By Gerry Barker
September 30, 2019
This past week, city council approved its new Strategic Plan for the next four years.
It’s my guess, learned from past experience, that this is another warm over of similar promises and failed action plans made by city administrations since 2007.
It reminds me of an old pop song in which the words and music keep repeating in my ear, “Zippedy Do Daw, what a wonderful thing.”
This proclamation is a dreadful collection of goals and directives but totally does not consider the details of running this city and how council and staff manage our corporate administration.
I am betting that this document will not be read and absorbed by most citizens.
Absorption is the key word here.
Let’s examine the details of the road map of progress as Mayor Guthrie put it.
Setting Clear Directions
“The plan has been developed through the comprehensive consultation process with staff and council and, incorporated input from more than 10,000 community members obtained through the development of Guelph’s Community Plan.”
Who were these community members? How were they selected? When was the list compiled? How was the data analyzed? Did city council approve and rely on the information of this poll? Did members of couical examine the poll results or was it prepared as a summary by staff?
In view of this, were all 131,000 citizens offered the opportunity to express their views on the future of their community?
How does the community sample account for the 22.000 University of Guelph students who arrive every September and leave, for the most part in April?
Not only the University students temporarily living in Guelph, there is absolutely no accounting of the impact on the permanent residents. They worry about the growing stress of providing vital public services such as police, EMS, the Guelph General Hospital and Guelph Transit.
The Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) is in the process of asking for an increase of 31 additional officers. That’s an added estimated cost of $2.325 million to the police budget. That’s $17.74 for each of the 131000 citizens. Even adjusted to do the math for all taxpayers, it’s still a bargain to support the police.
The GPSB is composed of five members, two appointed by the province, plusthe Mayor Guthrie and Councillor Christine Billings and one appointed by city city council.
While the makeup of the GPSB has changed over the years, there has been an ongoing problem that has not been increased annual. Officers meet the demands of a growing population resulting in increased overtime costs, burnout and attrition.
Chair of the Downtown Guelph Business Association, Marty Williams, put it bluntly: “We need more boots on the ground.”
There is no denying, that to meet the needs of a growing population by the next Statscan census, Guelph’s population could be more than 142,000. Couple this with the drug problem in the city particularly in the downtown area, and there is no action plan to address these needs.
Here are the Strategic Plan’s priorities
* Powering our future by growing our economy.
Question: How? Economic development has been a disaster with the percentage ratio of residential assessment and industrial-commercial remaining stuck at 84-16 in 13 years. The average ratio in Ontario municipalities is 60-40
* Sustain our future by sustaining our environment.
Question: Does that includes the loss of $66 million by Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc between 2011 and 2015?
* Navigating our future through a connected transportation network.
Question: Does that include removing two lanes of vehicle roadways to accommodate bicycle lanes? See environment above.
* Working together for our future by modernizing our government.
Question: Does this mean reducing the city council’s closed-sessions, thereby operating an open government, with accountability and transparency?
* Building our future as a welcoming and complete community.
Question: Does this mean that property taxes will be lower based on reducing overhead costs of operations that are greater than most peer municipalities? Until recently, Guelph has not attracted businesses that bring good job opportunities and assessment.
This Strategic Plan is nothing but platitudes and little real substance.
Think about it. No mention of the three major capital projects, Downtown Library, South End Recreation Complex and the Wilson Street Parkade to provide parking for the most part, for public employees next door to their place of work.
Just those three projects, two to be built and one under construction, total in today’s dollars is $152 million. Council has already increased the city debt by $77 million with much of it going to the Parkade and police HQ renovations.
It’s not what the Strategic Plan promises but how and when these high value capotal projects will be completed.