Tag Archives: Guelph City budget

It was the day of Circus Maximus as city council again mugged the citizens

By Gerry Barker

December 8, 2016

The news from council, by a 9 to 3 margin, approved the 2017 budget with the cost to citizens of 3.13 per cent. Since March 2015, the Guthrie administration has increased property taxes 10.08 per cent. The three principled councillors who voted against the budget were Christine Billings, Bob Bell and Dan Gibson.

But that’s not all, folks. It does not include the extra fees we have to pay to turn on the lights; get potable water to cook and bathe; pay to service the city storm water control system; the Wynne government’s carbon tax starting next month that will be buried in you hydro bill; the hidden cost of ever increasing assessment on your property; and now the property tax levy that is in place for ten years in which the council can increase at will annually.

Our mayor, the one who most citizens voted for in 2014, and who promised to keep property taxes at the rate of inflation has, in two years, failed to control expenses. It was the key point made by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA who prepared an eight-page analysis of the city finances. His underlying data showed that expenses and operating costs, i.e. overhead, could be reduced to a point when a property tax levy would not be necessary to repair the aging infrastructure. The Guthrie administration turned a blind eye on Mr. Fung’s analysis. Instead, the mayor voted for acceptance of the budget along with eight other members of council.

I spent three hours Wednesday afternoon, December 7, watching our city councillors approve the 2017 city budget. I apologize; the Mayor announced at 5:10 a 25-minute break to allow the staff members to scarfe down pre-ordered pizza.

I confess, I couldn’t take another several hours of wrangling, spite, childishness and self-serving missions.

I returned to my car and was ticketed for $30 for failing to pay for parking in the Wilson street parking lot to attend a council meeting. P.S. I tried to use my credit card but could not read the instructions on the poorly lit instruction screen. I assumed with the shambled conditions entering the Wilson parking lot that the enforcement bunnies would lay off. Boy! Was I wrong?

It makes one wonder why the city can enforce its bylaws but fail to get rid of the geese polluting the public parks. But I digress.

In my time spent, watching the councillors perform; I realized that some need adult supervision.

Here are some examples:

There was no specific mention of replenishing those reserves that were tapped to pay the Urbacon Settlement. There is still no explanation about those 2015 pay increases received by the three top executive of the city. Still few details of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) wind-up, as announced a couple of months ago. There was no explanation of the 2016 budget variances and if negative, what is the source of funding?

Cuncillors June Hofland and Mike Salisbury got into a hissy fit about not being informed of some funds coming from unexpected sources two days before the meeting. CAO Derrick Thomson said the Guelph Hydro Dividend would be $1.9 million this year, a $400,000 increase. The councillors’ responses were lively and critical of the CAO for not telling them until the eve of approving the 2017 budget.

It gets better. Coun. Christine Billings, a council appointed member of the Health Board, when questioned, says the Public Health Board sent out an agenda Monday night for consideration at their meeting Wednesday night. The briefing notes to council representatives Ms. Billings, Ms. Hofland and Mark MacKinnon stated that there was consideration to return $751,000 to the city as a one-time return of capital for the building of the Public Health headquarters on Stone Road and in Orangeville.

Ms.Hofland pouted that she told the Public Health administration that she could not attend the meeting due to her obligations to attend the city budget meeting.

She admitted not reading the briefing note but still complained that she should have been advised before the budget meetings.

While all this wrangling was going on, the Health Board had not approved any rebate to the city. The briefing notes indicated a vote on rebating $751,000. A report said that the amount was $770,000 approved by the Health Board and would be transferred to the infrastructure reserve fund along with the extra $400,000 from Guelph Hydro.

Two issues that passed

Two important issues approved by a majority of council directly affecting citizens, were the 1 per cent property tax levy. The staff recommended a .5 per cent tax levy for ten years to repair and maintain the city infrastructure that had been neglected by the previous administration. The motion stated that the 1 per cent levy would be divided with half going to infrastructure and the other half going to “city buildings.”

So what “city buildings” are the proponents talking about?

As a public service here is my take on where the money is going.

Earlier in the meeting the council agreed to shelve a $700,000 charge in the 2016 budget for buying new parking meter heads. Instead, use $650,000 to pay for a South End Recreation Centre design to include hockey rinks, library, swimming pools, senior centre, and community activity rooms.

During the discussion it was asked about the lifespan of the final design plan of the project and the Staff said five years. So, a faction of council pushed to use a tax levy not just to replace leaking infrastructure but build the South Ed rec centre. That levy at current rates will earn about $13 million over ten years. It’s a drop in the bucket if there is not additional financing to start the project within five years because of the inflation factor. That project will cost much more than $60 million in five years.

This is another example of pure political theatre that is practised with your money without any say in the matter.

The other increase was hiring more full-time staff costing $999,150. It includes four additional Para-medics for Erin Township ($351,808) that is part of service agreement with the County of Wellington; four senior employees earning more than $100,000 and two lower paid Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees.

The staff recommended 13 new positions of which council rejected three.

It would seem that with some 1,440 FTE’s working for the city that surely some of those jobs could be filled internally with the exception of the Para-medics. It is yet another example of staff adding more to the overhead.

The staff proposed an operating budget for 2017 of $222.9 million compared to the 2016 budget of $216 million. It is a 3.1 per cent increase or $6.9 million.

The Ward 6tag team of Councillors Wettstein and MacKinnon, persuaded council to proceed with a detailed design of the proposed South End recreation centre.

The hitch is there is no provision in the capital budget to pay for the project. The current estimate is $60 million that will increase annually before the shovels hit the ground. Note reference above.

Oddly enough, Coun. James Gordon. who sits on the Library board was silent during this discussion. That’s another $60 million for a new downtown Library. The Mayor said there is a possibility that both projects could be completed with a 3 P partnership with private investment holding partial ownership.

Citizens should be concerned when the Mayor pats himself on the back stating this was the smoothest preparation of a city budget he’s ever seen. After approving three consecutive budget increases totaling 10.08 per cent, he’d better start thinking about the next one, the 2018 civic election year.

The wild bunch

Meanwhile, council let’s get back to basics and do something about those wild geese occupying our parks. Speaking from personal experience, the breeding season begins in March. My wife, Barbara, has counted 127 geese wintering in Riverside Park today. That’s a potential of 64 females laying eggs to create from six to eight goslings. That’s a potential 496 hatchlings in just one park munching and pooping on the fresh new grass in the park.

Even the mayor agrees with me on this.


Filed under Between the Lines

The night council put the brakes on spending

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 10, 2015

After a marathon debate last night, the majority of council rejected the city budget as being too high

It was about 12:50 am this morning when Mayor Cam Guthrie said a four-letter word in response to Coun. Leanne Piper’s asking if he would support the proposed 3.42 per cent property tax increase. It was an insulting, request that bespoke of the lady’s insecurity when the chips are on the line.

It occurred at the end of a marathon eight-hour deliberation.“Nope,” the mayor told her. He added to another councillor’s similar question that the rate was too high.

A few minutes later the vote to approve the budget was defeated by a 7 to 6 margin. These councillors voted against approving the budget: Mayor Guthrie, Andy Van Hellemond, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Mark McKinnon, Karl Wettstein. Those members deserve the support of citizens for having the determination to reduce the property tax increase by rejecting the final operating budget.

Those voting for the budget were Councillors James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper.

It was a victory for the people who have felt powerless for the past nine years to face increased property tax rates, water and electricity fees, other user fees, inflicted by an administration bent on imposing its ideological agenda without recourse.

That came to an end last night.

The thin edge of council majority held by the Farbridge Gang of Seven was shattered when Coun. Karl Wettstein defected. In fairness, Mr. Wettstein has always said he was neutral sitting on council. But Wednesday night, he expressed his concern that property taxes cannot continue to increase at a plus 3 per cent annually.

It was a civil but messy debate throughout the night with some give and take. The Mayor went out of his way to allow all councillors to speak. There were many votes to approve and disapprove the various budget line items recommended by the staff under the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert.

The costs kept climbing

 As the evening wore on, it became apparent that the budget item numbers were climbing increasing the tax -supported operational costs. Mayor Guthrie repeatedly asked Janice Sheehy, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer for the impact of each approved or rejected item on the property taxes.

The trouble began when the staff’s non-recommended items were considered and the additions started adding to the tax percentage as reported by Ms. Sheehy. In the final half hour, the rejection votes were increasing as councillors realized they had to stop increasing spending, but it was too late, so to speak.

After all adjustments, Ms. Sheehy reported the final 2016 operating cost was $217,336,736, creating an increase over 2015 of 3.42 per cent. When this figure is matched with the 3.96 percent approved last March for 2015, it would total 7.38 per cent impacting property taxes over two years.

“Nope,” said the Mayor and a majority of council agreed.

Tonight, the budget debate will re-open starting at 6 p.m. at City Hall. There will have to be give and take by all councillors. But it’s now clear that the property tax rate must be reduced to at least 2.5 per cent, closer to the rate of inflation.

There were winners and losers last night. The staff’s recommended expansion budget was split in two, one part contained the staff recommended items and the other the non-recommended items. Why it was done that way, bespeaks of an attempt to make the staff look responsible and doing its job. Instead it opened the door for some councillors to add the staff rejected items to the new budget.

This budget process, designed by the staff, was a dismal failure. Why would they tell council that they were not recommending a number of items? Why not just recommend what they deemed necessary and leave it like that?

There were more ulterior motives swirling around than a carnival merry-go-round.

Who were the winners last night? First and foremost are the citizens of Guelph. Then Mayor Guthrie who stood firm when he had to and stopped the accelerating spending. And those councillors who believed that living in Guelph is too expensive and that spending has to be arrested.

The losers: The six councillors voting for the budget increase who still don’t understand that the people voted last year for change. Last night they got it and now all members of council must work together to adopt new ideas to increase efficency, destroy the culture of the previous administration and go down in history that this council finally got it right.

Tonight there will be some major spending changes to reduce the 3.42 per cent tax rate defeated last night.

Let the slicing and dicing begin

 I have two items that need to be pulled from the budget. First, is the Staff Rationalization Study, approved at $250,000. This is a staff recommended item that seconds its management responsibility to a third party to support its own job performance. Not needed now and instead commence a program, department by department, to analyze performance and job descriptions. The internal auditor can make a major contribution in those processes provided she has a free hand.

The second is the $264,000 cost of maintaining the Open Government Action Plan that was approved in September 2014. The city has already spent $100,000 to a consultant to create the plan. Last July, the city hired Andy Best, a key supporter of the former mayor, to manage the plan. It was reported to be a one-year contract paying $92,000.

Now this has morphed in 2016 paying, $117,000 to Mr. Best, a tidy $25,000 increase to someone who has been on the job five months. Then there is $147,200 allocated for goods and services. There was no justification offered for that item.

This is a hangover project created by the former administration. Guelph does not need this after what occurred last night. We have a council that is more open and transparent than the secretive, manipulating former administration it replaced.

Two senior staff members need to refresh their management targets to meet the demands of the people. There is a culture of entitlement existing at City Hall, the Guelph Police Services Board and the Fire department. It’s a culture that senior staff must correct to meet the demands of the people and those councillors who the people elected to represent them.

Notice that the EMS was not mentioned. They asked to hire another paramedic to speed up response times and the $84,000 position was voted out of the budget.

But they did vote to add a zoning inspector costing $128,000

The words you never heard in eight hours were “Urbacon” and “Sunshine List.”

In 2014, CAO Ann Pappert said the $8.96 million settlement of the Urbacon lawsuit would not affect property taxes. How’s that working for you? She then said the settlement money was taken from three unrelated reserve funds. She said that the city would replenish those reserves by paying $900,000 a year for five years.

That didn’t happen and there was no reference to it in the staff recommendations.

The Ontario givernment’s annual Sunshine List keeps on growing naming all civic employees earning more than $100,000 plus taxable benefits. This year, Guelph will report an additional 15 to 20 new staffers to the 2015 list reported in 2016.

At least now the spending brakes are engaging.

Tomorrow, guelphspeaks.ca, will publish the final budget figures.










Filed under Between the Lines