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The growing fallout of Guelph’s 12-year War on Cars led by the Fossil Fools on council

By Gerry Barker

April 29, 2019

Opinion based on facts

When Karen Farbridge was elected Mayor in 2006, it began the transformation of Guelph into a “world class city” in terms of transportation, power self-sufficiency, waste management and clean air and water leading to her wellness commitment for all citizens.

Was it noble? Yes, but not affordable as it turned out.

It was the defining intention of the majority of her council to establish key targets to reduce the use of fossil-fueled vehicles in the city at the time with a population of 111,000 permanent residents.

Let’s drill down on how the Farbridge interests in control of council tackled change and imposed their collective agenda on the citizens.

It started with a tour of Sweden to investigate how that country dealt with its waste.   Sweden reduced about 90 per cent of all waste that is incinerated, driving turbine generators to deliver power back into the grid.

Waste disposal plans increase traffic congestion

The administration decided in 2007 that was not an option for Guelph because of the perceived dangerous emissions of such an operation. Instead, Guelph spent $34 million building an organic waste facility that has never made any money or permitted residents to obtain the compost produced by the plant.

One goofy prediction that was amusing but confusing

Part of the grand design to change Guelph was to get fossil-fueled vehicles off Guelph Streets. I recall former councillor Maggie Laidlaw, bragging that “in 20 years there won’t be any cars on Guelph Streets.” Ah, a temporary episode of green-based rapture.

Well that prediction was well off as there are more cars, trucks and buses clogging the streets twice a day due to deliberate lane reduction on major routes to accommodate bicycle lanes.

It is estimated that building the bicycle network has cost taxpayers some $8 million.

The policy continues to this day, as the widening of Speedvale Avenue to accommodate new bike lanes, estimated by staff, three years ago, as costing $14 million. At the time, staff did not recommend it.

This includes widening the bridge over the Speed River, removing the Hydro poles and installing underground power transmission corridors.

There are no bike lanes on Speedvale Avenue between Woolwich and Stevenson.

This brings up what the city has already done on many streets and roads. These would include Victoria Road, Speedvale, SilverCrek, Downey, Woodlawn, Stevenson and Norfolk. All these streets were changed by the Farbridge and Guthrie administrations.

This is embedded policy that when a major street is resurfaced, new lane reductions are painted restricting the use of vehicles ergo, growing traffic congestion.

In my opinion, this is a planned restriction vehicular movement and trade designed to meet the environmental movement’s agenda, controlling the city.

The reconstructed railway underpass that stopped the big rigs

Did I mention the Wyndham Street rail bridge? It was reconstructed by the city that does not allow large trucks to use it because it wedges the tops of some the high trailers against the top of the underpass. The underpass was improperly built.

The city engineer’s solution? Install warning signs to stop the big trucks from entering a bridge too low..

Again another restriction of needed supply trucks to service the shops and businesses downtown. Sure there are other routes to get to their destination, but the city did not care and the underpass was never repaired.

Who would like to live in that section of Speedvale?

Speedvale is a major cross-the-city route used every day and the line-ups vehicles at intersections such as Woolwich, exacerbates the congestion. The project will not be completed for nine months.

The fallout of squeezing heavy traffic lanes

Since 2007, the city has added bike lanes to several streets. Often, they start at one intersection and disappear at the next.

One example is on SilverCreek where the street was resourced from Speedvale to Paisley. Then the road painters moved in and reduced a four-lane major road to two, and installed bike lanes plus a left-hand turn lane continuous right down the middle.

So, I’m Joe Cyclist, heading north on SilverCreek to Woodlawn. Whoops! The bike lane is not there from Speedvale north. I am forced to share the road with 3,000- pound cars and trucks on the now narrowed road.

Does this make sense? There are similar examples of the disappearing bike lanes all over the city.

What is the logic of this? What does it accomplish in terms of cyclist safety on major streets where bike lanes just disappear?

More Car Wars links contributing to the clogging of our streets

There are two other factors of lack of leadership that uses its power to pursue its all things environmental-based agenda.

New housing intensification

One is the intensification of housing in the south and Eastern districts of the city. The council allowed these developments composed of strip housing and low-rise apartment buildings. It is based on the Provincial government’s “Ontario Places to Grow” policies that encouraged more housing on less land.

Guelph population grows bringing more vehicles

Between 2007 and 2016, Guelph’s population increased by 20,000 according to the StatsCan census of 2016. That does not include the growing number of University of Guelph undergraduate students.

This has a direct impact on volume of fossil-fueled vehicles, large and small, on our streets. Adding more people means more cars and trucks.

Electric vehicles are years away from becoming the majority using the roads in the city. But if the city continues to squeeze street driving lanes, using an electric car will not result in less congestion. However, the noise levels will be lower.

Somehow, this has not registered with the city administration.

The public driving electric cars using the city thoroughfares impacts traffic congestion as the internal combustion owners. In fact the goal of getting fossil-fueled vehicles off Guelph streets, has had the opposite intended effect.

City council, like the Ostrich, buries itself when it comes to fosil-fuels

So, why is the city building a $22 million parking garage next to city hall, blocks away from the Wyndham Street shopping district? Ms. Farbridge said she was going to turn downtown into a “vibrant centre for everyone to enjoy.”

Other matters of state distracted our former mayor

Here we are 12 years later, with a downtown that has closed businesses, no available parking during the day and used by a weekend collection of students, drug dealers, and outsiders looking for action. It is a combustible crucible. The beneficiaries are the operators of the 33 bars and watering holes downtown.

This is not something new but a municipal failure to make downtown safe and inviting every day. It’s been that way since the parking meters were removed 10 years ago in which the city lost more than $600,000 annually in meter revenue.

In the 2017 budget, there was a staff recommendation to replace the meter heads at a cost of $700,000. Instead, that funding was diverted by council to help pay for the proposed South End recreation centre. As an aside, council has already spent some $3.5 million preparing the site for a $63 million recreation centre.

Consider that in 12 years, the average property taxes have increased every year by 3 per cent. User and development fees have also increased substantially.

Power politics at work

One final thought. Ward one Coun. Dan Gibson, announced that land on Watson Road, owned by Loblaw’s, was being rezoned commercial to accommodate a major grocery store to serve the east end.

Sounds good. But here’s the skinny.

Council Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bell have been pushing to open an east end grocery store on the site since 2013.

Mr. Gibson was quoted as saying the council would “put Loblaw’s feet to the fire” to get them to build a store on the site. Loblaw’s, Canada’s largest grocery chain, has demurred because it owns a large Zehrs’s store on Eramosa. I presume it feels that building another on Watson could cannibalize the existing store. And they do not want a competitor using the land.

In negotiating to persuade Loblaw’s to build the Watson store, is it a good idea to say the city is going to “put their feet to the fire?” Stay tuned.

 

 

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As a public service, the latest exercise by the administration isto plumb your opinions to satisfy their operations

By Gerry Barker

November 19, 20118

It all began in 2007 when former mayor Karen Farbridge won a sweeping election seizing control of city council.

For all you history buffs here is what happened some 11 years ago. It was an evolutionary process that took us from blue boxes to three plastic bags to three bins. The last waste management collection move cost citizens $15.5 million. Then it failed to service some 35,000 households because the automatic trucks, costing $150,000 each, failed to navigate many of the high-density condo properties.

Solution: Hire private contractors to remove waste from those condos planned and approved by the City planning department and also the majority of the Farbridge council.

It didn’t take long for residents in condo properties to figure it out that they were being taxed for city pick-up of waste but paying someone else to do it. About a year ago the waste management staff resolved part ofthe problem by changing the collection system to accommodate the owners who were paying extra to have their waste removed.

With the announcement that funds were being made available there appeared to be a number of condo sites that were not to receive the benefits of the new waste removal largess.

Declaration of interest: Our Wellington Condominium 99 Corporation was not included and that’s where we live. More on this later.

I do not blame the current waste management team led By Deputy Administrative Officer Scott Stewart. Joining the staff in 2015, he was handed a rock of wasted funding, poor service and disorganization. In such an important department, it is impossible to turn things around to serve all the residents of the city.

I do not believe this survey will accomplish anything including assuaging those of us who must pay double for waste removal. It is not just a Guelph problem.

Royson James, a seasoned writer in the Toronto Star ,outlined the problems facing GTA municipalities where the rules are different, confusing and counter-productive in basic recyclable technology

In Guelph, we are stuck with a collection system that does not cover all residents or businesses in the city and sorting is done by hand. How does a a sorter distinguish between dangerous medical materials and certain forms of plastic in a high speed assembly sorting likel that includes recyclables from other communities?

Why does the city ship its recyclables to Cambridge where Waste Management operated an automated plant to handle these materials?

Is it pride? Is it to justify the millions spent on the Dunlop Drive Waste Innovation Centre that includes the $34 million organic waste facility that was over built and is run by a subsidiary of the company that built the plant? In fact, the compost produced by the plant is not available to Guelph citizens as it is sold privately. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as we don’t know what’s in it.

So we encourage people to answer the questions and let the management know that the services need reorganization to reflect the modern needs of effective waste management.

About that rock mentioned earlier? There are several factors that reflect the mistakes made by previous administration. Our waste collection and dispersal, in my opinion, is disgraceful, inflamed by ego driven leadership and wasted millions.

Unfortunately, The survey form would not download. It can be located on the city website. In our opinion it has affected many taxpayers for 12 years.

What’s fair and should be addressed for the following reasons?

We live in a land condominium composed of 22 single family homes and the city has never picked up our waste. Instead we pay a private contractor to remove our waste weekly, we have lived in our home for 15 years. Most of our neighbours voluntarily segregate wet garbage from recyclables. We do not have any city supplied bins or carts to dispose of our waste so we use plastic bags. The cost of this to residents is more than $7,000 a year although we must pay for the service through our property taxes.

We have made overtures to the waste management without resolution. We pay to have our street cleared of snow, we maintain our water and sewage system including a connection to the Guelph Country Club.

We believe it is hypocritical of the city to charge for waste removal through our taxes and ignore that we do not meet the high standards of waste removal as dictated by city council.

When city approve a plan of subdivision, why do they not adhere to their own waste management bylaw?

We live in the heart of the city, a lovely island of privacy and independence and pay the same tax rate as those nearby who enjoy the services the city provides.

The solution is simple. Just remove those city services it does not provide from our tax bills. This would include roads, curbs, water and sewer system maintenance, snow removal, waste pick-up including recyclables, street lighting, tree servicing, administration, liability insurance, common area maintenance. Most importantly, residents are required to contribute monthly to our reserve fund to support the various assets for which the city is not responsible.

We understand that other municipalities do grant discounts for services they do not provide.

Our board of directors would be pleased to discuss this possibility or other resolution.

Gerry and Barbara Barke

271 Riverview Place

Guelph, ON. N1E 7G9

 

Bo

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Does corruption exist in our municipal government?

By Gerry Barker

June 21, 2018

In a closed corporation, that masquerades as being open, transparent and accountable as the City of Guelph, is there the potential of corruption?

Municipal corruptions is usually the result of closed meetings, manipulation of the system for personal gain or just stealing public funds.

In the last 11 years the creep of covering up the public’s business through a system of closed-session meetings that are justified by certain bylaws of which 99 per cent of the citizens have no clue.

Well, why not?

It’s because the system allows bureaucratic jargon, simplistic explanations of complex problems, lying, lying by omission, holding closed-session meeting and manipulation of the message.

Successive Guelph’s governments have gradually choked off any sensitive or political public discussion by debating behind closed doors.

The professional staff is complicit in dumbing down the message.

Four senior staff members grabbed huge increases in 2015 with the approval of the mayor and city council. They approved this $98,202 bundle in closed session. And never told anyone.

The cover-up was blown when almost four months later the 2015 Provincial Sunshine List revealed the truth.

But you didn’t hear or read about it in the media.

Is it possible these increases passed without public knowledge should be investigate by police or a judicial inquiry?

Only guelphspeaks.ca took the trouble to compare the 2014 Sunshine figures with the 2015 report for these four senior staff recipients of public funds.

But it gets better.

Five months following the December 10 meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert, gave her notice after some five years as Guelph’s CAO.

She stayed on the job until Derrick Thomson one of the four staff who received the secret increases, was repatriated following his earlier resignation and named CAO. Ms. Pappert left May 26, 2016

According to the 2016 Sunshine List, she received $263,000 for five months work. By comparison in 2014, she earned $219,000. These figures do not include taxable benefits

As editor and author of some of the blog posts critical of this cover-up I was sued by a DCAO. Expect more on this later.

Again, This information was only obtained from the 2016 Sunshine List. It has never been acknowledged by the city.

The Great Hydro giveaway

This is probably the greatest heist in the history of Guelph. Here’s where it we t wrong.

It was a dark and stormy night when the Strategies and Options committee appointed by council, in closed -session pulled the sale of Guelph Hydro off the table and commenced negotiations with Alectra Utilities to merge operations.

Early in October 2016, Mayor Guthrie announced an agreement in principle to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra. The Mayor said the merger would make Guelph more adaptable to the many technical changes in delivering power to the 55,000 Hydro customers served by Guelph Hydro.

Here we go again. 90 per cent of all negotiations leading up to the agreement were held in closed-sessions. In fact we civilians didn’t even know when the meetings were held or where.

When was the last time you received a financial statement from the city?

December 13 2016, the city council approved the merger by a 10 to 3 vote.

The classic railroad job

What did citizens get out of this deal? First, they are to receive $18.5 million composed of Guelph Hydro’s cash stash. It’s our own money. Second, the city will receive an unknown annual dividend of 4.36 per cent of only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profits.

The brand Guelph Hydro will be gone once approved by the Ontario Energy Board and the title will be transferred to Alectra Utilities.

What’s the Guelph Hydro Corporate title worth in today’s market? First, there is $228 million in poles, wires, substations, equipment and Hydro headquarters. Throw in the goodwill, no debt, established profitability and the real value is estimated to be $300 million.

Our Mayor denies that this deal — if it can be described as that – is not a giveaway.

Is this another case of corruption when 10 councillors fail to understand their fiduciary responsibility and what they voted for?

The good news is that the OEB will probably not hear the merger details for between six and 12 months. My wife and I have been granted intervener status when the hearing will be held along other citizens.

Guess this means that the issue will be a topic of discussion during the upcoming civic election. Ya think!

Or the Ford government will throw out the Wynne plan to amalgamate the small to medium sized municipally owned electricity distribution systems.

Is there any doubt about who really could benefit from this merger?

 

 

 

 

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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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