By Gerry Barker
November 18, 2019
Tonight, city council will commence trimming the “tax supported operating budget.”
City staff has already reported a 3.88 per cent property tax increase subject to change, possibly increase.
This becomes a political matter as councillors jockey to promote their own must have agenda items.
Just wondering, does the University pay the same property tax increase as the rest of us? More on this later.
For some 14 years, citizens have been shorn of accountability and transparency of the public’s interest. Did I mention the administration’s conduct of the public’s business has deliberately thwarted the public interest?
Having just spent three years defending myself against the City of Guelph, the recent decision by a judge dismissing my 130-page statement of defence supporting my motion to dismiss the case. The judge ruling centred on the alleged harm done to the plaintiff and the public interest.
The judge ruled the harm done to the plaintiff “outweighed the public interest.”
That decision is being appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal.`
What has this got to do with the city budgets?
Let me say from the start, that the financial management of the city has greatly improved. There is a refreshing openness about the flow of information from the finance department.
The number of closed-session meetings has diminished and the public interest is being better served.
Running a city of this size requires rocket-science attention in terms of planning, short and long term. The city has grown exponentially in many ways including population. However, questions remain.
Setting aside the performance of the previous administration, in the past five years, there have been some major league boo-boos. Much of it was commenced by the previous administration.
Then, following the 2015 first year of Mayor Cam Guthrie’s election there were changes among the senior city managers. By March, this year the three senior managers who shared the $98,202 salary increase in a closed-session of council in December 2015, are now gone.
Sifting through the budgeting sands
Here are some current questions that affect all citizens:
* Why does the city rely on communicating with the citizens Online or through its “City News” pages in the Mercury Tribune at the public’s expense?
* What are the details of the City’s long-term strategy plan and was there public participation when this strategy was discussed and presumably approved by council?
* What is the status of the main branch library that Mayor Guthrie promised to be part of the $350 million Baker Street redevelopment during his re-election campaign? Is it true that he said the library would be the anchor in the proposed plan?
* Why was it necessary to spend some $22 million on a parking garage next to the City Hall? How was that in the public interest when most of the parking spaces are monthly and convenient to the city staff?
* What is the proposed total number of public employees, including permanent, part-time and those on contract?
* What was the actual cost in 2018 of consultants, legal and other professional serves?
* There has been extensive work on Speedvale Avenue between Woolwich and Manhattan Court this past summer, What is the ultimate plan to relocate power lines underground. What is the rationale and source of funding for this project that three years ago, the staff estimated the cost to be $15 million?
* More importantly, is the plan to widen Speedvale to permit bike lanes and restrict traffic lanes from four lanes to two on the city’s major east west route?
* What is the financial impact of increased assessment for new construction and existing properties in the city?
* The staff is proposing a 3.88 property tax increase for 2020. Why is it being predicted to be more than 4.5 per cent before the trimming starts tonight, what ever that means?
* Why is the city administration plumping for five new buses but is the library, remember the promises made over the years, getting benched again?
* Why hasn’t the city pursued the University of Guelph’s sweetheart deal that in lieu of paying property taxes, it is based on charging each registered student $75 per year? Why was this rate locked-in by the province 33 years ago? Did your property taxes not increase every one of those 33 years and at a rate exceeding the rate of inflation?
* Shouldn’t the Guelph General Hospital’s $4.5 million requested grant be included in the capital budget, not tax supported operating budget?
* Is it time to approve annual subsidized operating grants to vital services such as public safety organizations, and critical care facilities?
* Why is the supply of water, potable, waste and storm, not included in the tax supported operating budget? It’s just another tax on top of the property tax annual increases.
* What is the definition of infrastructure? What are the parameters of renewal of our aging infrastructure, some of it 200 years old? Should there not be detailed explanation annually to show how the money is being spent?
* What is the latest information about the ratio of assessment between residential property and commercial/industrial? It has been locked into 84 per cent residential versus 16 per cent commercial/industrial. This is a massive burden on taxpayers.
* There is a mixed bag of special levies swirling around the budget soup.
Aside from the huge property tax deal subsidy granted annually to the University, what are their other subsidies paid to city operations?
Let’s review where your money is going:
Transit, pension benefits, boards remunerations, wellbeing donations, Hillside festival, staff travel, expense accounts, community city organizations, severance costs, employee bonuses, and gifts.
Add to the list, long-term suspended development including property tax grants and collection of unpaid taxes and offences fines.
The city’s chief source of revenue comes from property values and taxes.
In my opinion, successive provincial governments have failed to work with the 445 provincial municipalities to alleviate all the egregious downloading of costs.
Certainly there are some offsetting grants but this city needs a house cleaning to reduce costs and increase revenue without socking it every year to the property taxpayers.