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The city budget documents are opaque and missing are the devil in the details

By Gerry Barker

December 9, 2019

Opinion

Let me start by saying that the budget reports I have read downloaded from the city website, are concise and informative.

The budget is broken into three parts. There is the capital-spending budget; the tax supported operating budget and the non-tax supported budget.

Council has approved all three budgets and the overall impact on property tax is 3.91 per cent for 2020. When the property assessments are released by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, (MPAC), the tax rate increase is adjusted in April

It is certain the rate will increase the property tax rate to probably the highest in the past 15 years.

What is lacking here are the numbers. What is the total cost of the tax-supported operating budget? It represents the largest chunk of revenue in the city budget.

While we’re at it, tell us about the status of the reserve funds, total value, how is the money invested, what are the investments types and terms, and who is responsible for managing these funds?

Are these reserves ever used to balance the city books at year-end when the Financial Information Report is completed and sent to the province?

Noting that $170,000 is being transferred to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund, the total to $50,000. Is it possible to produce the status of all reserve funds annually with the budget approvals?

Here’s what I think the city budget reports should contain:

2019 budget- Accrual – difference 2020 Budget Comparison 2019 actual

Revenue stated first. Next comes Expenses for each budget category

Revenue

Property taxes, special levies,

Reserve Funds by amount and name income/withdrawal (attach note)

Investment income

Development fees

Building permits

Bylaw permits including parking, special events, and infractions

Provincial grants, gas tax refund, carbon tax refund, infrastructure

Federal grants including infrastructure, transit

Guelph transit – Bus passes, University students, rider passes and single payer fees

Property taxes recovered

Fines

Rentals of city property

Deposits for services

Water – potable – wastewater – Storm water

Real Estate sales

Expenses

City Staff costs:

Bonuses – Expenses full-time – part-time – casual – contract – consultants

Benefits – OMERS, other labour organizations – travel and staff expenses

City property maintenance costs

Legal and professional fees

Infrastructure – roads, sewers, water distribution systems

Police

Fire

EMS

Sleeman Centre

Hanlon Business Park

Government – council – boards

Donations – Wellness – community projects

Environmental – bike lanes and trails renewable energy maintenance

Electricity

Natural Gas

City Vehicle reports capital costs, facilities

HST costs

The Elliot

The Library

The Evergreen Senior’s Centre

Fines

Debt – Amount Servicing costs term and lender

There will be some revenue and expense category I have missed. If nothing else, adopting this makes it easy to compare and track the city operations. There would be many supporting notes to round out each category.

To be blunt, this is in the public interest and over the years there has been no rationalization of reserve fund intake and pay out. In my opinion this appears to be a method of using reserves whenever a need arises regardless of the reserve fund designation.

Moving on to the capital budget. Council has approved spending $151.6 million in 2020. The approval states it includes projects to be started or completed in 2020.

But here is the wrinkle: Council received the 10-year capital-spending forecast of “just over” $1.7 billion. That averages some $170 million projected capital spending for the next ten years.

During 2020, council will confirm that the following projects be commenced in the next ten years: The new central downtown library, The Baker district parkade and the South End Community Centre.

Two of these major projects have been promised for many years. In fact the city has already invested more than $3 million on the South End project from operating funds.

That familiar tactic, kick these projects down the road

I regret suggesting that these decision and promises are political designed to satisfy the stakeholders. They are words with little action.

Remember most of this council voted to give Guelph Hydro away when there were interested parties prepared to buy the utility. This council, save for two new councillors, are the same members who voted 10 to 3 to give away the well-run and profitable city-owned utility.

All I ask from the administration is to inform the public, in plain English, of what the city gained in approving the Guelph Hydrp

disposal, of which most of the negotiations were conducted in closed-sessions.

Hoodwinked is an understatement and most members of our council were expertly mesmerized and taken like hicks at the circus.

To the victors belong the spoils

Well, Derrick Thomson can’t complain, he walked away with a $67,000 performance bonus for his work in the Hydro giveaway. He’s now gone and his co-chair of the committee charged with disposing Guelph Hydro, Chair Jane Armstrong, was appointed by city council to represent Guelph. She was appointed to the Board of Directors of Alectra Utilities earning $25,000 a year plus travel expenses. Her five-year appointment will earn her $125,000.

I believe the city has a much more qualified senior management in place now but there remains some old habits of lying by omission and obscuring details of responsible operations.

The reports do not reveal the outcome of the Guelph Police Services request for a budget increase of $3.9 million. It did say that Guelph Transit was approved to spend $1.720,000 to increase services to the Hanson Business Park and expand community bus services and the spare bus ratio.

I agree with Coun. Dan Gibson who questioed the need for ridership data. We need to see that detailed data over a 12 month period necessary to assess the needs of Guelph public transit.

I know that there is tremendous customer impact between September and April when 22,000 students arrive.

But we have to ask: Why did the city purchase five buses last year and not have the staff to operate them? The type of buses and the operating fuel is not known. With the plan to the “greening” of public transit, one would believe that would affect the need of capital to reach that goal.

How much is this system costing the city in subsidies and what must the taxpayers pony up to keep it afloat?

The increasing costs ofsupporting those in need

These aforementioned issues reflect spending money to support a minority audience to rehabilitate drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally ill and the disaffected. They represent Canada’s walking wounded.

Guelph over the years has become a Mecca of societies’ underclass. Dealing with it has many times, ignored the problem. The University has a role to play to work with the city authorities to reduce the lawless behaviour occurring downtown.

Yes, affordable housing is a part solution. Why can’t the city leverage private developers to include affordable housing?

The staffing of trained individuals is needed to conduct appropriate rehabilitation and support is daunting. Also seeking funding for specific projects from both levels of senior governments could lead to operating successful programs to help those in need and less fortunate.

A good start would be to conduct a staff rationalization to help reduce the bulging city overhead.

 

 

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