Tag Archives: Guelph taxes

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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Let’s talk taxes, spending and accountability as the 2018 budget process starts this month

By Gerry Barker

September 5, 2017

In the fall of 2015, Guelph resident Pat Fung CA, CPA presented council with a financial analysis that compared the operating and capital spending costs of Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener.

His information came from two sources: The official audited financial statements of the three cities and a report prepared for the city of Guelph from consultants BMA.

For his trouble he was mocked behind his back after leaving the chamber. Now you can deduce two things. Either the councillors did not understand the presentation or they didn’t want to.

This council dominated by a majority of seven supporters of the former Farbridge administration has proved to be the least responsible and effective in the ten years I’ve been covering city politics.

Recently I was sent a report about the City of Santa Monica in California. The cost of employees in this upscale community was astronomic with the assistant librarian receiving a total of $220,000 in a pay and benefits package. City bus drivers earn $109,000 in total compensation.

These two examples reflect the operation of a city council that rarely discusses spending issues in public shutting the door to debate by the stakeholders. Even as affluent as Santa Monica, there is a limit of letting city costs soar.

Does any of this sound familiar? Guelph is also an affluent community due to the high compensation packages enjoyed by an estimated 6,500 public service workers. Add to that the penchant for council to conduct their public business behind closed doors echoes the Santa Monica experience.

But when a city official claims that the per capita costs of operating the city are not relevant, you know our spending and operating costs are going nowhere but up. The last ten city budgets have growth compounding property taxes and user fees to make Guelph one of the highest taxed communities in the country.

The truth is the per capita operational costs to Guelph citizens in 2015 was $3,213. That was a 56.2 per cent increase in just seven years. It is a statistic that is relevant.

The root of this is the high cost of overhead, the cost of running the city in which 80 per cent of employees are unionized. That percentage is even higher than Santa Monica’s civic workforce.

It is a problem that city council ignores and to its peril.

Here’s a personal real life story from a pensioner.

The elephant in the finance department is the silent liability of guaranteeing payment to hundreds of former employees if the pension management of the various plans fails to meet their obligation to support retirees for life. Council cannot take away defined pensions. Because this situation has been building for years, today there are growing numbers of retired employees, many of whom retired in their mid 50’s. This has lengthened the time they can draw their pensions that in most cases are indexed.

Here is an example that our family has experienced. My wife, the widow of a deceased Metro police officer, is a member of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Benefit Fund (MTPBF). It is a closed fund for the officers who contributed to the plan and their spouses. It is closed because the City of Toronto converted its various municipal pension plans to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Services (OMERS) for its police officers some 30 years ago. The MTPBF members were exempted from the OMERS merger.

The City of Toronto is sponsor of the MTBPF and is responsible to ensure solvency and payment of benefits to pensioners under the provisions of the Ontario Pension Benefits Law.

And the city has had to fund the amount of capital needed to accomplish this. More than $14 million has been added since 2014. Keep in mind there is a diminishing number of beneficiaries due to death. Eventually, as the numbers decrease, the costs of benefits reduce as well. In 1998, there were 2,430 members of the MTPBF. December 2015, there were 1,828 members, a reduction of 594 or 24.44 per cent.

It appears that the obligation of the City of Toronto to pay the MTPBF members is diminishing to the point where it will no longer have to guarantee the fund benefits. Because eventually there will be no pensioners alive to pay.

The problem is that only city council can approve any increase in the payout to MTPBF pensioners. As a result the amount paid to pensioners remained fixed for some eight years with no cost of living increase allowed.

So what has this to do with Guelph?

With a municipal staff of 2,200 of which 80 per cent are unionized and members of OMERS, there is another group of non-union employees representing a variety of managers and members of other associations.

It is this group, many of whom are senior managers working under tailored personal contracts who are eligible to have their pension payments guaranteed by the City of Guelph.

An example is the retirement of Police Chief Rob Davis. When he stepped down, he received a sick/vacation benefit of some $40,000. His indexed pension was some $130,000 upon retirement. To be fair the former chief used the rules to end his days on active duty.

This example portrays the point that the citizens are obligated to guarantee his benefits in retirement if his underlying pension system ever becomes insolvent.

Here are some suggestions to return our city to the people

* Reduce spending by staff in all areas. This would exclude police, fire and EMS. Freeze all hiring across the board including part-time and occasional staff. Specifically, demand all departments to reduce staff in two stages: Three per cent in the first six months of 2018 and four per cent in the last six months of the year. Total reduction is a 147 Fulltime Equivalent Employees out of a total of 2,200.

* Instruct legal staff to negotiate outstanding legal issues including labour negotiations to bring them to reach a settlement.

* Freeze hiring consultants for 12 months. Any exception would have to be justified by the Chief Administration Officer and approved by council. Close out current contracts.

* Instruct all departments to reduce non-staff expenses by 3 per cent in 2018. Have a staff report regarding the status of all mandated projects including infrastructure requirements and the affect on future cash flow.

* Cut city advertising and public affairs budgets, including a communications staff reduction by 25 per cent in 2018.

* Require River Run Centre and Sleeman Centre to be self-sustaining within one calendar year. These two public operations are being subsidized by the city of an estimated $783,000 annually.

* Review and suspend all public financial support of community groups until January 2019.

* Consult with the provincial government to increase the property tax deal enjoyed for 29 years by the University of Guelph to help meet the city’s 2019 financial needs. The amount is $75 per student has not been adjusted since 1987 when it was enacted.

* Suspend the Well-being funding program for one year or until a public review of where the money is being spent is completed and approved by an independent board.

* Pass a by-law to reduce the number of ward councillors to six in 2018 and make the job a fulltime position with appropriate remuneration and support. Following the Milton example of having a nine-member council, the Mayor and two councillors would be elected at large.

* Abolish the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer rank. Return to a two level system eliminating the costly DCAO designation. Replace it with department managers reporting directly to the CAO.

* Report quarterly, informing the public of the cost of all travel and associated expenses by staff and elected officials. Report all details of staff credit cards including all communications using city-supplied equipment.

* Publish an easy to understand financial summary every quarter detailing spending, new projects, budget deviations, current financial status.

* Appoint a citizen’s committee under the leadership of a qualified and respected library expert to study and recommend a public private partnership for a new downtown library.

* Form a task force composed of citizens and staff to study a public and private partnership to build the south-end recreation centre.

* Get aggressive to collect taxes in arrears and uncollected traffic fines.

* Take the necessary action to open a large grocery store in the east end of the city.

* Hold a conference with property developers and builders to explore ways and means to increase assessment through careful planning.

* Speed up the approval process for developers and new businesses.

* Provide budget support and incentives to the staff’s commercial and industrial development team to seek business and encourage candidates to settle in Guelph.

* Renegotiate the deal with Maple Reinders re operation of the organic wet-waste plant.

* Invoke a sunshine bylaw that opens all council meetings to the public. Cancel all in-camera council meetings held before the public council meeting. Exceptions would be negotiations regarding city-owned real estate, all employee contract negotiations and problems associated with employees. Council, in advance, would have to explain to the public why such an in camera meeting was necessary.

* Have the Mayor give a monthly status report on the city with an overview of finances and status of major projects. It should be real news oriented and not propaganda.

* A customer service team should be trained to answer public questions and complaints. This group would follow-up to ensure the affected department handled the query promptly.

* Abolish the present security system at city hall so that any person can enter and access council and staff at any time. This is a public building owned by the people.

* Amalgamate the response teams for police, fire and EMS to a singular administration and call centre.

* Review the operations of the fire department to reduce operations that are often duplicated by other public safety services.

* Review all bylaws with the city’s legal team to reduce the obfuscation and redundancy of current business practices.

 

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