Tag Archives: guelph budget

Now more information is leaking out about that five-councillor walkout

By Gerry Barker

April 25, 2016

Tonight is the night when the Integrity Commissioner will attempt to discover who leaked the reason for the January 25 walkout by five councillors to a local blogger, (not GuelphSpeaks).

There is a new element in the coup that deposed the former board of directors of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. It turned out to be a messy dumping of the board and an investigation into finances. It was carried out in closed session. The code of conduct rules prevent any councillor from revealing what was discussed for fear of being sanctioned by the Integrity Commissioner and the council. The secret discussion was to drill down to what this operation has cost the taxpayers.

My informant says the costs will dwarf the $2.6 million, lost by the waste management group.

GS will never reveal the source but it came from someone who was there the night the walkout occurred. Under the Farbridge imposed rules of procedure, no person attending can disclose details of what occurred that January 25th night.

But the administration will say the details weren’t in the public interest. Translation it was none of the public’s business. Wrong, who are they protecting?

In March 2015, following a closed session of council, excessive increases were awardied to the three top senior managers. That was in the public’s interest but was withheld until a year later by the rule of confidentiality.

Maybe it was the bananas

Not even the Integrity Commissioner can advise council on this issue. Because he is bound by the same procedural rules as you and me, and the participants in closed session. It’s comparable to: Monkey attends, monkey listens, and monkey walks out because it didn’t like the outcome of the discussion, (or the bananas). And monkey’s lips are sealed.

Well not quite. One of the Councillors who walked out, Coun. Phil Allt wrote in an email that “protecting the integrity of the corporation and staff,” prompted the move.

But in my opinion, that explanation is a breach of the closed session rules of confidentiality. The statement was political but he broke the rules. Tell me, when did dysfunctional politics replace political common sense?

The operations of this administration are to deceive, and cover-up their incompetence revealed in management mistakes. They are driven by an ideological detraction, developed by a group of NDP big brothers who direct, they think, the way we should live.

The 128,000 citizens of this city have been lulled into complacency. It hangs like a cloud of lassitude enveloping our city in which we have lost control. It is an existential surrender of our rights. It’s about as close as most of will ever get to a dictatorship by a small group that has been ordained with absolute power. And, they know how to use it.

I don’t have to tell you about our soaring taxes and user fees. I don’t have to repeat the millions of dollars of your money that has been wasted on social experiments or unnecessary environmental projects.

We are blanketed by a hardcore group of individuals who make policy mistakes and refuse to admit failure.

Because friends, it’s all done in secret.

Using your money to shut you up

Thousands of dollars have already been spent by the administration to proclaim the walkout by five councillors, was “political” and not illegal.

But there is a morality issue here that the administration conveniently overlooks. The 13 members of council have a moral obligation to represent all the people of the city. The Orange Crush has managed to elect members to council in wards in which a few thousand votes are cast giving the majority of winner’s, power to control the entire city. All the people across the city elected only one member of council, Mayor Guthrie, who only has one vote.

The city’s political and electoral structure needs reform to put a stop to this ward system that delivers control to members of a political party. A minority of electors in each ward has the same single vote power of the mayor. This majority collective of councillors has dominated Guelph governance for nine years.

It’s time for a referendum by all the people to level the political playing field

The following is a framework of reorganizing the administration to return power to the people:

Start by advocating that all candidates are elected at large and are full-time. One full-time councillor representing a specific ward, is to be elected. Three additional fulltime councillors would serve as a board of control with an appropriate increase in pay to reflect their responsibilities. Also elected at large are a deputy mayor and the mayor. The deputy mayor would chair the council meetings.

The Mayor would have veto power on all bills involving public funds. The Board of Control, plus the mayor and Deputy Mayor, would appoint councillors to the various boards such as the Police Services Board, Fire Department and Emergency Services, public health, and County of Wellington liaison.

The city solicitor and clerk will review all procedural bylaws to streamline operations and ensure the public is informed. The goal is to stop the closed-door sessions. It is the antithesis of the way our city business is currently being conducted. It will be the true reflection of an open and transparent government.

The city would hire a city manager to direct the staff. The city is now advertising to hire a Chief Financial Officer a long overdue development, as the position has been vacant for 17 months.

Abolish the present management structure

The present structure of Chief Administrative Officer would be abolished, as would the Deputy Chief Administrative Officers. Five directors report to the city manager and through to the Board of Control. The responsibilities would include: Operations, Engineering and Planning, Finance, Administration and Parks and Recreation.

Operations – Includes infrastructure replacement and repairs, Guelph Transit, water management, emergency services, liaison with Guelph Hydro.

Engineering and Planning – Includes Waste Management, Street lighting, Processing all development plans, Building department, and zoning, Economic Development.

Finance – Tax accounting and collection, money management including restoring the reserves, financial reporting and internal audit. Annual Financial Information Report, required annually by the province, and external audit. Pension management. Creating quarterly financial summary reports for the citizens. Supervising all capital spending. Creating the annual budget based on reports of all departments. Adopting a zero-based budget system.

Administration – Legal staff and legal issues, clerk’s office including overseeing an independent election committee, Inter-government liaison, Human Resources including union contracts, hiring and terminations. Liaison with appointed public boards and committees, communications and tourism promotion, Information Technology, review support for worthy groups representing the arts, culture and poverty.

Parks and Recreation – Includes social and welfare programs, senior services, parks and city beautification programs, recreation facilities, Guelph Library system, maintenance of all city-owned property, heritage and forestry departments. Guelph Civic Museum and McRae House, all historic monuments and the Sleeman centre.

First responders’ management reports to the city manager. This will ignite protest from the Guelph Police Services Board. The Board’s demand to have the city pay $34 million for the renovation of police headquarters requires more financial oversight on police spending. The Mayor is ex-officio of all department management units.

Restoring common sense to the budget process

Most important, the budget process must be changed. Instead, each major department director would prepare the budget reflecting operations for the coming year. The data would be presented to the city manager and to the Board of Control for review and any recommended changes. Then sent to the council for approval. Each senior manager would be responsible for the department budget. Each department budget is based on a zero-sum system annually.

The managerial target is to reduce costs in areas that do not affect performance or provision of essential services.

All committees, boards and organizations that depend on the city to fund their operations will be required to produce a business plan to validate their operations.

The Guelph Municipal Holding Inc. is at the top the list for review if it has not occurred already.

Once approved by council, only emergency services and operations are permitted to request variances. This will force the administration to adhere to the budget and stop balancing the books each year by raiding the reserves.

Such a system would prevent a single party taking over the city, as all candidates would require election by all the people, not just a few in each ward. It would also attract candidates with more experience in management, culture and professional accreditation.

How much would this cost? For discussion purposes, the six full-time councillors representing the wards should receive $65,000; the three councillors on the Board of Control, $80,000; The Deputy Mayor, $100,000 and the Mayor, $150,000. The City Manager should receive $200,000, the five department directors, $165,000.

This would shift control of the administration back to the officials who have been elected by all the eligible voters.

Food for thought and action.

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2016 city budget countdown resembles a demolition derby

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 27, 2015

Guelph city administration is running the city like it’s Black Friday – taking advantage of citizen’s lack of understanding of the “Let’s Build a Budget” routine that staggers any reasonable sense of what in heck are they doing?

Let’s start from the beginning of the budget process that began when the administration hired the BMA municipal consultants to conduct a review of city operations.

The BMA report detailed some serious shortcomings in terms of financial management and action taken previously.

One of the key findings of the BMA report was the caution issued about the depleted city reserve funds, estimated to be some $23 million short of established city guidelines. A large piece of that shortfall was the $8.96 million taken from three unrelated reserve funds to pay the Urbacon lawsuit settlement. Now that was an unbudgeted expense.

When Justice Donald MacKenzie asked the city solicitor why it took the step of firing the general contractor of the new city hall, the answer was reported; “Because we believed we would win.” (Urbacon Buildings Group brought the lawsuit).

Well, they didn’t and we the people lost $23 million over the original budget of $44 million as a result of that decision. Total cost of the new city hall and courthouse, is $67 million.

It happened last year in the middle of the election campaign.

But new information has arisen that proves that Guelph, compared with Cambridge and Kitchener, has the highest per capita costs of the three municipalities. Here are some examples:

The Guelph 2015 budget shows that the city per capita cost for capital spending and operations was $3,859. That’s compared to Cambridge, $2,525 and Kitchener, $2,528. That includes the two city’s regional tax contribution.

Living in Guelph costs $1,300 more per person than Cambridge and Kitchener

The difference between Guelph and the other two cities is $1,300 per capita times 120,000 population equals $156 million!

Is the description “staggering” an exaggeration?

But it doesn’t stop the architects of the Build a Budget for 2016.

Disregarding the warning signals from the BMA report, the administration is presenting a budget that ignores the data supplied by its own consultant and annual Financial Information Report  mandated by the province.

Instead it’s business as usual as the city staff senior management recommends a budget that would increase property taxes by 1.58 per cent. Then along comes stage two of the staff recommendations, described as “expansions” adding more staff and programs that boosts the new rate to 2.83 per cent.

What’s the point of striking a lowball staff budget increase then recommending approval of expansions of staff and programs? Is this the result of the new open and transparent government action plan, or just manipulation?

Monday night, the public get’s its chance to present requests for funding, complain about the budget and demand answers to the high costs of living in Guelph. It’s interesting that a citizen must register by today to speak. The following are the instructions from the clerk’s office on your presentation.

Knuckling under the Clerk’s demands

“We will list you as a delegation for the November 30th meeting.  Please advise what subject area of the budget you wish to address as we are trying to group speakers with similar concerns together to help streamline the flow of the meeting.  Each delegation is allotted five minutes to address Council and we ask that delegates do not repeat what others have stated.  If you have an electronic presentation or written material you wish distributed to Council, we must receive them in the clerk’s office no later than 9:00 a.m. on Friday, November 27th.”

This direction is offensive and controlling. It’s a public meeting and it’s not up to the clerk’s office to direct what may be said and be ordered not to repeat another delegate’s opinion to “ streamline the flow of the meeting.” Having witnessed past budget meetings where the public may submit opinions, ideas and protest the system, it is, to be charitable, a charade as council and staff sit and stare for the most part.

Most councillors would be happier Monday night at home watching Dancing with the Stars than sit and listen to their constituents. There is little interplay between delegates and council.

Coun. Karl Wettstein, predictably, will demand that if a delegate asks for reductions in spending, will say it would require a reduction in services. His most recent pronouncement was about the effect of increased assessments on property does not automatically increase taxes.

Let’s listen in: “One small clarification – It sounds like David (David Starr commenting on the effect of rising assessments in the city) is assuming market value increases automatically increase taxes.

As you know this is not accurate,” Karl

The civic world according to Karl

Well Karl, please explain in language we all understand, when last March you voted to increase property taxes by 3.55 per cent. Then about a week later it was revised upward to 3.96 per cent when the increases in city assessment were added into the costs to property owners.

Yes Karl, it’s about the bottom line, not what you neglect to include in your claim that increased assessments do not automatically increase taxes.

Hey! Are you playing with the reserves again Karl? For eight years you were part of the administration that used the tax stabilization reserve fund to put an artificial lid on the tax increases. Now there is little money left to continue the game, Shame!

As long as there is no control by the administration to reduce costs, the gap will widen between what it costs to live in Guelph compared to Cambridge and Kitchener.

We have an administration that refuses to recognize the depth of the problem thereby does nothing but increase spending.

We only have ourselves to blame. We elected them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We take you now to another Galaxie … where transparency reigns

Posted August 10, 2012

I was given the opportunity to travel to another community where the attitudes are refreshing in how citizens interface with city council to work together. The city is Waterloo, where Council has formed a Citizens’ Budget Task Force to create financial transparency of the city’s finances and management.

It’s textbook on how political democracy should work with a free flow of information to all citizens.

The odious comparison about the way our city is being run is straight out of the theatre of the absurd.

Let’s start with the basic recommendations. You don’t have to have an accountant’s degree to understand where the Waterloo citizens’ committee is headed.

1.  Propose an annual report, easy to understand, with a 10-year trend table of balance sheet, income statement and total reserves. accompanied by a detailed management discussion and analysis.

We interrupt this programs to ask: “When did this ever happen in Guelph?”

2.  An annual operating performance analysis matching actual to yearly budget performance.

Jeepers, what a novel suggestion. Is anyone listening in City Hall?

3.  Establish an annual capital expenditure tracking report with original             budget, revised budget and actual expenses itemized by project.

For starters, let’s talk about the real cost of the Civic Museum and the           compost plant.

4.  Publish all collective bargaining agreements going forward.

Good grief Charlie Brown, they want to know all about us!

5.  Abandon the use of the Municipal Price Index (MPI) for setting the rates of           the annual property taxes. That authority rests with council.

Well, that’s not how it works in Guelph.

6.  Direct staff to investigate a more broad-based method of setting tax rates.            Take into account citizen affordability such as changes in personal             household incomes.

With most of Guelph’s senior staff living out of town, it may be tough getting             the handle on that proposal.

7.  Consider during the budget development process, both the previous year’s           budget and the actual performance.

Gawd! I hope they are doing that but we’ll never know because it’s a secret, right?

8.  Compare compensation practices, including pensions and benefits, against           the local market, adjusting for market conditions in both the private and public employment sectors.

That’s a great suggestion. But will Guelph Council have the political will to           consider it let alone enforce it?

9.  Investigate the magnitude of the city’s future employment liability from           existing retirement plans and investigate options to mitigate any major             exposure.

This is the most pressing financial liability the City of Guelph faces in the near and long term. With a staff costs of salaries, wages, benefits and pensions, now at 89 per cent of the total city budget, the compensation threshold has been breached.

The City of Waterloo’s staff compensation portion of its budget is 56.6 per cent.

Guelph taxpayers need to see a different approach to budgeting. It starts with the staff being informed that last year’s budget is not the starting point but the absolute point.

There is a culture of entitlement pervasive among certain Guelph senior staff members. What is needed is a culture of efficiency that holds the interests of the taxpayers paramount.

Citizens should become aware of the serious problems the city faces and band together to force change.

All you have to do is compare.

Let me know what you think. – gerrybarker 76@gmail.com

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