Tag Archives: Guelph Transit

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.






Filed under Between the Lines

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.





Filed under Between the Lines

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.


Filed under Between the Lines

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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Filed under Between the Lines