By Gerry Barker
June 17, 2019
Mercy me. The similarities between the two most major construction of city buildings, since the Urbacon debacle that ended with the city being found responsible for firing the general contractor.
In 2014, an election year, it didn’t stop city council from approving the $34.1 million renovation of the 40.7 year-old headquarters. When first built in 1960, the city’s population was 38,000. In 1989, the building was retrofitted and a new wing added.
In 2014, the need was apparent, as the city population is now more than 131,000.
Is it déjà vu, all over again?
The new city hall and provincial court project in the old city hall took five years to complete and a cost overrun of $23 million. Now we have the case of the Police headquarters renovation that was approved in August 2014 and has yet to be completed 4.7 years later. The final cost has yet to be determined as the construction was impacted by excessive bedrock formations for new buildings on the site. Also winter weather conditions stalled construction.
This brings us to a new staff proposal to increase the city debt by $33.1 million. In 2017, according to the city, the debt was $110 million. At the end of 2018, the debt was reported as $96 million.
That’s progress right?
Here are the caveats about increasing the city debt
Council, at its June 24 meeting must approve the new debt terms and conditions. However, the staff will present the final numbers and associated cost to council July 8, 2019 according to the news report.
Is that a typo? The staff report follows council approval? It’s time to jack up the car and change the oil.
The new debt is guaranteed by the City of Guelph and it has a 20-year term when fully repaid in 2039, according to the staff report, the end cost of this new loan is $47.8 million.
The lender is not identified nor is the interest rate or any adjustments over the term of the loan.
If now approved the city debt will increase from $96 million in 2018 to $129 million this year. Is it possible that we ordinary citizens could handle the cost of a 29 per cent increase in our debt over 20 years?
FYI, starting next year, the city will be paying $862,000 per year costing 29 per cent more for its 2019 assumed debt.
So, where is the new money being spent?
Of the $33.1 million, $15.1 million is to be spent on the Police HQ renovation and the Wilson Street Parkade, both under construction; some $1.3 million will be spent replacing transit fare boxes; $1.6 million for fuel tank replacement at the city’s operations facility.
The amount to be spent on the two major projects was not spelled out.
It should be noted that the city approved a $16 million debenture for the Police HQ renovation that started in April 2016. The Police Services Board contributed some $3 million toward the renovation. That brought the outstanding balance to $14.1 million to meet the original approved cost of $34.1 million.
This does not include change orders or other unexpected costs that can increase the original council approval last August 2014.
The Wilson Street Parkade financing is murky. Last year, Mayor Guthrie announced the estimated $350 million Baker Street project would include a new downtown library, that is a key part of the plan. Barely mention, the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade was included in the original Baker Street project estimates.
Indeed, many a promise is embedded before an election.
Putting it all together, the report does not specify how and where the balance of the $33.1 million debt funds will be spent. So far, there is some $14.1 million still not allocated.
The other missing piece of promises made is the fate of the $63 million South End Recreation Centre. The city has already spent $3.5 million on preliminary plans from general revenues.
Incidently, whatever happened to that $18.5 million so-called dividend to be received from Guelph Hydrp following the merger with Alectra Utilities?
In my opinion, these developments are paying for a horribly mismanaged past that has milked the citizen’s ability to pay their obligations to the administration.
Under the present administration, don’t expect its collective ambition and disdain for professionalism that in the past four years has turned Guelph into an island of managemnt mediocrity in terms of not serving the people’s interests and blithely ignoring the fallout.