails to a third party representing a fired employee, Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole. Mr. Poole sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. Amorosi was in charge of that department and it formed the basis of his dismissal.

FACT – Three major news outlets, described Amorosi’s dismissal as being fired. The word ‘fired’ was also published in the Mercury Tribune article about the firing

FACT – On March 31, 2016, the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published. The public learned of the three senior managers shared salary increases of $98,202. The province publishes the List composed of all public employees in the province earning more than $100,000 a year, not including taxable benefits.

FACT – The three recipients of these increase included the Chef Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert, who received an increase of $37,000 taking her 2015 salary to $257,000. The majority of that increase included a retroactive performance bonus of $27,000.

FACT – DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson shared the balance with Amorosi’s 2015 salary jumping 14 per cent by $209,000

FACT – Derrick Thomson received an increase of 19 per cent taking his 2015 salary to more than $207,000.

FACT – The three senior managers cost the city in 2015, $673,000 plus some $20,000 in taxable benefits.

FACT – CAO Ann Pappert resigned in April 2016. DCAO Thomson resigned in January 2016 but was rehired in May to replace Ms. Pappert who left her job May 26, 2016.

FACT – When the 2016 Sunshine List was published in March 2017, former employee Ms. Pappert was paid $263,000 for five months work in 2016.

FACT – The new CAO Derrick Thomsob, announced details of his three-year contract which included a salary of $230,000 plus $11,000 taxable benefit for using his personal car for city business.

FACT – In March 2019, Derrick Thomson “parted ways with the city” for reasons unknown today. When the 2018 Sunshine list was published, Mr. Thomson’s salary was $335,000. In just two and a half years on the job, Mr. Thomson earned $100,000 more than his stated 2016 three-year salary of $230,000.

FACT – Mayor Cam Guthrie explained that Mr. Thomson was given a $67,000 performance bonus for his work on giving away Guelph Hydro to Alectra Utilities. Guelph Hydro stated in its 2016 financial report that the city-owned power distribution utility had a total value of $228 million.

FACT –Amorosi testified that city council did not approve staff salaries. Under the CAO bylaw, it was CAO Thomson who must have approved his 2018 salary and performance bonus.

FACT – I requested a statement from the city in 2018 of the amount of public money that had been spent on Amorosi’s lawsuit and it was denied because the case was before the courts.

FACT – From a reliable source, I learned there was another closed-session meeting of council in May 2018 to discuss the status of the Amorosi lawsuit and the legal costs to May 2018. It was reported the city paid Amorosi’s legal costs of $30,000. Without reservation, knowing what my legal costs are to date, it will be much more than that figure and counting.

FACT– This is another example of the city denying and obfuscating the details that aren’t serving the public interest.

FACT – The city has never explained why it is continuing this attack on one of its citizens. One who dared to criticize an issue that according to the city’s own code of conduct, that excludes open government policies, allowing accountability and transparency of the peaple’s business?

FACT – It has cost Amorosi nothing in three years to perpetuate the city’s complicity in contnuing to finance his lawsuit that is without merit.

FACT – To date it has cost me $86,000 to defend myself. It’s not over yet.

FACT – The city administration has never cooperated or acknowledged details of that December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting of council. It approved the three senior staff increases’ increases. In that same month, in another closed-session, council approved a bylaw indemnifying any employee or elected officials by paying their legal costs if facing a legal proceeding against them.

FACT – I did not sue Mr. Amorosi, he sued me, or I didn’t fire him or, in his submission made to the judge in 2019 that he was unable to get a job because of what I had written about him in 2016.

FACT – Two independent individuals searched Amorosi’s name on the Internet. There was only one of my posts on the site but references to his dismissal from the city dominated the site.

FACT – Since August 2016, the same lawyer has represented Mr. Amotosi.

DACT – CAO Ann Pappert who left the city in May 2016 recommended the indemnification bylaw in December 2015.

SUMARY

These are facts. They represent a major attack by a city council on a private citizen for unfounded reasons.

The cost to the citizens of Guelph including me, the defendant, is being covered-up by the administration.

If you believe the proceeding facts are not true and agree with the administration that are worth very penny, you are signaling denial the right of a citizen to protest the abuse of power by controlling city council, then good luck.

Our taxes, fees and services are way out of line with comparable communities. It has been like that for the past 13 years. That’s the main reason that our costs of living in Guelph keep increasing every year. Just remember the promise made by Cam Guthrie in 2014 that he would keep the property tax annual increase equal to the rate of inflation.

That promise went out the window with his first budget for 2015 when the final rate was 3.96 per cent. The Consumer Price Index for 2014 stated the inflation rate for Canada was 1.1 per cent.

So if you are not satisfied with the way your city is being managed, with respect, you should start researching how this city has arbitrarily increased its operating cost and sourceded capital to build needed projects, such as a new central library, the South End Community Centre to name just two.

Two projects leap out that are now approved under way, The new Maintenance capus for Guelph Transit and the Parkade on Wilson Street next door to City Hall. Both these projects on the surface seem important but strikingly inclusive for staff needs.

There has been too much waste of resources, mismanagement, not to mention the millions lost including Urbacon, GMHI, environmental services, downtown, dodgy deferred taxes and development breaks to developers, to name a few emptying the city till.

If you believe that we and the city can do better then let your councillors know and demand a clean up of the administration’s policies. Press staff and council to lower operating costs. Get rid of the deals and stop the shallow spinning of action. When the city says, that within ten years it will have spent $1,7 billion on capital funded projects, lets have some specifics including estimated costs, dates to completion and the sources of revenue to pay the bills..

This administration is overdue for a diet. Waiting three years to change the cast of characters can’t come soon enough.

Please note that like most of us we are about to enjoy the holidays, guelphspeaks.ca will be on hiatus until Monday, January 7, 2020. That gives us time to say goodby to the leftovers and start the new year with good health and optimism for 2020. Enjoy!

 

 

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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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Is it more important to hire more bus drivers than providing vital 24/7 public safety services to meet our needs?

By Gerry Barker

November 25, 2019

Opinion

I was most interested in the priorities of last Monday’s council meeting to go over the staff recommendations for next year’s property tax rates. For most of us who pay property taxes it is an annual excursion in wonderland.

This year is no exception. The first published figure of estimating the 2020 property tax rate was 3.88 per cent and a hinted hat it may be 4.15 per cent.They it was reported the staff recommendation was 3.08 per cent.

Shiver my timbers captain! One news outlet reported that the property tax rates for the past four years were less than 3 per cent. The exception, the report stated, was in 2015 when the rate was 3.55 per cent.

Here’s why it is Wrong. The word is the provincial arms-length corporation known as the Municipal Properties Assessment Corporation, MPAC, sets property assessment.

MPAC is the largest assessment jurisdiction in North America, responsible for accurately assessing and classifying more than five million properties in Ontario in compliance with the Assessment Act and regulations set by the Government of Ontario.

Having downloaded that description of what MPAC corporate make-up, there is something you should know.

The former Liberal premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, suspended property assessments for five years. That ended in 2013. Next the MPAC organization restarted its property assessment responsibilities.

This was a huge task because of the five-year growth of properties that didn’t make the MPAC files.

Stop and think about the privacy aspects of this. The provincial government and who knows how many others. have access to a treasure trove of property addresses, location, who owns them, and there are more than 5 million out there.

Remember the good old days when the muncipalities had their own assessor who would answer to council. By my count, that required some 445 local assessors in Ontario municipalities to do the job.

But the provincial government decided it wanted to control property assessment. Wonder how many employees are doing the job today, not including the investment in computers, servers and operational costs.

Drivers start your engines

The increases were phased in starting in 2015. With five million properties you can imagine it was a daunting task. But regardless, it was a vital one for municipalities that benefited from the restoration. Increased assessment of property from tax purposes was an increase to the owner. Plus, it was a revenue booster to the municipality.

It’s usually adjusted in April without fanfare and council sees it as the price is right.

That’s why you pay two installments based on 2019 rate of increase then two more property tax installments that are higher due to the new year assessment increase adjustments.

Here’s how the system works.

Every minicipality is required to file a Financial Information Report (FIR) with the province. It is detailed financial data, signed by an independent audit firm, based on the calendar year.

The Guelph annual FIR is a thick book of data, unseen by the public, although for a fee, you can request a copy.

As a best seller, it is not.

In the year following an election, council, in 2015, passed a budget from that year requireing a property tax increase of 3.55 per cent, right?

The budget had to be revised in April 2015 and subsequent years to adjust the property tax which increased the rate that year to 3.96 per cent.

This unfortunate development proved to be an embarrassment to the new Mayor, Cam Guthrie. He had promised during his election campaign to keep property tax increases level with the Consumer Price Index set by StatsCan.

The news story was misleading on a couple of accounts. Increased assessment automatically increases taxes, and the rate plus the growing basket of property tax levies for infrastructure, city buildings and possibly the Guelph General Hospital’s $45 million five-year expansion plan. The hospital Foundation is requesting $4.5 million or ten percent of the total. It is proposed to be spent over five years

MEANWHILE – The Police Services Board is asking for a $4.1 million increase for 2020. This does not include any adjustment of the $34 million Police Headquarters renovation, scheduled to be completed next month.

MEANWHILE – Staff has estimated a tax funded operations budget of $256,886,524 that will be debated tonight starting at 6 p.m. Hey! Look at it this way: It gives you a chance to try out the new parking garage next to city hall.

MEANWHILE – Is there any life support remaining for building the downtown main branch library? Just remember that this council was the geniuses who gave away Guelph Hydro but can’t finance a new downtown library.

MEANWHILE – Why is the final tax funded operations budget meeting scheduled December 3 being held at 2 p.m? Is this another attempt to turn off the public interest tap?

MEANWHILE – What ever happened to the Guelph Innovation District project to build an environmentally perfect community on the reformatory lands? Perhaps our MPP Mike Schreiner, may look into the status. Is it sale or no sale?

MEANWHILE – On a final note, Donald Trump does not drink. Instead he substitutes anxiety and morality with a cocktail composed of a malignant narcissistic personality.

 

 

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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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By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

via By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

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October 27, 2019 · 9:01 pm

By a 6-3 vote council agrees to a staff proposal to spend $197 million on a new operational super garage

By Gerry Barker

October 28, 2019

Opinion

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.

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Sometimes the writer has feet of clay

By Gerry Barker

October 24, 2019

Opinion

Well, some days are better than others.

This week it was the federal election in which the Liberals won 157 seats but not a majority.

My prediction that Mr. Dyck of the Green Party, would be elected was not only way off the mark but letting instinct dominate instead of trusting the polls. Mea culpa!

Green Party leader Elizabeth May now had two new MP’s to join her caucus of one.

I totally misjudged the power of the Green Party in Guelph that I felt would be a major factor on election day. Actually, Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Part in the Ontario Legislature was a runaway victor becoming a surprising factor in the 2018 provincial election. I presumed it would be a major factor in the Guelph federal election.

Dyck was matched against a Liberal incumbent, Lloyd Longfield, who spent a ton of money and the Green factor vanished.

It baffles me how the political pendulum swings in Guelph. First, the city voters are chiefly interested in progressive issues. Accordingly, the party candidates have owned Guelph federally. For 14 years now, the New Democrats and some Liberals have dominated our municipal administration. .

The loser on Monday was Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, the first member of that party to be elected in Ontario. One would think that he would be busy recruiting candidates and raising money to support National Green Party leader, Elizabeth May. I lost interest when about 11 p.m. I was tired of staring at the TV and the little green box that had the number 1 in it. .

It’s okay Mr. Dyck, my wife and I voted for you.

The NDP pushed hard again along with the Greens for proportional voting that incorporates a ranked ballot where voters select their one, two and third choices. You will recall that the Liberals said they would reform the first past the post system of electing a candidate federally, provincially and municipally.

For four years, it never appeared on the House of Commons order paper.

I believe only British Columbia uses proportional voting. With the current controlling party in B.C. is the minority NDP supported by two elected member of the Green Party.

This minority government is the official opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline to move Alberta crude to new markets rimming the blue waters of the Pacific.

Makes one wonder what Prime Minister elect, Justin Trudeau, will do to get his pipeline built, seeing the party failed to elect a member west of Manitoba.

 

 

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