Tag Archives: city of guelph

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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How the city administration is doing it their way with your money

By Gerry Barker

September 25, 2017

Let’s start today’s commentary by introducing the late Marshall McLuhan, the University of Toronto Philosophy Professor whose 1967 book: “The Medium is the Message,” predicted the Internet and its effect on sharing information globally.

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with,” he said.

“By shaping how societies obtain information, the medium (television, telegrams, telephones, etc) shaped people as much, if not more, than the message did.”

This got me thinking about how, in 2017, the city administration uses the Internet to communicate to the citizens. Aside from the Internet, there are other methods of communicating including the old reliable telephone, landline or cell, sending a letter by snail mail or reading the city-paid City News advertising pages in the local weekly. Believe me, those last two methods are old school communications. They are one-way communications that in some cases require a response.

But if a citizen is computer savvy and can send a message to the administration, most times they get a response.

Here’s a recent example of what I am talking about.

Last Thursday I sent the following request to City Clerk. Stephen O’Brien.

Hello Stephen:

I would appreciate a list of all the closed-session meetings conducted by council since September 1, 2016.  It would be useful to also include the reason for the meeting and the authority per the Ontario Municipal Act.

I realize your staff is busy and I’m in no great rush. The closed-session meetings are now published so I may pick up the current meetings as they are announced.

I was talking with a former councillor and he said that when he was on council, whenever a closed-session was held, there was a statement following, outlining the decisions made during that meeting. Understandably, the discussions, details and identity of the speakers would not be included in the brief post-meeting synopsis.

In your opinion is that option still available to the public?

Thanks for your assistance,

Best, Gerry Barker

Here is Mr. O’Brien’s reply sent the following day. It has be slightly edited for space.

To: Cam.Guthrie, Derrick.Thomson, Trevor.Lee, me

Good afternoon Mr. Barker,

Thank you for your email.

Our meetings, associated agendas and minutes, are all posted on line. I’ve provided easy to access links to this information based on meeting type below in order to assist with your request/inquiry:

Council and Council Planning Meetings

Council and Council Planning Meetings (for year 2017)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/agendas-and-minutes/

Council and Council Planning Meetings (for years 2016 – 2017)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/agendas-and-minutes/council-meetings/

Committee of the Whole and past Standing Committees

Committee of the Whole (for year 2017 and 2016)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/committee-of-the-whole/

Former Standing Committees (pre Committee of the Whole)

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/council-and-committees/committee-archive/standing-committees/

All of the information/data you require, including the open meeting exception cited, is included on meeting agendas. In fact, section 239 (4) of the Municipal Act requires that before holding a meeting or part of a meeting that is to be closed to the public, a municipality shall state by resolution the fact of the holding of the closed meeting and the general nature of the matter to be considered at the closed meeting.

As such, our agendas list the following as an example:

Authority to move into closed meeting

That the Council of the City of Guelph now hold a meeting that is closed to the public, pursuant to the Municipal Act, to consider:

C-CON-2017.9  Public Appointments to the Environmental Advisory Committee, Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee, and Wellbeing Grant Allocation Panel Section. 239 (2) (b) of the Municipal Act related to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees.

The vote and associated result of that vote with respect to this resolution to close a meeting to the public is contained within the meeting minutes as such:

Authority to Resolve into a Closed Meeting of Council

  1. Moved by Councillor Van Hellemond
  2. Seconded by Councillor Allt
  3. That the Council of the City of Guelph now hold a meeting that is closed to the public, pursuant to Section 239 (2) (b), (e) and (f) of the Municipal Act with respect to personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees; litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals; and advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose. Carried

To answer your question about the process following a closed meeting, Council does offer a statement following the closed portion of the meeting. This statement is listed on our agendas as “Closed Meeting Summary” and generally occurs either before or after the initiation of the open meeting (i.e. before or after O Canada, the moment of silent reflection, etc.). These statements are also captured in our minutes, an example of which is as follows (my emphasis added):

Closed Meeting Summary

Mayor Guthrie spoke regarding the matters addressed in closed and identified the following:

C-CON-2017.9  Public Appointments to the Environmental Advisory Committee, Water Conservation and Efficiency Public Advisory Committee, and Wellbeing Grant Allocation Panel

Direction was given to staff and recommendations will be introduced later in the meeting when the public report is discussed.

Some additional general information that you may find helpful:

The City maintains a Closed Meeting Protocol to assist Council and staff with questions relating to closed meeting processes. This protocol is available here and is accessible from the City’s Accountability and Transparency page online.

  • The City’s Procedural By-law, which is also available online, codifies many of the above mentioned requirements and actions. The specific section(s) (see section 4.6) the by-law can be referenced here.

I trust this information answers your questions and assists you with your request.

Thank you and enjoy your weekend,

Stephen

Let the search begin

Now I must admit, Mr. O’Brien’s response was thorough but requires some time spent on searching the various components of the response to obtain the information requested. I’m still working on it.

Did Marshall McLuhan ever believe in 1967 that the Internet would transform the distribution of knowledge and the way it was managed to support his philosophical theories?

There are 131,000 people living permanently in Guelph today. Add to that, the more than 20,000 students who attend the University of Guelph for approximately eight months of the year. That group is, for the most part, computer savvy and active on the Internet. That is not the case for many of the permanent residents. In that group, the availability, use and operation smarts using a computer, drops off dramatically. I know because I can’t keep up with tech changes and procedures.

This brings us to the City of Guelph’s website. It is extremely difficult to navigate even by highly qualified computer users. Using a computer requires a high level of proficiency, if for no other reason, to keep up with technological change.

Using a computer is not like riding a bicycle but more like training to be a concert pianist.

The city website is designed to serve the needs of the administration not the citizens. I’m not suggesting to dumb it down but make it open and easier to access. It should be built to serve the citizens not the other way around.

Today, the printed word reflects the diminishing interest in newspapers and magazines

This brings us to the printed word as seen by the younger demographic as being old school communications. The demise of the Mercury is an example of this.

The Guelph Tribune is the sole community print outlet in the city. It has the benefit of having the administration of being one of its largest customers. The city’s full-page ads running in every issue labelled “City News,” average 5 full pages per week. Assuming that pages are deeply discounted at $1,000 that comes to a tasty $260,000 a year account, paid by the citizens.

But that’s only the beginning. There is the city communications staff, Legal department, Finance and Clerk’s office all contributing to the content of those City News ads. The Tribune staff can put the material together but the source has to be generated by the city staff.

In my opinion, this is a waste of the public’s money. Why, you may ask? Because this give the administration complete control of the medium. The editorial content of the twice-weekly paper. is dominated by friendly reports as distributed by the city communications department. When was the last time you read a story in the Tribune that was critical and exposed operational mistakes and loss of public funds?

The owners of the paper will never bite the hand that feeds them. That’s why the paper is rarely critical of the administration. The medium is indeed the message and the city administration owns it.

It’s reflective of the cultural malaise of the administration. They can think of 50 ways to spend your money on their pet projects, but rarely take steps to save your money.

It will not change unless the people decide to change it and to elect knowledgeable, responsible candidates with the political will to change the pernicious culture that has existed for too long at City Hall.

You know we have a problem when the Mayor, apparently assisted by consultant, the Hildred Group, to prepare his explanation why closed-session meetings are important to the public’s business but then only sends the explanation to his council and four other people.

I guess Marshall McLuhan got it right? The medium is the message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shared Economy: Another incomprehensible project we are expected to accept

By Gerry Barker

August 17, 2017

This week the city sent a press release about “navigating the shared economy.”

It was long on jargon and these was a pathetic explanation by Mayor Cam Guthrie.

“I’m proud of the leading role Guelph has played in creating a tool that will help local councils and communities analyze the impact of various sharing economy services on their own residents and businesses so they can make decisions based on local needs.”

Some clarity please, Mr. Mayor. What kind of tool are you talking about? How will it help the cost of services to the citizens specifically, what are you talking about?

Perhaps Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson can explain it: “Sharing economy initiatives are being shaped by zoning codes, hotel and taxi licensing regulations, transit and all manner of distinctly local policy. The Shared Economy guide is designed to help municipalities understand this new economy, what it means on a local level and how to respond appropriately.”

Does this Shared Economy include include tighter financial control of operating overhead and capital budgets? Particularly, in view of the huge losses incurred by the city management such as the $163 million wasted on the failed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc? Part of that has been parked on the Guelph Hydro financial statement as a $94 million debt. The balance of the loss is the shareholder’s (all citizens) equity of some $67 million spent on a variety of projects, most of which were authorized and executed in closed-session meetings between 2011 and 2015.

Was this a shared economy issue?

This week the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) is meeting in Ottawa. The Guelph delegation composed of some councillors, led by Mayor Guthrie, has joined in support of a recommendation to the provincial government to raise the Ontario portion of the sales tax by one per cent taking the HST to 14 per cent.

The Ontario government rejected the proposal a few hours after the presentation. What were the municipal representatives thinking? Did they believe that the Wynne Liberals would approve increasing the HST before a provincial election June 7, 2018?

First, the provincial government funds the AMO. That gives it power to accept or reject proposals.

Second, excessive spending of the public’s money are the problems facing the 445 Ontario municipalities. Chiefly, in most cases it is repairing and replacing neglected infrastructure. A Guelph staff report pegs the cost of infrastructure in the city at more that $400 million.

In many cases it’s about cash management particularly, revenue from property taxes and user fees. In Guelph, there has been endemic abuse of boosting revenues from those sources to pay for misadventures in environmental projects with no return.

In most homes and businesses, revenues must balance spending. The use of credit to invest in necessary lifestyle issues such as emergencies, operating costs and capital projects, is practised in more than 90 per cent of property owners and businesses.

The corporation of the city of Guelph is no different. It is obligated by the province to supply a Financial Information Report (FIR) annually with no deficit.

What has occurred over the past ten years is that the budget forecasts have been exceeded because of overspending. It is an annual occurrence. The city does have a safety net called reserves. In 2009, Coun. Leanne Piper was quoted as stating that the city had $77 million in reserves. In 2014, an outside management consultant, BMA, said those city reserves had been depleted and used to balance the city books. Their report raised a “red flag” over the reserves’ depletion.

In 2012, a citizen’s activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, presented a petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The documented petition, using the city’s financial statements, presented data that showed the discrepancies in the annual FIR’s. The petition requested an audit of the city’s finances. The Minister said the two parties should get together to resolve their differences. It never happened. The former CAO, Ann Pappert, claimed it was a waste of time.

This was a fight between two pit bulls in which there was no loser except the citizen’s of Guelph.

Guelph has become the poster city for failing to control spending on projects initiated by elected officials and staff of public servants with little public input.

For the past 10 city budgets, starting in 2007 until 2017, property taxes have increased annually by an average of 3.6 per cent. This has resulted in an exponential increase of some 45 per cent.. Now we are about to begin the 2018 budget negotiations spurred by staff recommendations.

Keep in mind this is an election-year budget so there will be debate about revenue and expenses. The council will end up approving budgets designed to please the electorate and lull us into believing all is well.

Instead, citizens are being fed another new management plan called the “Sharing Economy.”

Here is a capsule of the city press release’s explanation:

“The Guide provides a brief introduction to the sharing economy and then identifies the following six decisions to guide municipalities that are anticipating or reacting to a shared economy platform in their jurisdiction.

Ulp! Why is Guelph the instigator of this?

  • What type of approach is most appropriate?
  • Answer: Control spending and control of revenues is limited. That well has drained. Change the composition of city council. Reduce the number of councillors to nine from 13. Elect a single full-time councillor in each ward. Elect at large the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and an executive councillor with the key responsibility of overseeing city finances.
  • What are the primary public policy goals?
  • Answer: Fix the assets that are broken or are redundant. Stop buying the people with their own money such as the Well-Being handouts and miscellaneous city supported community projects.
  • What type(s) of sharing will be included?
  • Answer: Managing a city is not rocket science. We elect people presumed to be aware and competent and professional staff to manage the city.
  • What kinds of policy actions or tools are needed?
  • Answer: Control spending on consultants. Reduce staff and overhead costs. Work on developing growth in the manufacturing area to increase assessment and reduce the dependence on residential assessed properties. This will also provide jobs outside of the public sector.
  • Design considerations
  • Answer: The city council must enact considerations based on facts supplied by the professional staff. There must be a clear division between elected and professional officials to provide a system of checks and balances. In Guelph, there has been a serious lack of financial management and policies.
  • Implementation and evaluation
  • Answer: Most people in the city feel that there has been too much money spent on failed mismanaged projects. This is one program that should have full public input.

The Guide was commissioned by the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario, financially supported by the Province of Ontario and developed in collaboration with the Guelph Lab—a partnership between the City of Guelph and the University of Guelph.

A variety of other partners including the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities of London and Mississauga contributed to the Guide.

We should be wary of this proposal, as we have just experienced a similar collaprative venture known as the Community Energy Initiative. It is important that we solve the immediate problems facing the city before launching into an academic exercise that may distract us from what’s needed today.

Too much money has already been wasted; it’s time to stop the bleeding.

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Liz Sandals and the Ontario Liberals ready for re-election?

By Gerry Barker

July 13, 2017

In politics and life, timing is everything and some prevarification goes a long way

The other day I received a large four-page brochure from our Liberal member of the Legislature, Liz Sandals, who represents Guelph. It was labeled “ Community Update- Spring 2017.” While this is July, I presume events were occurring so fast that the spring edition was merged into the summer version.

The only conclusion I could reach after browsing through the content was it reinforced Liz’s intention to run again in Guelph next June. Or, maybe even before if the Premier calls a snap election.

Problem is based on what? Premier Wynne’s personal poll numbers are below 20 per cent. That means more than 80 per cent of those polled would not support her, or the Liberals, in June 2018, the mandatory Election Day in Ontario.

But that’s a long way away. The Sandals brochure speaks of the Liberal promises and accomplishments while ignoring the sad record of the government.

Ms. Sandals ignores the loss of her job as Minister of Education over a revelation that she approved spending millions to some of the teacher’s unions just to attend the bargaining sessions in 2014/15. The most damaging event was Sandals’ argument that the payments were made due to extended bargaining time to cover union rep’s extra food and lodging costs in Toronto.

Then she admitted that the Liberals, while in office, had distributed millions over the years to the teacher unions as “bargaining bonuses” if that description fits.

At that point, Premier Wynne stepped in and said that the union members had to supply receipts to show the funds were spent covering the period of extended bargaining. The horse, unfortunately, was already out of the barn.

In a cabinet reshuffle, Ms. Sandals was removed as Minister of Education and assigned as president of the Provincial Treasury Board. It was a face saving move by her good friend Kathleen Wynne.

So, let’s look at Treasury President Sandals latest missile to the Guelph voters.

On page one, the lead story focuses on the 2017 provincial budget with a screaming headline that the budget is balanced!

The first one that caught my eye was the claim that Guelph had the second lowest unemployment rate in Ontario.

Ms. Sandals must know that the city she represents has one of the highest concentrations of employees paid with public money. More important, consider since Ms. Sandals’ tenure as Guelph MPP, the ratio of 84 per cent residential assessment and 16 per cent commercial/industrial assessment has been unchanged for ten years.

While it could be argued that the situation is a municipal responsibility, there have been provincial resources available to increase commercial and industrial assessment to lift the burden of taxation from homeowners.

We are still waiting.

The recent 10-year history of the city shows that property taxes and user fees have increased by more than 3.5 per cent compounded annually. It has resulted in one of the highest municipal tax rates in the province.

But there is one aggravating caveat. The University of Guelph only pays $75 per student in lieu of property taxes. In 1987, the rate was created by the Peterson Liberal government and has never changed. Today, the U of G property tax bill is some $1.7 million.

No change in the rate but increased due to the growing number of students attending the university since 1987. Translation: There has been no provision to increase the rate in the past three decades, even to match the rate of inflation.

While Guelph’s property taxes and user fees have more than tripled in the last 30 years, the university property taxes are locked in at 1987 levels. In real income, the student rate is worth about $10 today.

The university has an unusual advantage over other post-secondary institutions in the province. As a former agricultural college, it owned hundreds of acres used for crop testing and training. That was 50 years ago. Today much of those lands are leased back by the university to a variety of commercial and residential enterprises. This provides a steady cash flow unmatched by any educational institution in Ontario.

The growth of the city has encompassed much of those lands. I have never seen a financial statement of the university that is a public supported organization. The income from land rental should be revealed. For no other reason than to see if U of G property taxes reflect this additional income.

Where was the Guelph MPP to tackle this perverted 30-year property tax freeze that thrust paying part of the U of G overhead costs upon taxpayers? While most citizens are proud of their university, the cost of supporting it through growing emergency services, road and infrastructure costs, public transit, and recreational facilities are borne by the citizens. This amounts to an increase in the city overhead that has grown disproportionally with the growth of population.

Bottom line: Do the citizens of Guelph gain any benefit from this arrangement?

How the Sandal Liberals blocked a citizen’s petition to audit city finances

When citizens complained in September 2012, through a documented petition to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, she dismissed the claims. She added that the petition issues made by GrassRoots Guekph and the City of Guelph, had to jointly resolve the issue. Liz Sandals was given a copy of the petition in advance of presentation to Minister Linda Jeffery on the condition it be embargoed until the official release. The reason was to give the MPP a heads up of the content of the petition.

Somehow the embargoed petition was delivered to then Mayor Karen Farbridge.

When an elected official keeps their word that’s class. In this case, Liz Sandals had only one of three copies of the final version of the petition. I had one and a colleague had the other. But it goes further, when our organization known as GrassRoots Guelph arranged a press conference in Queen’s Park, we received no assistance from the Sandals office. Actually our group of seven was escorted from the building by three security guards. We were told we could hold our press conference on the front lawn of the Legislature. Back in Guelph, an hour later, the Farbridge team reported the incident.

In my opinion, Ms. Sandals’has complicity in this but she will never admit it. That day, she failed not only her supporters but also the entire population of the city. She was complicit in not informing the people, her constituents, who had the right to know and to petition under a provision of the Ontario Municipal Act.

More on the truth according to Ms. Sandals

Another interesting feature of her brochure was a table that preposterously claimed that Ontario’s economic growth outpaced all G7 group of countries. This is like comparing elephantine economic powers to a beetle crawling up a stalk of corn with the intent of munching on a cob or two. Talk about gilding the lily.

Gazing on the Wynne Liberal management record over the past three years, here are some of the lowlights and potential highlights:

* Stop selling part of Hydro One to private enterprise while claiming to retain control.

* Urging municipalities owning hydro distribution systems to either merge or be sold.

* Claiming to cut Ontario’s bloated high cost electricity system rates by 25 per cent for the next four years then increasing rates to pay for it.

* Failing to reform the Police Act, the Ontario Municipal Act particularly pertaining to closed-door sessions, Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan, Correctional services, hydro power generation and transmission and costs.

*Failing to stem the exponential growth of salary and benefits paid to Police and Fire employees.

* Replace the arbitration system of resolving Police and Fire union contracts.

* Why does Guelph have the hughest number of deputy fire chiefs in thr Province?

* Getting out of the booze business lowering the cost of alcoholic beverages and allowing wider and competitive sales by private enterprise.

* Failing to end the Beer Store’s foreign ownership monopoly.

* Stop creating the highest cost electricity system in the country.

* Failing to resolve the infrastructure problems facing municipalities in Ontario.

* Increasing costs of public servants with generous benefits that exceed those of private enterprises.

* Refusing to support that transportation needs of the larger cities.

* Failing to increase disability payments while raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

*  Merge the two public education systems to create efficiencies of operation and lower costs. Allow the secular schools to conduct their curriculum.

* Restore the provincial bank system to allow clients to deal electronically to conduct their businesses and invest in infrastructure.

* Allow the Provincial Bank to support small businesses and non-profit organizations.

* Reconsider plans to convert fossil-fueled vehicles to electric with regard to the economic outcomes of switching too fast.

 

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