Tag Archives: Guelph Transit

When Gerry met Sally and other taxing issues

By Gerry Barker

September 11, 2017

Heard from a number of people this week questioning administration decisions that end up costing citizens. Here are three examples.

The pitch to spend $90,000 for security guards at City Hall

The first example is a report that the city wants to hire five security officers plus a vehicle to protect the city staff from the taxpayers who are entitled to voice their complaints at the welcome desk in the foyer of our city hall.

The lead in the local weekly was that the Mayor overheard an individual being rude with the staff at the customer service desk. Turns out, according to the city supplied statistics, that in 2016, there were 448 security calls for staff assistance at city hall and 216 police responses. The occurrences are increasing this year.

The staff is recommending hiring two security guards as well as purchasing a vehicle for their use at an estimated cost of $90,000. The matter was deferred until the 2018 budget negotiations commence later this year.

In the grand scheme of things it could be argued that $90K is no big deal when the whole city operating budget will be more than $350 million. But it is a big deal.

As a public service here are some considerations.

* Under what authority can these proposed security guards act? Will they be armed? Why is a vehicle required if they are stationed at City Hall? What kind of training and background will be required?

The role of the police is quite clear. They are required to protect public property. But it seems that the degree of service staff discomfort in certain situations determines who should respond for assistance.

It is tricky and happens often, totaling 664 calls in 2016 for a quick decision by service staff as to whom to call for assistance. I am curious over those numbers compared to other peer cities and how they handle encounters with the public staff.

The report in the weekly said issues include: “Disturbances, drug related calls, intoxication, trespassing, theft, vandalism, assault against staff and the public.”

It would appear all those occurrences called for police response except “disturbances”. Aren’t all those examples disturbances?

Here are a couple of immediate solutions:

One, select two volunteers from the current staff, train them with no reduction in their previous salary, skip the vehicle and have them in uniform during the hours the city hall is open to the public. No increase in costs because we are already paying them.

Along comes Sally

The other solution is to have a trained Doberman named Sally behind the counter in full view and tied to a quick release button. Sally would become the guardian of the service desk at City Hall but not to be petted. There is a technicality, who walks the dog and who is the handler? Sally could do double duty chasing the geese from the parks when not guarding city hall.

The other benefit is Sally could have pups and begin a Doberman dynasty being guardians of the public places. And the overhead of training and controlling Sally would be dog chow compared to the $90,000 recommended by the staff.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. But this is a management problem that involves personnel training, discipline and police support. The Mayor is right when he says City Hall should be safe and open to the public. He may also investigate why there appears to be an increasing number of incidents at the service desk. Perhaps it may be the increasing dissatisfaction with the city operations?

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After six years, why is Guelph’s recycling operation losing $2.5 million a year?

A report by Tony Saxon in the online report Guelph Today, says that the blue box system of collecting recyclable materials is costing $2.5 million annually less than the $4.9 million that the facility recovers after sorting.

Here are a couple of problems. One is the revelation that Environmental Services is accepting containers of recyclable material from Simcoe County. The other is another area of the deal struck with the Region of Waterloo to process 20,000 tonnes of wet waste to be processed in the $34 million organic waste compost facility. That target has yet to be reached but volumes of wet waste from Waterloo are increasing.

While the two are not related they are part of the six departments of the city’s waste management organization. What connects them is decisions by the previous administration turning Guelph into a waste dump for other municipalities. Why do citizens have to finance overbuilt facilities costing an estimated $55 million in capital funding to service other municipalities?

Neither of these facilities has met its operating costs since inception. In the case of the organic composting plant, it is not operated by city personnel but by a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the builder of the facility. It’s ironic that Guelph citizens who financed the facility cannot even obtain any compost provided by the plant. It’s sold elsewhere.

Did waste management not learn anything about accepting recyclables from Detroit that cost some $1.5 million when the alleged contract was shut down? Solid Waste General Manager, Dean Wyman, told council that an extra shift was needed to process the Detroit material but the city would make $370,000 per year. The fallout of this and other mismanagement issues included the retirement of former Executive Director Janet Laird of Environmental Services, and GM Wyman who resigned to take a job in Edmonton.

The historical reasons for this waste management failure to deliver results costing millions of dollars rests with the former Farbridge administration. Public funds invested in a variety of projects and schemes were designed to slow delivery of garbage to the land fill site.

That target alone has failed, as there is still a high percentage of waste still going to the landfill since 2011, when the organic processing facility became operational.

This was all the doing of the council of the period headed by former Mayor Karen Farbridge. She was aided by a cadre of supporters who believed that the money they were spending was making their city a world-class leader in waste management.

The decision to import other municipalities’ garbage to Guelph was an example of the terrible business plans associated with these waste management projects. Already there are rumblings of outsourcing the operations to private enterprise. The unions that could be affected are readying their opposition.

Here is a one example of how outsourcing will pay off and save up to $4.9 million per year. Cut a deal with Waste Management to process Guelph’s recyclables in their upscale automated plant. Depending on the terms of the Simcoe County contract, wrap it up. Shut down the Guelph recycling facility.

All that is required is political will. It’s something to think about when the 2018 budget is being crafted for next year’s civic election.

The people are the key to making change. They did it in 2014 when Cam Guthrie defeated the former Mayor by more than 5,000 votes. It can happen again.

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Guelph Transit route changes map is like interpreting a Salvador Dali painting

The city news section of the local weekly printed a full-page diagram of the new route changes of Guelph Transit. I do not use Guelph Transit but if I did, I would need an interpreter trying to follow that ad illustration.

Someone commented that the new routes are designed to serve the 20,000 incoming University students. There is no doubt they are imporant customers as they must pay $75 per semester for a bus pass. The average course includes two semesters per school year that amounts to $3 million in revenue every seven months.

The next questioin is what is the total budget of Guelph Transit? The last time I checked about four years ago, the city was subsidizing the system by $12 million. That being true, it would appear that the citizens are paying a huge price every year to supply public transportation. It is a system used by less than ten per cent of the permanent population.

Guelph needs a system of public transit, if for no other reason than to cope with the growing mobile population and changing demographics. But it went off the rails in the previous administration. As long as I can remember in ten yeas of commenting, there has been a transit strike by the union representing the workers. Also there was the matter in 2013 when an audit by the internal auditor of the system’s overtime charges revealed a cost of $1 million for a staff of about 350. That year it averaged $2,857 for each employee.

More worrying is the number of Guelph Transit general managers who have been employed and released. So what’s wrong? The first thing is to bring clarity and transparency to the table. This could result in everyone on staff being accountable.

It is unreasonable for a system this size with our city geography to be profitable. If, as former councillor Maggie Laidlaw once predicted, there would be no cars on Guelph streets within 20 years – I believe we have ten years to go to fulfill her prediction. Maggie was an ardent cyclist, rain or shine and believed that fossil-fueled vehicles had to go.

Well, the opposite has occurred and there are more cars and trucks on our streets than ever before. And the traffic congestion has been exacerbated by the previous administration’s policies to reduce vehicle traffic lanes on major routes to accommodate wider bicycle lanes that frequently start somewhere and end nowhere.

This social experiment has cost millions at the expense of ignoring badly needed infrastructure repair and replacement. The city staff recently stated the cost to carry out necessary infrastructure needs was more than $400 million.

There are a number of bus pull-offs that could allow buses to pull off the main road to load and unload patrons. These pull off inserts would halt the stopping of all vehicles when a bus must stay on the road to allow passengers to load or unload. Costly? Yes, but a necessary accommodation for traffic to move without delays.

We need the system but not at this price. It is difficult to understand why buses are running routes mostly empty daily, particularly in the summer months. In my opinion, indicates that Guelph Transit needs to do a serious rethink of its task based on total city usage by residents and the students.

 

 

 

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Is the police headquarters project the new Urbacon?

By Gerry Barker

December 1, 1915

It does not surprise anyone that when the Farbridge council approved spending $34.1 million in August 2014 to renovate Guelph Police Headquarters, that it would actually cost more.

This week it was announced that the completion date has been moved to the winter or fall of 2018, a year later than planned. So the Guelph Police Services Board, (GPSB) overseeing this major project, received this information last September but waited two months to announce the delays.

Apparently, last year the board expressed concerns about exceeding the approved amount of $34.1 million and the consultant, KPMG, warned the overruns could exceed $5 million.

On December 9, the bids for completing the work must be tendered, four months later than originally planned.

The cause of this delay has been the redesigning of the original plans that were described by Deputy Chief Paul Martin as being “conceptual.”

So the plans that were chiefly sold to council by former Police Chief Bryan Larkin were “conceptual.” What was the basis of this concept? The GPSB hired consultants KPMG to develop a plan so that council would see how and where the money they were being asked to approve, was going.

In polite circles that might be described as being stupid and careless with the people’s money. And now it has taken a year to redesign the place.

This deception can be likened to General Motors announcing the retail price of a new concept car before the actual engineering and development costs are determined.

The question is who is in charge of this project? Is it the city planning and building staff? After all, the money is coming from the city. Or was it the GPSB and its officials? Whatever, the experience delivered by a superior court judge in the Urbacon lawsuit gives ample advice on controlling the project or failing to do so.

Is this project like the new city hall that managed to go over the original contract price by more that 50 per cent? The former mayor and Coun. Leanne Piper, the city representatives on the GPSB, were responsible for convincing council to underwrite the police headquarters renovation.

It now appears that the public was duped into believing that the price was right. As it turned out, most people were not fooled and defeated or forced out the mayor and a number of her council supporters.

But Piper was re-elected and is silent on her role in lowballing the anticipated real cost of the police headquarters renovation. Now it is revealed that the completion date has been moved up by a year.

Does this not have a familiar ring to it? Weren’t there more than 300 change orders issued during the new city hall construction that delayed completion? We now know that the general contractor was fired and it cost the city an additional $23 million because it lost the resulting lawsuit.

Because of a year of tinkering with the “conceptual plan” one has to wonder who has been paying for all this redesign work for the 13 months? Is it part of the original $34.1 million?

Because of the delay in requesting bids, that old devil inflation affects what the best-laid plans of Farbridge, Piper and Larkin who concocted to convince council to approve the project.

The consultant, whose warning that the project would cost $5 million more than the approved figure, was not revealed until this week. Right now, with the yearlong delay, the bids are going to surprise a lot of people. Would you believe more than $40 million?

In view of Guelph’s dreadful reputation of dealing with major construction projects, the bidders will build in a lot of insurance to protect their interests to avoid the shabby treatment the Urbacon Buildings Group Corp was forced to go through.

If she has any respect for the public’s interests, Leanne Piper should resign her position representing the city on the police board, and consider redemption for her role in the police headquarters project, the Urbacon affair and the Guelph Civic Museum cost overruns.

It’s the right thing to do.

What is the cost to citizens? The new City Hall, $23 million more than the contract price, Civic Museum, $4 million more than the contract price. The actual costs of the Police Headquarters renovation has yet to be determined and we won’t know until 2018, an election year.

 

 

 

 

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Guelph’s financial dilemma is rooted in high staff costs

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 17, 2015

It’s the dirty big secret that is driving up costs and so far, council does not want to tackle it.

It’s the untouchable cost of running a city after nine years of non-stop wages and benefits grow exponentially exceeding the Consumer Price index (CPI) by a country mile. Throw in the more than 400 new, fulltime equivalent employees added in that time, and taxpayers are being forced to ante up every year to keep up.

The truth is that 80 per cent of the property tax levies goes to pay the city staff.

So when the staff submits its estimate of the property tax increase for 2016 of 1.58 per cent to city council, it is a mythical figure that has little basis of reality. It’s the equivalent of the workers at Linamar telling the management how much they think it’s going to cost to produce car parts.

So they scare council’s Farbridge majority by saying the Guelph Transit fares are going up and weekend and holiday service will be reduced to save $1.5 million.

Compared to the 2013 Guelph Transit overtime bill of more than $5 million, that’s chicken feed.

Oh, woe is me! Says Coun. Phil Allt who again, insists Guelph has to get cars off the road and only public transit is the answer. So the left-brain cramp of some members of council, is maintaining the “war on cars” that beats on in an addled manner.

It’s all part of the senior staff game to serve and protect … their interests, not those who must pay the bills. And there are a number of senior managers that don’t even live or pay taxes in Guelph.

In the past ten years, the growth of Guelph city staff exceeded the growth of our population by 85 per cent.

And it’s not just occurring in Guelph.

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says in part that: “We have been hearing about cities having a revenue problem, but it’s clear it’s a spending problem they are dealing with,” said Laura Jones, CFIB executive vice president.

The CFIB report states that a municipal employee in Canada is paid 22 per cent more than an employee in the private sector doing the same job.

“When you look closely, it’s easy to see employee compensation is the root of the municipal spending problem,” said Nina Gormanns, co-author of the report.

This report comes in concert with the Fair Pensions for All organization that has been warning municipalities, for many years of the risks of increasing the size of staff and the increasing benefits paid to those workers.

In fact, the organization presented a documented report to the former Farbridge council, indicating the growing pension liabilities the city was facing. It was ignored and a number of Farbridge followers ridiculed the findings.

So the staff strategy is to use Guelph Transit as the target to reduce costs instead of recommending staff reductions. The city recently commissioned a consultant report to review city operations.

The BMA municipal consultants are not unfamiliar with the way our city is being managed, having done a similar report in 2011 that cost $480,442 to complete.

This year’s report gives the city operations a passing grade in almost all aspects except for a “cautionary red flag” on the underfunded reserves. Once in a while it is right to speak the truth.

You cannot raid three reserve funds to pay a lawsuit liability of $8.96 million without a firm plan to pay the money back. In approving the 2015 budget last March 25, Coun. Karl Wettstein, the elder statesman of the Farbridge Seven on council, made a motion to reduce the $900,000 scheduled repayment to the reserve funds to $500,000. That passed.

Councillors Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland were on the Farbridge council that witnessed the firing in September 2008 of Urbacon Buildings Group, Corp., the general contractor of the new City hall.

They have never accepted responsibility for that action that triggered a $23 million overrun of the project. For that matter, neither has the former mayor ever admitted any responsibility.

The people understood and voted the mayor out of office.

So when the 2016 budget is approved in December, don’t be surprised if it is another 3.5 per cent increase of property taxes, plus user fees and more staff.

You read it here first.

 

 

 

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City survey reveals 87 per cent of respondents don’t use Guelph Transit

Posted July 8, 2012

Is it my imagination or are there a lot of city trasit buses riding around town with few passengers?

The answer my friends pops up another city survey about the percentage of people who are aware of the new  waste collection program using bins. Of the 411 respondents, 98 per cent said they are aware. The city supplied the list of addresses that was massaged by a Kitchener survey company.

The most interesting question in the survey was asking the 411 respondents if they used Guelph Transit. Some 87 per cent they didn’t ride the buses or 357 voted against using public transit.

This is not an encouraging result. Seeing that taxpayers pony-up more than $12 million a year to keep those busses running, one would hope for a bigger bang for the buck.

Judging by the number of beefs raised by riders, there is general acceptance of the transfer point change from St. George’s Square to the new  transit terminal near the train station. Now the business people around St.George’s are complaining about a fall-off of patronage.

Ah! The problem of unintended consequences.

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Media Watch – January 14, 2011

Sugar and Spice and dolls make Guelph Santa nice

Tribune columnist Alan Pickersgill brings readers up to date on Mayor Karen Farbridge’s latest triumph. The Mayor usually gets blamed for everything that goes wrong.

She can point to her city coming first among 378 North American cities as the new home of Santa Claus if forced to leave the North Pole due to global warming. The study was completed by Toronto university students who apparently don’t have enough to do.

The criteria is the number of cookie factories; milk producers; doll and game manufacturing facilities; postal workers and couriers; and department stores in each city.

Let’s hear it for Mayor Karen!

We’re Number One! We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

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Student housing dilemma: Not in my neighbourhood, please!

According to a letter by Patrick Kubicki in The Mercury, not even University of Guelph President Alastair Summerlee wants his students living in or near the university.

The student housing situation continues to fester as residents put up with the actions of young people whooping it up when away from home.

There is little support for stricter regulation of off-campus student housing. Councillors turn the other cheek and the university leadership shrugs seeing it as not their problem. Well, it is their problem and city council.

Operating student housing in residential neighbourhoods only benefits the few landlords at the expense of the citizens who own homes there. It’s time for a fix by the city to clamp down on these student houses by inspecting regularly to prevent abuse of the bylaws.

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Nobody likes the Guelph Transit route changes

How long does it take to reroute transit buses? In Guelph’s case it has been an ongoing project for more than eight months. When launch day arrived at the beginning of the year, everyone, drivers, passengers and commuters all protested the changes.

Andrew Cleary, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1189, writes in The Mercury that a lack of training has left drivers “struggling to learn new routes in an unsafe and unhealthy environment.”

Question: Were operator’s conditions safe and healthy before the route changes?  Just asking.

This self-serving piety about how tough the job is resonates as pure political positioning by the union preparing for the next round of negotiations.

The outcome has not gone as smoothly as it should. If transit management failed to instruct the drivers on the new routes then they are as culpable as the union. As usual the passengers and taxpayers are left standing in the cold waiting for the next bus to come.

Late News Flash

Check out Ken Spira’s comment in Guelphspeaks re the Microbe Motel scandal. Ken’s leadership and contribution in exposing the boondoggle that the Farbridge administration has foisted on the public, is an example of great citizen involvement and stewardship

Ken is founder and president of the Guelph Waste Management Committee and a member of the Public Advisory Committee (PAC)  PAC has been commissioned by the city to examine the operations of the $33 million waste management plant, known popularly as the Microbe Motel.

Reading his comments sends a shiver down the back on how money is wasted.

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