Tag Archives: Guelph Budgets

The police budget deferment demonstrates council’s ignorance of how our public safety service works on our behalf 24/7

By Gerry Barker

December 2, 2019

Opinion

Coun. June Hofland, has indicated that she may ask the Police Services Board to spread out “its big budget ask” over two or three years.

The former chair of the council finance committee for three years in the Farbridge administration, Ms. Hofland was also on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc board of direcors. With her years of experience, she would logically understand the relationship between city council and the Police Board.

She said she intended to discuss the 10 per cent Police Budget increase of $3.9 million with the chair of the Police Board before the final vote on the city budget, is taken on December 3.

If city council were a TV sitcom, you wouldn’t need a laugh track.

But their behavior overseeing the public’s business is no laughing matter.

Its time to start dumping the administration’s garbage can

But Ms. Hofland isn’t a throwback to Gilligan’s Island; she’s just an amiable stooge for her fellow councillors, Curly, Joe and Moe.

Editor’ note: Having been sued by these same guys three years ago, I hesitate to identify them but I’m confident you can figure it out.

These three gems stated they would support Ms. Hofland’s approach to discuss the Police Budget with the chair of the Police Board. It’s called the hands-on approach.

Trouble is, that’s not permitted because the Police Services Board is an independent body, not subject to council intervention in its financial requirements or operations.

In fact, the Police Board is empowered to seek resolution of their service requirements from a province-appointed mediator to review the budget if city council reneges.

Why not talk to Police Board members, the Mayor and Coun. Billings?

So if those four councillors supported the Hofland proposal, why didn’t they talk to the Mayor and Coun. Christine Billings who are members of the Police Board?

It’s interesting to me that in August 2014, just before council was denied capital spending due to the October civic election, the Farbridge council approved spending $34 million on renovation of the downtown police HQ.

The project is scheduled for completion at the end of this month, five years later.

This capital project was to be financed with $3 million from the Police Board reserve, diverting development fees from private projects and adding to the city debt.

This decision came on the heels of being forced to spend $23 million over budget to complete the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall. It was only the tip of the iceberg that was caused by vital mismanagement of the project by city contract staff. A judgment by Justice Donald MacKenzie confirmed wrongful dismissal of the general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Gtoup.

Along came GMHI

One of the serious problems facing the Guthrie administration was the former mayor’s pet project to use Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc to make Guelph self-sufficient in terms of power generation. The plan introduced geo-thermal heating and cooling to a handful of downtown buildings, including two new high-rise condominiums.

The former Mayor was also chair of the GMHI board of directors that took control of Guelph Hydro and installed solar-generating panels on many public buildings to generate electricity. It was only the beginning of creating a district Energy plan.

None of these major projects were conducted with oversight or participation of the public. June Hofland was a member of the GMHI board of directors but never commented or spoke up about the operations.

The shoe dropped in May 2016 with a report of the financial mess GMHI was in. It was followed in July with a staff analysis that was devastating. Then came an independent, consolidated audit of GMHI by the accounting firm KPMG.

It revealed a shareholder’s liability of $66 million. This was never denied by city council.

This has been the genesis of disastrous toxic mixture of poor planning, crazy-legs fiscal management wasting public money, and, mostly done in secret.

This is the damning 14-year legacy of overtaxing property and user fees with yearly increasing by more than twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index maintained by StatCan.

It was toxic because the Mayor of the city was also the chair of GMHI with a loyal supporting cast of councillors and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, who also doubled as Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

Pappert knew in 2015 that she could be in trouble as two reports of the GMHI operations were a devastating indictment of a failure to manage and oversee the impact on the city’s finances.

The record shows she started her exit from the city in late 2015 by requesting the cash value of her unused sick and vacation benefits from the Human Resources Department.

And who was in charge of that department? Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Mark Amorosi.

In December 2015, council held two closed-session meeting. One was to award CAO Pappert with a $27,000 performance bonus along with an additional $10,000 for assorted benefits. DCAO Amorosi and Derrick Thomson each received increases that were part of a total $98,202 shared among the three senior managers.

The other closed-session meeting, also held in December 2015, approved an indemnification bylaw that the city would pay all legal costs of any employee and elected official who faced a legal procedure.

City council was directly involved in both these closed-sessions that was not revealed to the public until March 31, 2016. By that time Mr. Thomson had left to take a job with the town of Caledon.

Two weeks after the 2015 provincial Sunshine List was published, CAO Pappert gave notice of her resignation. She agreed to stay on until May 26, 2016, when Derrick Thomson returned in June to accept the CAO position.

These two top managers benefited further in 2016, 2018 and 2019. First in March 2017 the 2016 Sunshine List showed that Ms. Papper received $263,000 for five-month’s work.

In 2018, Mr.Thomson received a salary of $335,000 that included a performance bonus of $67,000. He “parted ways with the city in February 2019 just before the 2018 Sunshine List was published.

This is how our city council conducts our business.

The following is an outline on how to regain control of our city.

What can be done about it?

Simple answer is get involved. Get organized to challenge this council that has demonstrated it cannot manage a two-car funeral.

Council is about to start a review of changing ward boundaries. This should only be reviewed by an independent committee, appointed by the mayor elect incorporating public participation.

I believe that a major change must come to create more efficiency, fairness and is accountable to control the operations with the city staff.

Greater transparency will be achieved with an independent staff rationalization from top to bottom, including council and senior city staff.

A first step is to reduce the size of council to nine. This would involve redefining job descriptions in concert with the staff rationalization program. The rationalization should cover every employee, full and part-time and contracted workers.

An independent committee of civilians would be appointed to outline the responsibilities and communication rules. This would include streamlining procedures, rewriting the staff and elected official’s Code of Conduct. It would eliminate the Integrity Commissioner and the closed-session investigators.

The indemnification bylaw will be eliminated.

Civic Elections will include online voting. Proportional voting will not be used.

There will be a review of all bylaws and reserve funds status. This will be revealed to the public.

City communications will be revised to allow citizens to select to receive regular information online or hard copy through their electric bill.

Minutes of all council, committee and board meetings will be available within a fixed time, determined by length and content.

All council and committee votes will be recorded and distributed to citizens as part of the communications plan.

Finance and legal departments will review city advertising policies.

All pending legal cases against the city will be reviewed and the status revealed to the public, but not legal strategy or tactics..

Councillors, staff or citizens should never be threatened by anyone. This is subject to the revised Code of Conduct.

The new council will operate in public and at the convenience of all citizens.

Citizens will be respected and receive prompt replies from staff regarding their request.

Realignment of organization

Reduce to four wards with one councillor. Each representative to be paid $60,000 per year and reviewed by the CAO and designated senior staff.

Elected at large is the Mayor who will receive $180, 000 plus defined expenses.

The four full-time councillors, elected at large, would receive $100,000 plus expenses and adjusted annually using the CPI as the benchmark.

These four councillors will have direct oversight of Finance, Public Operations, Clerk’s office and Legal department, Environmental services. Specifics to come.

Now I realize that there will be severe opposition to these proposals. But unless we, the public, don’t empty the garbage can, there will be more of the same to come.

The opportunity to change only occurs every four years.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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The looming crisis in funding city operations in 2017

By Gerry Barker

July 7, 2016

If you haven’t already, you should be receiving a revised assessment of the value of your home for property tax purposes. The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) that adjusts your assessment every four years establishes commercial and residential assessments.

This is the year of adjustment. The notices are determined as of January 1st, 2016, and reflect how much has changed since January 1, 2012. MPAC assesses 5 million residential and commercial properties in Ontario. To establish the current valuation in terms of assessment, MPAC assembles data on the properties using sales, building permits,, location, living area, age of the property and lot size.

If you are unhappy with the evaluation, you may request /reconsideration. Go to the MPAC website and register aboutmyproperty.ca.

In 2008, former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government imposed a moratorium of assessment increases for four years. This ended in 2011 and MPAC was instructed to limit increased assessments for four years 2012 to 2015 inclusive.

In case you haven’t noticed, your assessment has been increasing in the past four years. They were not big increases designed to play catch-up from the McGuinty assessment moratorium, invoked during the 2008 global financial crisis.

However, we are now in another four-year cycle of MPAC assessments that will first, impact the city’s 2017 operating budget. The 2016 assessment increase will provide additional funding in planning the budget next November.

But here is where things go off the financial rails.

Last December 9, council, in which there was no public participation, ratified the 2016 budget. A staff recommendation regarding a 10-year, two per cent special tax levy on all properties to pay for infrastructure-rebuilding was tabled in a closed-door session before the public meeting. At the outset of the public meeting, it was immediately moved by council finance chair, June Hofland to push the levy to the 2017 budget. Carried.

Now we have a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Derrick Thomson, who is responsible for approving all staff budget recommendations before sending it to council for approval. His former position as Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) of Operations has been assumed by Coleen Clack who used to report to Mr. Thomson as manager of Culture and Tourism.

But the recent sudden death of Rodney Keller, General Manager of Operations, has placed Ms. Clack in an unexpected difficult assignment with the loss of two key top managers in Operations within a few weeks.

The search is on for a new Chief Financial officer (CFO) and the task of integrating the chosen candidate will add to the turmoil that lies ahead when the 2017 budget is being considered. The 2017 budget talks will begin right after Labour Day.

Adding to the task is how to restore reserve funds that have been used to balance five previous city budget variances and the Urbacon lawsuit settlement of $8.96 million.

The greatest task for the administration is cleaning up the Community Energy Initiative (CEI) that has cost, so far, an estimated $40 million. Under management of the city-owned corporation, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI), the operation lost $9.4 million in 2015. There is absolutely no opportunity to continue this disastrous plan because of the future high demand for capital to make the system to even function.

GuelpSpeaks originally published the following April 8, 2015

When looking at other cities’ 2015 property tax increases compared to Guelph, we have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate in the 14-city sample. There are several reasons for this as Guelph council continues to ignore the growth of its staff, in numbers and pay and benefits. The future liabilities associated with these increases will affect future councils for years to come as pensions are indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

To meet these staff obligations will result in Guelph taxpayers facing increased property taxes paying the costs of employees, active and future obligations to those retired. Today, 85 percent of all property taxes received by the city are used to pay staff payroll costs.

The research on this report employed a common benchmark of dollars per $100,000 of assessment. This allowed equalized comparisons with two-tier municipalities such as Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

The report was researched from official public sources.

Here is the list in descending order:

City                                    2015 tax increase              Ranking             Difference

Guelph Budget                             3.55%                                    39

Guelph revised                             3.96%                                    44

Hamilton                                       2.70%                                    35                      Minus 1.26 %

London                                          2.50%                                    30                      Minus 1.46 %

Brampton                                      2.54%                                   24                       Minus 1.42 %

Brantford                                      1.88%                                    22                      Minus 2.08 %

Port Colborne                              1.10%                                    18                       Minus 2.86 %

Burlington                                    2.06%                                   18                       Minus 1.90 %

Oakville                                        1.70%                                    15                        Minus 2.26 %

Mississauga                                 2.20%                                   12                        Minus 1.76 %

Cambridge                                   2.72%                                   10                        Minus 1.25 %

Toronto                                        3.20%                                  10                         Minus .76 %

Waterloo                                      1.53%                                     7                         Minus 2.43 %

Kitchener                                      1.9%                                     7                          Minus 2.06 %

Windsor                                        0%                                        0                         Minus 3.96 %

Consumer Price Index 2014   2.1%

Comparing the Guelph revised rate of 3.96 per cent to the next highest on the list, Hamilton, at 2.70 per cent, the difference is an astounding 31.8 per cent!

Back to today

This is why more research has revealed that Kitchener’s and Cambridge’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent lower than the City of Guelph.

This reflects the undue influence of a rump majority of council who slavishly follow the policies of the previous administration led by former mayor Karen Farbridge.

These policies and special self-serving rules of governance, have led to unacceptable high property taxes and user fees, special deals with developers granting tax relief and delayed payment of development fees.

The bleeding of the public purse will continue until there is real reform of spending.

It’s reflected in one factor: In five years, the administration has failed to meet the budget creating multi-million dollar negative variances.

Think about that. Can you run your life and personal finances by failing to meet your budgets? The difference is the city administration dips into its reserves to balance its books annually as required by provincial law,

Now the reserves have been steadily drained with little replenishment.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t vote for this.

 

 

 

 

 

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