Tag Archives: city of guelph

A contrarian view of the University of Guelph’s economic impact on our city

By Gerry Barker

June 18, 2018

Now let’s state clearly that the U of G is an important presence in the life of our city.

An economic impact study, commissioned by the university, reports a staff of some 12,000 employees. It appears to be the largest employer in town with 30,000 students located in three campuses – Guelph, the main campus, with an estimated 21,000 students. The remaining students are located in Toronto and Ridgetown.

The accounting firm KPMG produced the study revealing that $1.6 billion was injected into the Guelph regional economy. Presumably this contribution was spread through the three campuses of the university on a prorate basis.

The report does not break out the benefit specifically to the City of Guelph.

The first question one should ask is why is the university paying mega bucks attempting to prove its contribution to the economy of our city?

It reports that the students contribute some $370 million each year, chiefly within eight months with the greater majority attend the Guelph campus. The money is spent on living expenses and the study claims their presence employs some 5,000 local jobs. Again it is unclear if this include police, fire and EMS; transit workers; waste management personnel; city administration staff and public operations employees. Not counting the emergency services employees the city staff is composed of 2,200 Full-time Equivalent Employee (FTE) workers.

Without this support of Guelph taxpayers and city services, the University could not function.

The citizens of Guelph pay all their staff salaries and benefits through property taxes and user fees. Some 80 per cent of those costs are from the collection of property taxes.

Presuming the U of G is the largest landowner in the city, with an estimated 600 acres leased to a variety of commercial businesses, office enterprises and residential, what is its contribution to the city property tax budget?

Using the number of students in the KPMG study, the university’s obligation paying property taxes is a special system introduced in 1987 that permits a “bed tax” of $75 per student in lieu of properties based on assessment. Unlike us whose property taxes are reset annually based on council’s budget and adjustments in assessments.

This “bed tax” rate has not changed since introduced 31 years ago. I won’t ask the embarrassing questions about inflation, that affects all city citizens.

Based on a student population of 21,000, the University of Guelph pays $1,575,000 a year in lieu of property taxes based on the number of students.

Let’s compare this with what citizens pay for services

Using an estimated average tax bill of $6,000 times 50,000 on the city tax bill register that includes industrial and commercial properties; the city is receiving some $300,000,000 in property taxes.

But here’s the kicker. That estimate has grown every year since 2007 by some 3.5 per cent exponentially. When the residential industrial ratio is factored (84 per cent residential versus 16 per industrial), the residential property owners are subsidizing, by far, the tiny university’s property tax obligation.

The university enjoys the city services provided by the city with not having the “bed tax” indexed for 31 years.

Of course it’s not fair. And who really pays that “bed tax?” It’s the students seeing it rolled into their tuition costs.

Now this same $75 per student in lieu of property tax is applicable to every university and community college in Ontario.

It is almost impossible to calculate or comprehend how the residents in all those communities throughout the province are caught in this totally unfair situation.

It’s easy to calculate is the cost to Guelph property owners that eclipses the paltry property tax contribution of the biggest landowner in the city.

While the university blows its horn about is monetary contribution to the city and surrounding area, it conveniently leaves out the costs of running a city of 131,000 with services supplied 365 days a year such as water, waste management, emergency services, electricity, pubic transit, excellent hospitals and social services.

It has to be a bargain when all you have to pay for it is $1,575,000.

In fact, with all that cash coming in from leased lands and other enterprises, three years ago it was reported some $30 million underfunded the university staff pensions fund

I didn’t read about these items in this glossy report.

Okay, the old arguments will surface about how important the relationship exists between Town and Gown. But at what price?

A property tax deal that was not even indexed for inflation for 31 years when the city grew, costs escalated and there was increased demand for basic services.

And the University also grew during that same period but is still paying the same property tax as it did 31 years ago.

It should not be forgotten that our provincial income and sales taxes subsidize the post secondary institutions.

How much does the provincial government expect the citizen in those cities and towns to subsidize the post secondary institutions through their property taxes?

The University of Guelph has a unique advantage over most other post secondary institutions. As a former Agriculture and Vetrenary College, it owned acres of land at a time when Guelph was a small town more than 65 years ago.

In Guelph, this fixed, unfair property tax subsidy grows exponentially every year on the backs of the municipal property owners.

 

 

 

 

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Two sketchy news releases have the City betting $245,000 to win a “prize” of $10 million and hook up with a U.K. Foundation

By Gerry Barker

June 14, 2018

In one of the most convoluted and incomprehensible stories ever carried in Guelph Today, the Online news source, even baffled councillors, including June Hofland, who questioned the “high level language” that was used when plain English was needed to help citizens understand the project.

Well, I’m one who remains baffled. The piece displayed a picture of Mayor Guthrie posed in front of a large chart that resembled a new board game.

The report described the City bid, joined by County Wellington that would see the area develop “a Circular Food Economy to increase access to affordable, nutritional food.”

This is beginning to sound like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

At its planning meeting Last Monday, council voted unanimously to approve a staff recommendation to fund this turkey by taking $245,000 from the city’s Efficiency, Innovation and Opportunity Reserve fund.

This is starting to resemble a social engineering program from the former administration headed by Karen Farbridge. I think most people now understand the high cost of that administration’s green schemes that cost citizens millions. Many of which failed.

Breaking News!

But hold on! Following the original story, the city published a press release that puts a new angle on the “circular food economy” project that confuses the situation even further.

This release says that Guelph Wellington has partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, headquartered in the United Kingdom. The Foundation selected the city and county to collaborate in its “Cities and the Circular Economy for Food initiative.”

Guelph’s Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson stated: “To be selected as a focus city for this initiative is a huge honour and a testament to Guelph’s innovative spirit and the collaborative relationship of the City and County.

“We’re proud of the opportunity to represent Canada and help carve a path for other cities interested in a circular food economy.””

Hmmm. Is that the same opportunity that’s costing us $245,000 to participate in the Federal Government’s contest about, here we go again, the circular economy initiative? You remember the money is to be taken from the city’s Efficiency, Innovation and Opportunity Reserve fund.

That’s the one where Guelph Wellington could win $10 million as the winner of a lottery to participate, we presume, in developing the “Circular Economy for Food initiative.

Are we a third world country with a need to feed the people?”

Still confused?

Okay everybody, have you figured out why the staff would make such a recommendation to spend $245,000 on this wonky scheme? Besides, what does Guelph get out of it?

Also, where does County Wellington fit into this? How much is our partner putting up to participate? The more we learn makes us believe the odds resemble a civic Ponzi scheme with high risk and no guarantee of a return.

Except of course, such intangibles as honour, pride and innovation spirit.

Even if council approves the bid spending, the county will be the chief beneficiary because that’s where the circular economy action could occur.”

Step right up! Give us $245,000 and you might win a $10 million prize from your Federal government.

Did I mention that there are eight other municipalities in the running for this underwriting of a circular food economy plan?

Which is it?

Now that Guelph Wellington has made the semi-finals because there were originally 100 applications, we learn that the Federal Government has “committed” $250,000 to help prepare the proposal because additional research and resources are needed to complete the entry.

Later in the story we find the Feds “awarded” $250,000 to the city to develop its bid.

I’m confused, why do we need to take $245,000 from a reserve fund to enter the lottery?

Councillor June Hofland has a point. Both these releases obfuscates the purpose of spending this money in competition with eight other cities in the under 500,000-population category.

I don’t know about you but this looks like another pet project cementing Mr. Future, Cam Guthrie’s march to be a legend before his time.

He led the charge to give Guelph Hydro away for a pittance in return from the acquirer, Alectra Utilities. That so-called merger has yet to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board if one still exists under new management at Queen’s Park.

The discouraging aspect of this stupidity lies right with Mayor Guthrie and a compliant council that reflects the famous words of Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing, I know nothing, I tell nothing.”

It was funny back then, but it’s not funny now.

It demonstrates that spending $245,000 on the slim chance of receiving a $10 million prize with strings attached is a wasteful misuse of public money.

The important lesson taken here is how we must elect councillors with experience, who control the agenda and not the staff, and introduce centrist reforms that reflect the needs and interests of all citizens.

 

 

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Part One: This time let’s make change happen to reflect our values

By Gerry Barker

April 30, 2018

The following is a recipe for real change affecting all citizens and not just the ruling class that has dominated civic politics for the past 11 years.

Change One

One serious problem citizen’s face is the lack of in depth coverage of city business and public participation. We are a city of 131,000 that is served by a twice-weekly newspaper with a corporate owner that is a mouthpiece for the administration who are served by a radio station with no reporting staff dependent on police and city press releases. There is an online newspaper that occasionally reports the real news and not just the city handouts and police blotter.

The Kitchener TV station occasionally reports on Guelph news.

The most telling news source is the Rogers Community TV group that covers city council meetings. It does not report or interview citizens or staff as its mandate is controlled by the administration.

Then there are the bloggers (guilty) who chiefly support the administration but rarely are critical or opinionated about administration operations.

Because of this mixture of traditional news sources, in my opinion, Guelph is horribly under-served when it comes to covering the news that matters most to citizens. That’s why more people are dependent on TV news and the Internet.

Fixing the situation will only occur if people stop using those local outlets as a source of news and the managements upgrade their news coverage.

Change Two

Because of our method of electing members of council, in the past 11 years an idealistic group of councillors has controlled council. They are a mixed bag of folks, some good some well meaning and some married to principles that have cost millions without measurable accomplishments.

Now I’m not mentioning names right now because that’s another story for the upcoming campaign that begins tomorrow with the opening of nominations.

The political philosophy is that governments that have controlled our destiny for more than 11 years are ripe for defeat. Every four years, the people can throw long-term governments out and elect a new set of players to create a fresh government.

On the surface it would appear that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are the old tired administration that has galvanized the Ontario Progressive Conservatives to become the government.

We’ll know how that turns out the night of June 7.

The voters in Guelph face the same situation. Do we elect a new responsible group of councillors? In order to accomplish this we need to reform the membership of city council.

Change Three

The Town of Milton reformed its 13-member council reducing the membership to nine including the mayor.

In Guelph we have two part-time councillors in each of the six wards. This system has strengths and weaknesses. It is politically weak because council can be dominated if seven members band together to form a voting bloc. That’s what has occurred in the past three councils.

To describe the ward councillors as part-time is ludicrous. They earn some $35,000 that is out-of-date in terms of workload including paper work, service to constituents and life style. While the responsibilities grow, in my opinion, they are grossly underpaid.

The net result is that the city cannot attract elected representatives with a very limited scale of remuneration, compared to many on staff making four and five times that of the “part-time” councillors.

The next step would be to elect two councillors at large plus the Mayor. This system will prevent the bloc voting that has dominated Guelph politics for 11 years. By now, we know the price of failed projects that have turned the city into one of the highest taxed municipalities in Ontario if not Canada. Millions has been wasted and is one of the chief reasons that Guelph’s operating budget is 50 per cent higher than that of Kitchener and Cambridge.

Bottom line: Reduce the ward councillor to one; pay them at least $90,000 with an independent professional performance review following each election.

Unfortunately, the election process cannot be changed for this year. The new council can vote to reduce its size when it enacts reforms.

Summing up: Years ago decisions were made without considering the growth of the city, its needs and effective planning. That was then and this is today.

Bad decisions made long ago and even in the past 11 years, has increased infrastructure costs to close to one half a billion dollars. Throw in the impact of inflation and the dropping value of the Canadian dollar annually and a tipping point has been reached.

You cannot keep raising property taxes and user fees; you cannot spend millions on failed environmental projects such as the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc, financial and structural disaster. These are just some of the serious operational problems facing the electorate next October.

At a point in time Guelph was a small, agriculture-oriented economy town, with an Agriculture College as its main industry.

The city remains an economic island with few exits to the outside world. When the opportunity came to form a Regional government with Kitchener and Cambridge, Guelph council said no.

Since then the city has been isolated from industrial and commercial development that would bring assessment dollars to build the city. In the past 11 years the ratio of Residential assessment to Industrial-Commercial assessment is 74 per cent compared to 16 per cent and has not changed.

Only increasing that Industrial-Commercial assessment will make a dent in the annual property tax rate averaging 3.5 per cent. That does not include the property tax surcharge to repair and maintain the infrastructure.

Change Four

Study and learn about your city. Knowledge leads to action to create change.

Part Two will be published May 2 and outlines specifics to reduce bloated operational costs.

 

 

 

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Guelphspeaks notifies viewers of the site beng hacked by persons unknown

By Gerry Barker

Editor of guelphspeaks.ca

I learned this morning that the blog had been hacked and used to discredit me personally. This invoked a response from the City Solicitor, Christopher Cooper, requesting  removal of my most recent post and a comment. I complied and took the post down mystified why it took nine days for the city to react in the manner it did.

I want to assure our viewers that in no way was guelphspeaks involved in the comment by ‘City Employee’ alleged to have been made on guelphspeaks.ca. There is no record on the site of the comments by ‘City Employee’ as alleged by the city.

Welcome to the wild west of the Internet.

Guelphspeaks will continue to report and comment on the administration of the City of Guelph. The blog is open to anyone to comment who identifies themselves and is not a troll, spam or a ‘bot. The blog is redoubling it efforts to maintain security of content and comments.

If there is sufficient evidence to ask for a police investigation, it will be done. Discovering the identity of the perpetrator(s) is daunting but not impossible.

Again we apologize to our readers and will work to protect our content and followers.

Public participation is a right and the keystone of our democracy.

Gerry Barker

 

 

 

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We have an administration more interested in protecting the staff than the interests of the citizens

By Gerry Barker

March 19, 2018

Thanks to a Municipal Freedom of Information document obtained by Tony Saxon of Guelph Today, in the past five years the city spent $4.6 million to fire or dismiss some 44 employees for a variety of reasons.

As Mr. Saxon asked: “Is it part of doing business?” General Manager of Human Resources, David Godwaldt, replied: “Yes.”

But is this only the tip of the payoff picture?

For example, it does not reflect the costs of bonuses paid to managerial staff some of whom resigned or retired. This information is still locked up in the Human Resources vault. The city takes the position that it is protecting the privacy of those former employees who left or were pushed out of their jobs.

Here is one employee, former CAO Ann Pappert, who resigned May 26, 2016. The 2016

Provincial Sunshine list reported that she received more than $263,000 plus a $6,300 taxable benefit. This was slightly more than she received in 2015 but she only worked five months in 2016.

The 2016 Sunshine List revealed her package 10 months after the fact in March 2017.

Eight months later after her May resignation, the case for wrongful dismissal of former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, was settled between the city and Mr. Poole. He originally sued the city for $1 million in damages and the settlement remains confidential. Chief Administrative Officer, Ms. Pappert originally approved firing him.

What was Poole’s terrible error after 20 years as Chief Building Inspector? Only doing his job informing the CAO that some 50 city building projects had no building permits.

It would appear that some people take their severance and disappear but only if they are earning less than $100K a year. They are able to escape any revelation of their discharge or voluntary leaving.

A cloak of secrecy

So, behind this cloak of secrecy, do the city authorities mask the reasons for the payout or the identity of who received it?

The trouble is these people receiving termination funds and benefits are public employees paid by the people and businesses. Should the public have the right to know about these payouts?

Not all terminated employees receive compensation packages.

Godwaldt said when an employee is terminated with cause, “where an employee has engaged in serious wrongdoing” such as fraud, they would not receive a severance package.

Compensation packages are accounted for financially as a contingency in the annual city budget, Godwaldt said.

He did not have any information that would compare Guelph’s totals to those of similar-sized municipalities.

Let’s examine the 2017 payout of $1,123,332 paid to nine employees. Dividing the payout by nine results in an average payout of $124,814. That seems like a large amount paid to non-identified employees.

But why those figures don’t mean spit

They all didn’t receive the $124,814. Because of the secrecy and privacy rules adapted by the administration, only those fired employees earning more than $100,000 will make the 2017 Sunshine List to be published this month.

Those citizens paying their share of taxes and user fees have only the Sunshine lists for information. Will they discover who and how much the terminated employees received for 2017? For those terminated employees who do not make the $100K public employee listing, no one will be able to access the information.

The two levels of employment complicate the process. Some 80 per cent of all city employees (excluding Police, Fire and EMS) are unionized and collectively bargain with management to determine their contracts and benefits.

The management belongs to a managerial association. This group manages terms of the compensation packages for new management employees when hired, during their employment and upon exiting the staff.

The only oversight of these compensation packages lies with the Mayor and members of council.

It has not been in the public interest to conceal and deny public participation in determining the compensation of managers.

If it weren’t for the annual Sunshine list, we would never know what our managers are earning, including salaries, promotions, and bonuses based on performance and employment benefits enhancements.

Even then we have to perform some financial Ju Jitsu by comparingn the differences of remuneration of the Sunshine employees between say, 2016 and 2917 to discover the increase.

And I have yet to see a Sunshine salary comparison decrease instead of increasing..

Looking to the civic election in October

Let’s hope the next council will include liberating information that, for too long, has been concealed from the public.

Dropping the Integrity Commissioner and the Special Investigator of closed-session meeting of council would be a good first step.

Replace them with an Auditor General who would report to the DCAO of Finance and City Council. The A-G would investigate all city operations with the aim to create efficiencies, clarity and improved performance in all city departments.

Most important, rationalize operations with a view to reduce operational overhead and rebuild the capital funding budget.

 

 

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City Council tax grab creates a CATastrophy!

By Gerry Barker

January 22, 2018

We take you now to the weekly meeting of the city Bylaw Enforcement officers. The Chief BLEO tells the assembled officer that council has passed a cat licence bylaw in which owners are required to pay an annual fee of $25 per cat

“Dogs are licensed,” the Chief, said, “why not cats?”

A voice in the back row said: “What’s next? We tax Goldfish, Gerbils, Hamsters and pet Anacondas and their lunch, Pigs? But what about taxing Lizards, Roosters and Monkeys?

“Smithers, we’ll have none of that talk. For that smart comment, you will join the new pussy patrol.”

A giggle developed in the room as the officers tried not to laugh out loud.

An officer asked if any members of council owned a cat. “Good Heavens,” bellowed the Chief BLEO. “Our job is to enforce the laws of the city even if it means knocking on every door to detect a household mouser.”

A collective sigh ensued as one officer said: ‘There goes the neighbourhood.”

The Chief went on to explain that a secret CAT-Fink would be set up to develop tips on who and where there are household felines. CAT-tipsters would be rewarded with a free b of cat litter. “You know, that stuff is useful in winter when you’re stuck and the tires are just spinning,” the Chief BLEO said.

“You have to spot the tell-tale cat track in the snow to hunt these unlicensed cats down and nail the owners, “ the Chief added.

“So men, get out there and find those cats and tell the owners they must license them.”

With that the Chief started for the door when an officer spoke up: “Ah, Chief, don’t you think we should start first by licensing bicyclists using city streets? They don’t pay to use the roads and bike lanes. Besides they are easier to catch.”

A second officer spoke up: “My grandpa owns a cat she just had six kittens. Does this mean he is entitled to a cat discount or does he have to pay for seven cats?”

“If the owner has more than one cat, they have to pay the $25 each year for every cat that’s alive,” the Chief BLEO reploed..

“I guess we should also check the obituaries for any cat departures and the vets in town for tipping us off on the owners of the cats, right, chief?”

The other side of the story

I witnessed a secret enclave of Guelph liberated cats (allowed to go outside to meet friends and relieve themselves).

Our neighbourhood cat, Tuxedo, spoke of the need to hide when the bylaw officer is in the neighbourhood. This would also include hiding any evidence of a cat in the house plus cat food, litter boxes and catnip balls.

“This is now man against cats, said the Tuxster. Remember we can run faster, hide in better places and laugh at this dumb bylaw,” said Tuxedo to the cat convention located in an undisclosed location.

Of course, Tuxedo belongs to the neighbourhood so proving which resident is responsible will be the trial of the Century. Besides in our neighbourhood we rarely see any city employees. We pay for waste removal, snow plowing, infrastructure maintenance, even flushing out the fire hydrants and maintaining the water and sewage pipes plus the lane and road repairs.

After many years, we have become independent of the city but must pay for all the services we don’t receive. We pay $235 a month condo fee for all self-financed services include grass cutting and trimming. Our taxes cost about $685 a month.

And now council is taxing us for owning a cat?

Is this what Mayor Guthrie was referring to when he promised, during his 2014 election campaign, a Better Guelph?

City Council decided, let’s tax the cats and watch the fur fly. Sounds like a plan.

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Here’s proof that Guelph’s costs compared to Ontario’s averages and the City of Barrie are shockingly too high

By Gerry Barker

November 23, 2017

Last night, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, was a delegate presenting commentary on the 2018 city-operating budget. He was one of 21 delegates registered to address council.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

The day before the meeting, Tara Baker, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer, told the local weekly about a change in the staff budget request resulting in an additional $890,000 that createda lower costing of the staff’s original budget recommendations.

You will recall the first property tax increase presented by staff was 4.84 per cent for 2018. The tax-based changes provided by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) will reduce that to 4.4 per cent. It seems odd that the MPAC revision was revealed last night just prior to the public budget meeting. .

Instead, Mr. Fung was given five minutes to present a detailed analysis comparing the high per capita costs of Guelph’s operational overhead to the provincial averages. His figures were extracted from the city’s management consultant’s (BMA) 2016 report. The per capita compares the cost of services per person. The results are as follows based on a population of 130,000:

Service                    Guelph         Ontario    difference      Percent     Dollar cost

Fire                                 $195          $164              $31               19%        $4,030,000

Waste Collection          $51             $13                $38              292%       $4.940.000

Waste disposal              $37            $11                 $26              236%      $3,380,000

Waste diversion            $70            $24                $46               192%      $5,980,000

Library                            $65           $49                $16                33%        $2,080,000

Parks                               $64           $44               $20                45%         $2,600,000

General Government   $144         $14              $30                26%          $3,900,000

Transit                            $130         $99                 $31                31%       $4,030,000

POA                                 $22          $11                  $11                100%    $1,430.000

Total                               $778         $529              $249               47%      $32,370,000

This is another example of Pat Fung’s expert analysis of the facts. Two years ago he presented a detailed cost analysis using figures from the 214 BMA consultants’ report and the city’s published financial data. The conclusions then were similar comparing the overhead costs of Kitchener and Cambridge to those of Guelph. Then Guelph’s aggregate overhead costs two years ago were slightly more than 52 per cent greater than the two neighbouring cities.

The 2016 total cost of these services is more than $32,370,000 for the 130,000 residents of Guelph. That’s $249 for 130,000 Guelph residents more that the Ontario average.

What’s wrong with this picture?

It appears that his findings were ignored, so last night he presented two comparison charts. The one above compares operating costs to the Ontario average. The second chart compares the overhead costs of the City of Guelph with the City of Barrie.

The troubling aspect of the city budget process emphasizes growth regardless of the impact on every citizen and especially the taxpayers. They have faced property tax increases exceeding 3 per cent for the past 10 years, except in“2014 when the increase was 2.60 per cent.

Let’s look at the straight up comparison between Guelph and Barrie.

Object                                            Barrie              Guelph         Difference    % Increase

Total Expenses 2016             $365,939,939     $396,478,178     $30,538,231    8%

Population (2016)                        141,434            131,794                  (9,640)

Year the city was founded            1833                1827

Area square kilometers               99.04                 82.20                  (11.84)

Cost per citizen                            $2,587              $3,008                 $421             16%

Cost per square kilometre   $3,694,870        $4,456,768          $851,898         23%

Taxes revenue                       $207,649,647     $217,753,530      $10,112,883    5%

Salaries & Benefits              $154,346,450     $199.963,070    $45,616,620      30%

Labour costs of revenue            79.33 %            89.18 %                                    9.89%

Salaries, benefits per citizen   $1,091                $1,517                     $426         39%

Taxes per citizen                        $1,468                $1,652                    $184         13%

Some observations:

Guelph has a lower population and area than Barrie yet in every category, Guelph’s costs are considerably higher. The area of Salaries and Benefits reflects the view of many citizens and analysts that either the city staff is overpaid or underutilized.

Just the additional $45,616,620 that Guelph pays its staff compared to Barrie reveals total mismanagement of Human Resources, Finance and senior staff. Council was either too careless about the data surrounding this huge discrepancy or they lacked the skills needed for critical analysis of operating the city. Council cannot ignore that citizens each paid $426 in 2016 or 39 per cent more than citizens of Barrie.

Instead, on the previous three budgets, staff has recommended staff additions of 42 individuals. For 2018, staff is recommending 16 additional employees some of who will start at more than $100,000, plus benefits.

How does this square with the $396,478,178 that council approved in the 2016 budget compared to the City of Barrie’s expense budget of $365, 939,947? Guelph spent $30,538,231 more than Barrie that has a larger population and service area. Guelph also received $10,112,883 more in tax revenues than Barrie.

But the real budget crusher is the $45,616,620, that Guelph paid its employees more than Barrie.

Where financial management went off the track

During her 2006 election campaign, Ms. Farbridge’s slogan was: “We’re going to put Guelph back on track.” It soon became a joke as the claim foundered on a series of management blunders started in early 2007. The top senior managers were dismissed including Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Larry Kotseff and CFO Douglas Kennedy. In 2009, Hans Loewig earned some $201,000 and was the only senior manager earning more than $200,000. In 2016, CAO Ann Pappert was paid $263,000 for five months work, resigning May 26, 2016.

Guelph has been overly generous with staff, particularly on the high end of management. Is it any wonder that our salaries and benefits are more than $45 million higher than that of Barrie?

A Farbridge legacy was to keep staff costs under the hood. Most negotiations were mostly conducted in closed-sessions without any report to the public its outcomes. Without public accountability, there is no check of costs or rationale for increases.

Today we are paying the price.

The most glaring example of overpaying staff is with the Fire Department. Guelph is paying its firemen 19 per cent more than the Ontario average. The facts are that the occurrences when the fire Department attends a fire are diminishing while salaries increase.

In my opinion, the evidence is there that this constant demand for staff increases and unknown project spending has exponentially boosted costs compared to other Ontario municipalities. Hopefully the financial management will lead the way in expediting changes and reduce costs.

The finance department faces a five-year lack of accurate forecasting and fiscal discipline. The city needs to demand council to engage an independent staff rationalization examination organization to reorganizes the operational systems to use fewer resources to increase efficiency. Council turned the proposal down last year when the city budgets were being prepared.

The argument was that the cost of such a project, an estimated $500,000, was too high. Yet in 2013, council approved spending some $600,000 to establish a transparency and open government plan. In 2015, a manager of the program was hired on a contract basis to execute the plan. His salary was $93,000 and he is still employed by the city. He is believed to be on sick leave but his employment status is unknown.

The only way this unbridled spending can be changed next year is to elect a majority of council who will reform the way the city is being run and who brings experience, common sense and determination to undo the damage done to the city in the previous ten years. Only a strong council, who doesn’t bring partisan baggage to the table can create the changes people who (voted in 2014) expected but their hopes did not materialize.

The lousy deal will give Guelph Hydro away for a small piece of a corporate pie

The current council consideration to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities of Mississauga is an example of secret and sloppy work on the part of the Strategic Options Committee, formed by council. Its mandate was to investigate and negotiate either a sale of Guelph Hydro or a merger with a larger electric distribution network. The “sale” option was removed from the mandate last February with the committee concentrating on a merger.

Simply, it’s a bad deal with the owners of Guelph Hydro left in the dark. What we do know is that we turn over Guelph Hydro with installed wires, poles substations and headquarters, building for an unknown share of Alectra, either the utilities portion or the incorporated body.

Then we are informed that council has already signed an agreement to merge and will vote December 13 to allegedly finalize it. There is a petition circulating that is opposed to the merger. It’s an opportunity to coerce members of council to say no until there is further research and effort to examine all the options.

If interested in signing the petition email your intent to gerrybarker76@gmasil.com to be added to the growing list. Thank you for participating.

People matter.

 

 

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