Tag Archives: Cam Guthrie

That media corporate giant sucking sound has changed Guelph forever

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 2, 2016

When the Guelph Mercury closed its doors forever last week, as a result of a TorStar corporate decision by subsidiary MetroLand Publishing, the impact has changed the sources of news of a city of more than 122,000, to rely on a remaining handful of professional journalists.

With a single twice a week newspaper remaining with a full-time editorial staff of three, it takes no imagination to discover the huge vacuum of real news that has been created.

On the periphery of news coverage, there is the Rogers Community TV whose chief source of “news” is televising the Guelph council meetings. For those of us in the city that do not subscribe to Rogers services, that’s about as useful as a news source as horns on an ant.

Then we have the Kitchener CTV TV station. Its news coverage consists of 60-second video spots, using an on-camera reporter who does a toss-back to the anchor. This is real news? This outfit is now bereft because one of it’s chief sources was the Guelph Mercury that employed a staff of 10 editors and reporters who spent those long hours digesting and reporting civic affairs, community events, crime and interesting profiles of people.

That essential material coverage is now gone.

I must confess that I will truly miss the Mercury. I am, generally speaking, a one-man band. I do not have the personnel, time or energy to replace the Mercury and its former team of editors and reporters.

What I am most concerned about is that this news vacuum will further give the city administration, unfettered control of the corporation news, and the slant that it has been practising since 2007.

But what I do possess, for the past nine years, is a huge library of material that is mostly critical of the city’s administration.

Since the Mercury’s closing, the number of daily visitors to my blog, guelphspeaks.ca, has tripled. The reason was that I recognized the actions of the five members of council who literally defected from their responsibilities, Monday, January 25, when they walked out.

Then, when challenged to explain their action, I’d call it a strike, because they refused to answer. Instead, Coun. Phil Allt, one of the strikers, said it was “to defend the integrity of the corporation and staff.”

This all occurred during the week of the Mercury’s death throes.

Well, what’s new about this development?

There is a plethora of rumours and calls for the five councillors to resign.

This is a serious problem with the Ontario Municipal Act. The only way a councillor can be dismissed is for overt criminal activity, stealing public money and misrepresenting their credentials.

Even if there were charges relating to any of these fault lines, the councillor charged would still be in office by the next election, because of the time the courts could allocate court time to adjudicate the case. Usually it’s two years.

The provincial government must review and change these ironbound securities that municipal elected representatives are protected. What is needed is a mechanism to recall elected officials for malfeasance, failure to meet their fiduciary responsibilities and not turning up for official public meetings.

This outrageous political coitis interruptous must be met with public reaction and action. The greatest weapon the electors have is installing fear into their elected representatives. They do it by sending messages in many forms to the offending councillors, expressing their rejection of the way the defecting councillor has misbehaved in the people’s interest.

Make no mistake, a steady response complaining to these offending councillors who have stopped the city’s business, will have a telling effect in 2018, if they decide to run again.

If you need any evidence of this kind of political action, look no further than to see what happened in 2014 to council incumbents Karen Farbridge, Maggie Laidlaw, Ian Findlay, Todd Dennis, and Lise Burcher.

They were defeated or quit because of public pressure. It had little to do with the Guelph Mercury or Guelph Tribune; it was a quiet revolution by the people who protested the action of the previous administration.

It is time now to act against this group who have accomplished the continuation of the Farbridge administration that has seen large tax and user fee increases in just one year in office.

It’s now up to we the people to act.

Reminder: The Letter Box is now open for letters to the editor. Send you letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com for publication.

 

 

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Introducing the Letter Box, now open for your Letters to the Editor

By Gerry Barker

Editor guelphspeaks.ca

Posted January 31, 2016

Say hello to a new feature that allows Letters to the Editor, to be published in the exclusive Letter Box in guelphspeaks.ca, (GS), Guelph’s most popular news commentary blog.

It’s popular because it’s non-profit and not beholden to any political party, cause or individual. With the help and support of a wide variety of citizens, GS digs beneath the surface of those events and stories that affect all citizens.

The results are obvious. In a number of cases, GS scooped the Guelph print media chiefly because of publishing deadlines and frequency of editions. On GS, your letter can be read at anytime because the blog never closes.

Guelph Speaks was born, oddly enough, as a column published in the Mercury from 2007 to 2011 in a column titled, “Between the Lines.” Guelph resident, GS editor Gerry Barker, was the author and commentator. Now the Mercury is gone and leaves a number of traditional departments without your access or exposure.

These include letters to the editor, opinion columns, editorials, obituaries, death notices, classified ads, advertising, provincial, federal and world news, comics. Puzzles, real estate news, weather, social notices such as birthday, wedding and anniversary greetings, sports and entertainment news, and city government news and analysis.

This has left an enormous vaccum of iformation that thousands of residents relied upon.

The death of this newspaper marks the revolution for news and commentary to be instantly transmitted online. GS has been doing that for five years and has influenced major changes at City Hall and commented on events at the provincial and federal level that affect Guelph and its citizens.

The new Letter Box platform allows you to publish your ideas, suggestions, concerns and opinions. Naked plugs for publicity by commercial interests are not welcome.

Remember GS’s mission statement that has not changed: “For the people by the people.”

GS cannot replace the entire Mercury package overnight. What we are planning to do is offer citizens the opportunity to send their letters for publishing in the Letter Box section of the GS blog.

The Letter Box is open and available 24-7. Of course, there are some restrictions such as use of profanity, libelous copy, copy limitation of up to 300 words and light editing for clarity purposes. We will not publish anonymous letters.

The Letter Box is opened every morning and the new contents are posted. Your letter stays in the box for five days then is moved to the Letter Box archive where it may be accessed. We ask that you include your name, address and telephone number. This information is private and will not be transferred or sold to any individual, company or political organization. The information is secure, period. Only your name and municipality will be published.

And it’s free. Send your letter to gerrybarker76@gmail.com. Please ensure the words: “Letter Box” is at the top of your letter. This is to differentiate the letters from the comment section of guelphspeaks.ca.

So, all you Mercury letter writers, you now have the opportunity to run your letters on the online guelphspeaks.ca site. The huge guelphspeaks.ca audience will read your letters; the most followed blog in Guelph.

Former Mercury Community Editorial Board authors and columnists are invited to make submissions for publishing articles or commentary in guelphspeaks.ca. If you require additional information send your questions to: gerrybarker76@gmail.com.

Welcome to the online world that never sleeps.

 

 

 

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The Farbridge Factor lives on through the Gang of Seven’s majority on council

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 27, 2015

Things are different this year because it’s easier to predict what won’t happen in 2016 than to select events that will. The political events across three levels of government have reflected change but particularly disappointing in the case of Guelph and the provincial government.

We are swimming in a sea of mediocrity as the stunning level of incompetence both by civil servant staff and their elected political bosses, fails the test of basic business practice and financial management.

FYI: The Farbridge Gang of Seven consists of Councillors Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Mike Salisbury, June Hofland, Phil Allt and James Gordon.

So, let’s take a peek at what will happen, or won’t. You be the judge.

*   The five senior managers of the city staff, all hired by the Farbridge administration, including CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO Mark Amorosi, DCAO Derrick Thomson, City Clerk Stephen O’Brien, City Solicitor Donna Jacques, will still be on the job 12 months from now.

*   Soaring electricity costs, increased taxes and, not the least, a feminist arrogance that belies integrity and logic, will accelerate the relentless decline of the Ontario economy compounded by the failing leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

*   The Canada Pension Plan will be tinkered but provide little change except to increase employer/employee contributions.

*   Kathleen Wynne’s two great flops will be the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and establishing the new Ontario Pension Plan. At least you can drink away your fear of rank political stupidity but another tax grab is harder to swallow. The result will be a reduction of jobs shoving the ailing Ontario economy further down the sinkhole of spiraling debt and zooming taxes.

*   Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will demand 24 Sussex, the Prime Minister’s official residence, be renovated so he can move into the home in which he grew up.

The public reaction will be unnerving when the price tag is revealed.

*   Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper will lick his wounds and take out a Tim Horton’s franchise in woebegone Alberta. He won’t have much time as he joins several boards of directors of major corporations including banks, oil producers and auto manufacturers.

*   Karen Farbridge loyalist, Susan Watson, following her losing complaint about funding of a civic candidate by a voter’s activist group, (it cost taxpayers $11,400); will announce she will be a candidate for Mayor in the 2018 Guelph election. Should we make that former Farbridge loyalist?

*  Interim Conservative Leader, Rona Ambrose, will surprise parliamentary watchers by holding Justin Trudeau’s feet to the fire regarding his campaign promises.

*  Like the Ancient Mariner, Education Minister Liz Sandals will keep her job and sleepwalk through the new round of teachers’ union negotiating process that starts in January. Maybe this time she will ask for travel and entertainment receipts when paying the unions to negotiate with her government.

*   The Guelph city staff proposal of a ten-year, two per cent property tax levy for infrastructure, will fade into black as the Gang of Seven, controlling Guelph council, will vote against it all in the name of political survival.

*   Electricity rates in Ontario are more than 55 per cent higher than Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia and will increase by ten percent January 1st. The McGuinty/Wynne green energy team has proven to be expert in funding wind farms and solar arrays by paying the private operators more than triple the base per Kilowatt rate for 20 years but also their capital costs. And we, the end users, have to pay for this through our hydro bills, plus HST. Is that a great deal or not?

*   Gouging at the pump by Canadian gasoline producers will continue despite the 60 per cent drop in wellhead oil prices. Gasoline, at 95 cents a litre, is still 70 per cent higher than the same product in the U.S selling, on average, for $2 a gallon.

*  The appalling lack of understanding finances by a number of Guelph councillors will continue despite allowing operating deficits for the past three years. Provincial law forbids municipalities to carry budget deficits – read that overspending – into the next year.

*  Chances of the public being told the details of that police shooting in the Guelph General Hospital emergency waiting room will not be revealed in 2016. And the Ontario Liberals will not rewrite the Police Act that makes it impossible to fire a police officer for an offence. It appears officers have to kill someone to get fired by the police department.

*  It’s been a tough year for Mayor Cam Guthrie coping with a majority bloc of followers of his defeated predecessor. He still needs citizen support to carry out the changes that most of us voted for in 2016. Let’s renew our resolve to support the Mayor and his five members of council who are determined to create changes in management and reduce spending.

Here’s to having a Happy New Year!

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A serious look inside our city budget and where your tax dollars are going

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 21, 2015

As part of its new budget building program, the city released proposals for expansions of staff in the 2016 budget.

Prior to this the city staff presented to council an operating budget proposing a 2016 property tax increase of 1.58 per cent. Let’s call that stage one, or the window dressing portion of the build a budget program.

The staff recommends several budget expansions, over and above the operations budget of 1.58 per cent. The most costly expansion is adding 16 fulltime equivalent employees across various departments. The cost is $2,629,600. This adds another 1.25 per cent to the property tax increase.

Stage Two: Kaching! Now we’re up to 2.83 per cent

The 50 per cent growth of city staff by 700 employees in eight years is compared to a 5.7 per cent increase in population. That’s an increase of 6,897 newcomers in the same period. Wonder if they get their waste picked up by the city?

Let’s look at it this way. Assuming the city population is 121,000 and there are 2,100 fulltime employees, that means there is one city employee per 57.6129 citizens.

Taking it a step further, for the 6,897 new residents arriving since 2007, the 700 new city staff hired during the same period, means that one city employee serves just 9.852 citizens.

This indicates that Guelph hired more new staffers than were needed to cope with the increase in population, a paltry 5.7 per cent in eight years.

But the city staff increased by 50 per cent in those same eight years.

So why does the city staff keep adding staff, on average, of 20 individuals in each budget cycle?

In the space of just six months, completing two budget cycles, 2015 and 2016, some 37 new employees are authorized. While the 2016 budget has not been finalized, it’s a safe bet the staff recommended 16 additional staffers will be approved.

Stage Three: Citizens get their chance to ask for money

But wait! Yet to come are the citizens requesting public funding at the November 30 public meeting. This is when the vociferous bike lane lobby swings into high gear to extend the network of bike lanes in the downtown core and major arterial roads. This is one of those Farbridge legacy hangovers that will be ardently supported by the Farbridge Gang of Seven on council. This group is trapped in an eight-year time warp that has witnessed millions spent to accommodate a tiny minority of bicycle riders.

Their pitch is to demand that council live up to the Farbridge sponsored ten-year plan to spend $1.3 million on bike lanes Reminder, the 2015 budget contains a $600,000 item for bike lanes on Woodlawn Ave.

It’s difficult to understand why driving through Kitchener and Waterloo, there is not the numbers of bike lanes on the major roads in comparison to Guelph.

There will be other organzations and individuals pitching council for money for a variety of causes and interests. Council will be polite with each petitioner, ask some questions but rarely commit, except if you ride a bicycle.

The final stage will be council’s final review of the 2016 budget and approve it December 9.

It’s a good bet that the 2016 budget will exceed a property tax increase of 3.5 per cent not including the increase in citywide property assessments that contribute to the bottom line.

Let’s take a look as these staff recommended expansions.

One that stands out is hiring a manager of city assets for $157,000. A second is hiring an asset analyst for $120,100. Total for the two jobs is $277,500. It is not clear where these two hires fit in and are they necessary? Is not the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), responsible for managing city assests? That’s what the charter says and already has a general manager.

The Corporate Services department requires the following staff additions and programs:

An internal auditor – $133,800; Asset manager mobility specialist, $79,300; Information technician GIS program, $483,500; Clerk’s office, Access coordinator $86,800; Ward boundary review, (an election will not be held until 2018), $190,000; Contingency reserve $500,000; Stabilization reserve, $500,000.

It’s interesting to note that some programs all have the same $50,000 cost. Two are not recommended: Graffiti removal cotrol and the Goose mitigation strategy. City hall maintenance of $50,000 is recommended. Does that include the living wall?

The Parks department is a beneficiary of the staff recommendations. There is a parks planner, $56,050; an Arborist, $107,400; an Inspector Arborist, $130,700; Seasonal Horticultural crew, $69,600; parks infrastructure maintenance, $35,800; turf maintenance, $69,800; trails maintenance, $35,000; Adding two trails technicians costing $216,400. This adds up to $720,750.

The Farbridge-initiated Open Government Action Plan gets an additional $264,200 on top of the $92,000 approved in the 2015 budget. This money has boosted what was first a one-year contract job for Farbridge loyalist Andy Best. Apparently, the position has morphed into a three-year commitment.

So much for the integrity of the public service.

We have a Cadillac staff powered by a four cylinder engine

While the staff has taken steps to reduce spending, it still fails to address the real spending issue: The growing cost of the city staff is too much for the supporting tax base to afford.

It is not something that started this year. Under the Farbridge administration, staff numbers soared from 1,400 to more than 2,100. Some 37 new employees will have been hired in the 2015, and proposed 2016, budgets. The staff employment costs currently consumes more than 80 per cent of the tax levy.

Glancing over the proposed new staff group for 2016, many are specialists and management people, with compensation packages that are ahead of similar positions in private industry.

The comment made by Derrick Thomson, DCAO, in charge of operations is ludicrous. He says the increase of staff is required to serve more residents. In eight years, the population increased by 5.7 per cent. But in the past ten years, the city staff has increased by 85 per cent.

Just looking at this position, there is a whole crop of candidates for the provinces’s annual Sunshine list of those public servants making more than $100,000 a year.

This continuation of the staff setting the terms of employment is with little input from some members of council, or a responsible Chief Financial Officer (CFO). That job has not been filled since former CFO Al Horsman was moved to Waste Management, Planning and Engineering a year ago, and two budgets since. He left Guelph this past summer.

For additional information about this budget process, here is the link:

http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/council consolidated-agenda budget 111815.pdf

 

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Guelph’s financial dilemma is rooted in high staff costs

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 17, 2015

It’s the dirty big secret that is driving up costs and so far, council does not want to tackle it.

It’s the untouchable cost of running a city after nine years of non-stop wages and benefits grow exponentially exceeding the Consumer Price index (CPI) by a country mile. Throw in the more than 400 new, fulltime equivalent employees added in that time, and taxpayers are being forced to ante up every year to keep up.

The truth is that 80 per cent of the property tax levies goes to pay the city staff.

So when the staff submits its estimate of the property tax increase for 2016 of 1.58 per cent to city council, it is a mythical figure that has little basis of reality. It’s the equivalent of the workers at Linamar telling the management how much they think it’s going to cost to produce car parts.

So they scare council’s Farbridge majority by saying the Guelph Transit fares are going up and weekend and holiday service will be reduced to save $1.5 million.

Compared to the 2013 Guelph Transit overtime bill of more than $5 million, that’s chicken feed.

Oh, woe is me! Says Coun. Phil Allt who again, insists Guelph has to get cars off the road and only public transit is the answer. So the left-brain cramp of some members of council, is maintaining the “war on cars” that beats on in an addled manner.

It’s all part of the senior staff game to serve and protect … their interests, not those who must pay the bills. And there are a number of senior managers that don’t even live or pay taxes in Guelph.

In the past ten years, the growth of Guelph city staff exceeded the growth of our population by 85 per cent.

And it’s not just occurring in Guelph.

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says in part that: “We have been hearing about cities having a revenue problem, but it’s clear it’s a spending problem they are dealing with,” said Laura Jones, CFIB executive vice president.

The CFIB report states that a municipal employee in Canada is paid 22 per cent more than an employee in the private sector doing the same job.

“When you look closely, it’s easy to see employee compensation is the root of the municipal spending problem,” said Nina Gormanns, co-author of the report.

This report comes in concert with the Fair Pensions for All organization that has been warning municipalities, for many years of the risks of increasing the size of staff and the increasing benefits paid to those workers.

In fact, the organization presented a documented report to the former Farbridge council, indicating the growing pension liabilities the city was facing. It was ignored and a number of Farbridge followers ridiculed the findings.

So the staff strategy is to use Guelph Transit as the target to reduce costs instead of recommending staff reductions. The city recently commissioned a consultant report to review city operations.

The BMA municipal consultants are not unfamiliar with the way our city is being managed, having done a similar report in 2011 that cost $480,442 to complete.

This year’s report gives the city operations a passing grade in almost all aspects except for a “cautionary red flag” on the underfunded reserves. Once in a while it is right to speak the truth.

You cannot raid three reserve funds to pay a lawsuit liability of $8.96 million without a firm plan to pay the money back. In approving the 2015 budget last March 25, Coun. Karl Wettstein, the elder statesman of the Farbridge Seven on council, made a motion to reduce the $900,000 scheduled repayment to the reserve funds to $500,000. That passed.

Councillors Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland were on the Farbridge council that witnessed the firing in September 2008 of Urbacon Buildings Group, Corp., the general contractor of the new City hall.

They have never accepted responsibility for that action that triggered a $23 million overrun of the project. For that matter, neither has the former mayor ever admitted any responsibility.

The people understood and voted the mayor out of office.

So when the 2016 budget is approved in December, don’t be surprised if it is another 3.5 per cent increase of property taxes, plus user fees and more staff.

You read it here first.

 

 

 

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Part Two – Why it’s now necessary to put Guelph on a financial diet

By Gerry Barker

Posted October 22, 2015

Yesterday, we showed how the City of Guelph’s operating costs per-person are 50 % higher than its two largest neighbours, Kitchener and Cambridge.

Today we will discuss how the current city administration including staff and elected officials must take action to stop the growth of operating costs.

This year the city has budgeted $207 million in operating costs and $52 million in capital spending. As of June 30 the operating budget was $867, 200 overspent. The capital budget was $839,155 overspent. That totals $1,701,355. It is indicative of the way the city is being managed including its budget forecasting.

We are beginning to see where the money goes.

Guelph, under the leadership of former mayor Karen Farbridge, was a virtual dictatorship because of the dominance of a majority of councillors who supported the mayor’s agenda. Also there was the influence of the various labour unions employed by the city. The financial decisions made in eight years involved a majority of council obsessed with turning the city into a world-class environmental community.

Much of it was generated by the belief of its adherents that Guelph must become a leader in imposing left-wing policies on the city at any cost and without support of the people.

What were these policies?

For starters the newly elected Farbridge council in 2007 focused on two major capital projects. The first was initiated by Coun. Leanne Piper who persuaded the council to renovate the empty 150 year-old Loretto convent on Catholic Hill and convert it to a new city museum. That project ended up costing $16 million plus being subsidized annually by taxpayers. We still don’t know the terms of the lease with the Church who owns the property or the operating costs.

The second 2007 decision was to change the $42 million contract for the new city hall and renovation of the old one. In order to meet a higher environmental standard this created more than 300 change orders, resulting in delays of completion and the premature firing of the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Corp., in September 2008.

Seven years later, we now know the cost of the Urbacon firing has reached $23 million over the original $42 million contract. When the court case was decided in March 2014 in favour of Urbacon, it resulted in the Mayor being defeated plus four other councillors who either quit of were defeated last October.

These two events were the catylist in 2007 that led to reckless spending and lack of accountability of a regime that lacked financial discipline or responsible direction.

Case in point, the city is currently without a Chief Financial Officer. In the eight-year term of the Farbridge administration there were four CFO’s plus one who was a senior financial department official. She resigned and is working for Wellington County.

So how do we reduce costs?

Mayor Cam Guthrie has experienced a rough first year in office. His attempts, along with a minority of council have been unable to inject change and financial responsibility to the city administration.

The chief reason is there are seven members of council who vote as a bloc, frustrating change and progress. They include Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Karl Wettstein, Mike Salisbury, June Hofland, Phil Allt and and James Gordon.

This city can no longer tolerate plus 3 % property tax increases every year, or a police headquarters renovation that will end up costing an estimated $39 million, $5 million more than the original estimate. Farbridge legacy costs include an estimated $75 million spent on a waste management system that doesn’t serve an estimated 13 per cent of households and businesses; downtown residential intensification; creation of the Guelph Municipal Holding Corporation with 132 employees, that lost $2.8 million last year.

These items are only the tip of the iceberg that is about to do a Titanic number if there is no attempt to avoid a financial disaster.

The first place to start is executing a management review to reduce staff costs. This is the gtreatest expense the city faces both in the short and long term. We cannot continue using 85 per cent of the property tax revenues to pay the staff. This year the staff budget is $31,050,000. It is the greatest expense in the city budget.

It explains how the growth of the city staff and the exponential increasing costs for salaries and wages, pensions, medical and overtime impacts your property tax bill.

So, let’s get serious

Step one, shut down the Guelph Municipal Holdings (GMHI) operation. There is no direct benefit other than sending a $1.5 million dividend to the city’s general revenues despite losing $2.8 million in 2014. In the past five years $9 million has been moved over to the city as dividends from GMHI.

The source of these funds is from the GMHI-controlled Guelph Hydro. So we end up paying for it as it represents another form of taxation specific to all citizens.

There are many programs that the Farbridge Bloc of Seven on council is insistent of maintaining. In fact, Coun. Karl Wettstein insists that council must maintain the same level of services provided by the previous administration of which he was a part.

Step Two, simply, we can no longer afford spending millions on bike lanes; downtown secondary plans including reconstruction of St. George’s Square; spending millions to provide thermal-based heating and cooling to the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown: the wellness program; the transit system; offering money to home owners to upgrade their homes including windows, doors, insulation and toilets that use less water.

These programs must be severly pared back or eliminated until we can replenish the reserves that were raided to pay off the $8.9 milliom Urbacon settlement.

Step Three, put a hiring freeze in place. Also reduce the number of staffers by at least 5 per cent in the 2016 budget. This action can br spread through every department with the managers in charge being responsible for staff reductions.

Until these steps are taken to reduce costs, there will be no Wilson Street parking garage, no new downtown library, no South-end Recreation Centre and no revitalization of the Baker Street parking lot property.

The infrastructure of this 200 year-old city is in disrepair. Old sewers, watermains, and streets need replacing. It’s not glamourous stuff like the Waste Resource Innovation Centre on Dunlop Road that is mismanaged and operates in secret. Or the Market Square project that is the expensive centre-piece of the Farbridge legacy.

Mayor Guthrie was elected last year on the promise to keep property tax increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Last year that was 2.4 %. The Farbridge Bloc however used its council muscle to shove a 3.96 % property tax increase in this year’s budget.

The only way this group can stop obstructing and start cooperating is to let them know the people want change. You can do that by sending a letter, or email to express your concern about the high cost of living in Guelph.

All it would take is just one councillor to recognize his or her responsibility to work creatively and responsibly as a group on behalf of their constituents and not on a broken idiology that has created this financial mess.

This beautiful city and its people deserve better.

Tomorrow, October 23, Part Three of this series discusses how public money is shifted around behind closed door creating financial confusion and hiding excessive costs. It’s a practice known as “Fungible Finances.” It has been used extensively in the past eight years by the previous administration.

 

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Shake-up at the top? Senior city staff undergoes change

By Gerry Barker

From the GuelphSpeaks Guelph file

Posted October 7. 2015

The city is advertising for a Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) to oversee Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise (IDE).

The salary range being offered is $163,993 to $204,992.

Is this a new hire to replace the incumbent, DCAO Derrick Thomson, or to redefine the organization at the top? Or is it another layer of executive management to an already bloated city staff?

Did city council approve this position? If so, citizens should ask which councillors voted for the staff addition and which voted against it?

Another element is the recent hiring of a general manager of the environment. Translated it means the new man inherits the failed waste management system of the previous administration. His salary range tops out at just under $100,000.

Last November, filling the void of the departed Janet Laird and Derek McCaughan, seems not to have worked out as planned when the executive staff level was chopped from five to three. The three remaining executives, Mark Amorosi, Al Horsman and Derrick Thomson were given a five per cent salary increase. In addition, they were appointed DCAO’s. This was to provide more money commensurate with more responsibility.

Well, at the least, we are guaranteed that we’ll never run out of Chief Administrative Officers.

Mr. Horsman was Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and in the November 2014 shuffle, he took over waste management, planning and engineering, officially titled: Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise. His previous job was filled last March with the hiring of Janice Sheehy as city Treasuer and General Manager of Finance.

The city has operated for almost a year without a CFO. Given the tangled web of the city’s finances where money has been arbitrarily shifted around to meet unexpected legal costs and settlements, why has there not been a new CFO named?

In September, Horsman resigned to take over as CAO of Sault Ste Marie. Mr. Thomson assumed his responsibilities in addition to running the city operations staff and Guelph Transit.

The City of Guelph is a citizen-owned corporation with an estimated book value of more than $500,000,000, yet does not have a CFO. The interim report revealed in June about the financial position of the city showed the budget had been exceeded by more than $1 million.

Small potatoes, one may conclude, in a multi-million dollar operational budget. It reveals the weakness of poor budget forecasting, bad execution and spending too much money in the wrong places.

And luck had nothing to do with it.

Look no further that the 3.96 per cent increase in property taxes, in this year’s budget, for evidence that the city finances are not being managed well. It was the greatest tax increase since 2010. Only Mayor Cam Guthrie and four councilors had the courage to vote against it.

The part to worry about is the lack of cost containment that the administration and majority of council support. It is as if there was no election last October.

The same players and elected councillors are carrying on with the spendthrift policies of the previous administration. That’s the one the voters rejected by the thousands.

The upcoming 2016 budget discussions and planning are of great importance to the citizens. Emboldened by the huge property tax increase last March, there is growing evidence of another big tax increase exceeding 3 per cent for 2016.

How can anyone stop excessive taxation? Let your councillor know, not once, not twice but three times that you expect him or her to contain costs and keep the tax increase to no more than 2.5 per cent.

They do listen.

 

 

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Is eMERGE yet another reincarnation of the Guelph Civic League?

Posted December 10, 2014

Just when you think the Farbridge era is over, the cousin of the Guelph Civic League, eMERGE, pops up spouting much of the same environmental material and “action plans” that the majority of Guelph voters rejected October 27.

Under the guise of bringing people together, the Farbridge-era supporters advocate reducing your carbon footprint, waste, energy, water and automotive transportation.

Translation: Sell your car and seek alternative transportation, such as riding a bike, walking or taking public transit; recycle to reduce waste; put a brick in your toilet tank; don’t water your garden, use a rain barrel; grow a vegetable garden and enrich the soil with chicken droppings from the coop.

These are, on the surface, viewed by the leftist minority as necessary to survive but are not a pragmatic solution in our civic society. One that is mostly dependent on revenues from property taxes and user fees.

It’s an agenda advocated by the ramblings of multi-millionaire environmentalist, David Suzuki. Who, it should be noted, endorsed our former mayor in her bid for re-election.

eMERGE is financed with your money through the Trillium Foundation, a provincial government fund to encourage public participation in civic affairs. It is an extension of 10 Carden Street, the non-profit offshoot of the Guelph Civic League. It received a grant of $135,000 a few years ago to promote all things “wellbeing” in the city.

eMERGE was started up about a year ago to follow through on the Farbridge administration’s war on cars by remarking major streets creating traffic congestion, dividing the community with forced management of waste, advocating sustainability, including eating locally grown food.

It is beyond coincidence that there was political motivation behind the timing of the start-up. It was a well-planned advocacy group, composed chiefly by supporters of the Farbridge manifesto to change Guelph into something it was not ready to accept. The identity of the eMERGE leadership is not apparent.

The former Mayor conducted much of the city’s business without public input. Oh, they would hold consultation meetings composed chiefly of her supporters plus members of the city staff dragooned to attend to beef up the numbers.

In many cases these so-called public consultations were a sham meant to give the illusion of full public support.

Two glaring examples come to mind. The decision to renovate the Loretto Convent on Catholic Hill into a civic museum was done behind closed doors without any public input. More than $15 million was spent in the name of preserving the pre-Confederation building that was located on property not owned by the city. The details of the property arrangement with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Hamilton have never been revealed. The end cost of the project is not known as there were serious infrastructure problems encountered during construction.

The second example is the multi-million dollar Waste Resource Innovation Centre (WRIC) located on Dunlap Drive. This was the crown jewel project of the former Mayor’s determination to turn Guelph into the “world class” waste management capital. The money was spent on the pretext that Guelph’s waste, and the Region of Waterloo’s waste and Waste from Detroit would be processed in the WRIC, thereby diverting waste from the landfill. Once again the secrecy of the deals made with organic water processing plant contractor Maple Reinders and its subsidiary companies, the Rizzo waste management outfit from Detroit, have not been revealed. Nor has the annual cost of running the WRIC.

The trouble is you cannot stuff these targeted ideals down people’s throats as the Farbridge administration did over eight years. The result was a huge waste of money through bad decisions that citizens will be paying for the next five years.

When eMERGE brags about Copenhagen soon becoming carbon neutral, you get a good idea of where this organization is heading. Guelph is not Copenhagen. For eMERGE to set arbitrary goals for reducing carbon, using less water and energy is the handmaiden of Farbridge reincarnated.

The recent Auditor General’s scathing report on the management of the province by the Liberal Government has its roots in Guelph. Mayor Farbridge artfully absorbed Guelph Hydro into the Guelph Municipal Holdings Corporation (GMHI) of which she was chairman. The hydro utility is worth some $175 milliohm and has been sending a “dividend” of its operations to the city. If the former mayor had been re-elected, it is likely the utility would have been sold.

Don’t be fooled by eMERGE’s slick propaganda and website. The people voted for change in the way our city has been run. It’s now up to Mayor Guthrie and the council to steer a new path that is progressive yet affordable.

That includes building a reputation that Guelph is a great place for new businesses to locate, offers new job opportunities, is a great city in which to live and is affordable.

 

 

 

 

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