Tag Archives: Guelph

Why the indelible stain of council secrecy still muzzles our right to public participation concerning public interests

By Gerry Barker

June 24, 2019

Opinion based on facts

Here are some of the tools of secrecy and controlling the message as practised by the Guelph Council since 2007:

* Conducting its business in closed-sessions.

* Retaining London-based Amberlea Gravel as special investigators of closed- sessions since 2008 and are on annual retainer.

* Establishing a system of discussing the public business as the Committee of the Whole (COW) eliminating the various committees of council.

* On the pretext of efficiency, using the councillor’s Code of Conduct to prevent any leaks of closed-session meetings or face discipline by the Integrity Commissioner who reports to council and is on retainer.

* Controlling the message by buying advertising space in the Guelph Mercury Tribune weekly newspaper passing it off as “City News” and not labeling it as advertising.

* The city communication staff prepares the content of these ads.

* The impact of this is that the Tribune editorial material rarely is critical of the city administration and rewrites press releases handed out by city staff.

* This results in muzzling any matter that council decides requires a closed-session to discuss responding to public participation with a potential negative outcome.

* The closing of the Guelph Mercury in January 2016 was the end of responsible print coverage of the public business.

* The fallout of denying public participation results in voter manipulation, that in October 2018 civic election resulted in the lowest voter turnout in many years. All of the incumbents who ran were re-elected.

* This was caused by voter suppression by giving Guelph Hydro away to Alectra utilities without the stakeholders being given no specific information about the terms and specific conditions of the deal. And that included most members of council and the sycophantic media.

The denial of online voting by city council also contributed to a lower turnout.

Guelph has been in the hands of successive administrations that used all the tools mentioned above, to obscure the truth and resulting in financial damages.

Why did the CAO drop out?

Let’s talk about recent examples of the fog of obscurity that is employed daily by the senior city staff and city council.

Last March, the Chief Administrative officer, Derrick Thomson, “parted ways” with the city by mutual agreement. The city did not state the circumstances of its CAO leaving.

The 2018 provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning more than $100,000 a year was published. It revealed that Mr. Thomson received $335,000.

That was some $67,000 plus a taxable benefit of $11,000 more than he earned in 2017. This time, Mayor Guthrie told city council it was a bonus for Mr. Thomson’s role as co -chair of the Strategic Options Committee that was charged with disposing of Guelph Hydro.

Citizens and members of council still don’t know how that worked out.

There is one other detail. In September 2018, Mr. Thomson received a one-year extension to his existing contract that would end in April 2020.

We are not aware of why he suddenly left on a Friday afternoon in March or the circumstances of his $67,000 bonus or the reason for his departure.

There was no succession plan in place as the three remaining Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, (DCAO) were named to handle the duties of the departed CAO. That process is estimated to continue until August when a new CAO will be either named or hired.

The fog of secrecy continues unabated

Again, secrecy is used to cover –up why Mr. Thomson left without a successor in place and received a whopping great bonus for his role in dumping Guelph Hydro.

It is mindful of the games played in 2016. Mr. Thomson resigned in January. CAO Ann Pappert announced her resignation in mid-April agreeing to stay on until a successor was named. She left May 26, 2016.

Behold! Mr. Thomson agreed to a three-year contract as CAO and rejoined the staff in June 2016. Case closed or so we thought.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

In March 2017, the Sunshine List revealed that in 2016, Ms. Pappert received a 12-month salary of $263,000 but only worked five months.

There was no explanation from the Guthrie administration as to why she received a full year’s salary, adjusted for inflation. The only hint came in August 2016 when

Coun. Cathy Downer asked the city HR department for a breakdown of Ms. Pappert’s 2015 salary and benefits payment.

The report stated that Ms. Pappert received a retroactive performance bonus of $27,0000 part of her 2015 salary of $253,000. Again, there is no explanation supporting the bonus.

When compared to the $67,000 in 2018 performance bonus paid to Mr. Thomson, her’s is penny ante.

The spin is in and it’s with our money

That friends, is why and how successive city administrations continue to flaunt your rights by going to ground through closed-sessions over which we have no recourse. There were 84 such closed-session of coumcil in 2015 and 2016.

I know because I requested the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed-session meeting of council and received an answer four months later denying my request.

Now I know why.

In 11 days, my legal counsel will present my statement of defence. We will request for a dismissal of the lawsuit accusing me of defamation in 2016. The action was brought in November 2016 by a former DCAO whose legal expenses are being paid by the city.

Thursday morning, April 4, at 10 a.m. in the Wellington County Court House, the motion to dismiss will be heard by a Superior Court Justice.

Based on the current law, the outcome will depend entirely on the facts presented to the judge.

I have already paid a severe personal price for revealing the truth. I am hoping that this hearing will force real accountability and transparency of all operations of our city’s business. This would include a complete public overhaul of the council’s procedural bylaws.

I feel that I underestimated the power of successive administrations to stifle and, cover-up using our money to stop criticism and challenge to public operations.

That is the essence of voter suppression, using secrecy while managing our public business without recourse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is the Police HQ renovation completion delay another Urbacon debacle?

By Gerry Barker

June 17, 2019

Opinion

Mercy me. The similarities between the two most major construction of city buildings, since the Urbacon debacle that ended with the city being found responsible for firing the general contractor.

In 2014, an election year, it didn’t stop city council from approving the $34.1 million renovation of the 40.7 year-old headquarters. When first built in 1960, the city’s population was 38,000. In 1989, the building was retrofitted and a new wing added.

In 2014, the need was apparent, as the city population is now more than 131,000.

Is it déjà vu, all over again?

The new city hall and provincial court project in the old city hall took five years to complete and a cost overrun of $23 million. Now we have the case of the Police headquarters renovation that was approved in August 2014 and has yet to be completed 4.7 years later. The final cost has yet to be determined as the construction was impacted by excessive bedrock formations for new buildings on the site. Also winter weather conditions stalled construction.

This brings us to a new staff proposal to increase the city debt by $33.1 million. In 2017, according to the city, the debt was $110 million. At the end of 2018, the debt was reported as $96 million.

That’s progress right?

Here are the caveats about increasing the city debt

Council, at its June 24 meeting must approve the new debt terms and conditions. However, the staff will present the final numbers and associated cost to council July 8, 2019 according to the news report.

Is that a typo? The staff report follows council approval? It’s time to jack up the car and change the oil.

The new debt is guaranteed by the City of Guelph and it has a 20-year term when fully repaid in 2039, according to the staff report, the end cost of this new loan is $47.8 million.

The lender is not identified nor is the interest rate or any adjustments over the term of the loan.

If now approved the city debt will increase from $96 million in 2018 to $129 million this year. Is it possible that we ordinary citizens could handle the cost of a 29 per cent increase in our debt over 20 years?

FYI, starting next year, the city will be paying $862,000 per year costing 29 per cent more for its 2019 assumed debt.

So, where is the new money being spent?

Of the $33.1 million, $15.1 million is to be spent on the Police HQ renovation and the Wilson Street Parkade, both under construction; some $1.3 million will be spent replacing transit fare boxes; $1.6 million for fuel tank replacement at the city’s operations facility.

The amount to be spent on the two major projects was not spelled out.

It should be noted that the city approved a $16 million debenture for the Police HQ renovation that started in April 2016. The Police Services Board contributed some $3 million toward the renovation. That brought the outstanding balance to $14.1 million to meet the original approved cost of $34.1 million.

This does not include change orders or other unexpected costs that can increase the original council approval last August 2014.

The Wilson Street Parkade financing is murky. Last year, Mayor Guthrie announced the estimated $350 million Baker Street project would include a new downtown library, that is a key part of the plan. Barely mention, the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade was included in the original Baker Street project estimates.

Indeed, many a promise is embedded before an election.

Putting it all together, the report does not specify how and where the balance of the $33.1 million debt funds will be spent. So far, there is some $14.1 million still not allocated.

The other missing piece of promises made is the fate of the $63 million South End Recreation Centre. The city has already spent $3.5 million on preliminary plans from general revenues.

Incidently, whatever happened to that $18.5 million so-called dividend to be received from Guelph Hydrp following the merger with Alectra Utilities?

In my opinion, these developments are paying for a horribly mismanaged past that has milked the citizen’s ability to pay their obligations to the administration.

Under the present administration, don’t expect its collective ambition and disdain for professionalism that in the past four years has turned Guelph into an island of managemnt mediocrity in terms of not serving the people’s interests and blithely ignoring the fallout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Guelph’s property tax rate increases every year is 2.5 times that of inflation

By Gerry Barker

June 10, 2019

Opinion

I learned last week that the 2019 property tax rate in Guelph was 3.14 per cent. Significantly higher than the 2.63 per cent increase that was announced three moths’ ago by Mayor Cam Guthrie. Check your tax bill and you will discover the increase is higher in the final two payments..

The annual April tax rate adjustments were factored including such increases of property assessments. The Mayor’s December announcement turned out not to be true.

In fact it is a 19.33 per cent increase. Budgets are created to guide management to control the unexpected and revenues of the corporation. After years of going through the process of preparing a budget, one would think that there should be accurate information available to report to the public of the activated financial state of their municipality.

The process begins in October as the staff prepares its estimates and recommendations to city council. There are  public meetings and proposals, usually involving requests for funding.

Budgets are not cast in stone but the number of fixed and variable costs must be analyzed and hard numbers developed by staff. It is a complicated and highly detailed exercise requiring insights and accountability both by staff and members of council.

Having said all this for some time, 12 years in fact, the process performance has been fraught with demands from special interest groups within and outside the organization responsible to the public who are the ultimate stakeholders.

What other cities are doing to keep costs under control

I received a detailed study of the average cost of homes in 25 Canadian cities and a deeper illustration of the average 2018 home values and property tax rates in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Canadian study by Zoocasa, is a reputable company that analyzed real estate values and property tax rates across the country. I should emphasize that the following data is sourced directly from each municipality’s official websites.

Let’s compare Guelph’s tax data with a number of municipalities in Ontario.

The average 2018 home price in Guelph is $436,600. The property tax rate is 1.17125.

This would qualify the claim often written in guelphspeaks.ca that Guelph‘s property tax rates are among the highest in the study. In fact, there are 19 municipalities in the Canadian sample having lower property tax rates than Guelph.

Here are two loca cities in the Canadian study:

Municipality   Cdn   home value   property tax rate   (less than Guelph)

Kitchener             19            $489,607-          1.12975                        (.0415%)

Waterloo            16            $489,607            1,10785                         (.0634%)

Guelph, Kitchener and Waterloo all have major universities and a community college with campuses in Kitchener, Guelph, Cambridge and Waterloo.

In the GTA portion of the study, closer to home, here are other comparative property tax rates and home values:

Municipality    GTA   home value    property tax rate    (less thanGuelph)           

Barrie                     20            $479,579                .0000                          (.1725%)

Caledon                 16             $874,690                .84010                       (.330115)

Milton                      5            $701,595                .69790                         (.47335%)

Oakville                  9            $1,074230                .75280                        (.41845%)

The exodus from Toronto’s high priced housing

Toronto’s housing prices are forcing confronting young families seeking lower cost dwellings with more space, has caused higher home prices in some, but not all, surrounding cities and towns.

Those seeking lower housing costs should understand that not all municipalities are equal when it comes to paying property taxes and user fees. Also to be considered is the track record of potential municipalities in terms of the growth of property tax rates and appreciation of home values over time.

If you choose a municipality that has an average annual property tax rate of three per cent, such as Guelph, as your new home value increases you end up paying more taxes every year that increase your real out-if-pocket costs.

A reality check

However, living in a region with a low tax rate doesn’t necessarily translate to paying less tax if average home prices are higher.

For example, the Toronto tax rate is 0.63551 per cent, which translates into $5,532 of property taxes based on the average June 2018 home value of $870,559. In comparison, the Edmonton tax rate is 0.86869 per cent or about 1.4 times that of Toronto’s.

But the average home value in Edmonton is substantially lower at $381,520, which would result in a lower amount of property taxes overall at $3,314.

This is not the case in Guelph where every new property development increase will drive city property taxes much higher.

This illustrates why property tax rate and user fee increases facing Guelph every year.

In 2018 we had a high tax rate of 1.17125 per cent and an average home price of $436,600, any increase in home prices in Guelph will result in higher taxes for all property owners due to existing high property tax rates plus a one per cent special levy for infrastructure costs.

There is also a large range in property rates for Ontario cities: London’s rate of 1.35082 per cent is more than double Toronto’s rate while Ottawa’s rate of 1.06841 per cent is 1.6 times that of Toronto’s.

Underlying this is the effect of rising assessments of properties by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation of Ontario, or MPAC. When properties are assessed higher that impacts on the owner’s cost of living in the chosen community.

The last three Guelph administrations have created a property tax rate crisis by demanding annual property tax rate increases of more than three per cent or 2.5 times the rate of inflation in Ontario. In 12 years this practice has exponentially increased property taxes beyond the rate of inflation.

Ignoring the voice of experience

Two years ago, Guelph resident Pat Fung, a chartered accountant who analyzed the financial data as published by the neighbouring municipalities, sounded the alarm.

The result revealed that Guelph’s operating overhead far exceeded that of Cambridge and Kitchener. His detailed 2,700-word report was presented to city council who ignored the details. The local weekly newspaper turned down publishing the report and also a paid advertisement to explain the details.

Mayor Cam Guthrie campaigned in 2014 how he was gong to reduce property taxes to the level of the Consumer Price Index that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

In his first budget the city council voted to increase the 2015 property tax rate following the annual spring budget adjustments, was 3.96 per cent.

City council since 2007 has increased property taxes annually by, on average, more than three per cent. There are major cities in Ontario that don’t even come close to those rates.

Guelph’s home development consisted mostly of connected strips homes, plus low-rise condos in a planning principle known as Intensification. The effect of this has resulted in higher property tax per acre revenue plus development fees. This is successive administration denying single-family housing development.

While other municipalities were more prudent in delivering economic development, Guelph’s leadership proceeded to blunder into ill planned and mismanagement of projects and assets.

The majority of city councillors have perpetuated these annual property tax rate increases. Now we see the proof of the disastrous decisions that have been made and the lack of responsible financial planning and execution.

Still not convincd?

Think why the former mayor needed capital projects that every year council bypasses to spend capital on acquiring part of the reformatory lands; was spending millions on underground thermal cooling and heating for large buildings; attempting unsuccessfully, to establish the city as being self-sufficient in terms of electric power under the guise of a District Energy program.

On that last point, the Guthrie administration virtually gave the city-owned Guelph Hydro facilities away to a deep-pocketed private power distributor Alectra Utilities. The whole kit and kaboodle for a tiny piece of 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profit.

Now that’s coordinating capital planning and directing spending. And we are still waiting for a new downtown library and South End Recreation Centre.

Although the city tapped property owners with a special levy of one per cent to spend on “City Buildings,” read that as preliminary planning for the South End Centre. As of 2018 some $3.5 million had been spent planning the site and facilities to eventually cost $63 million.

It is an example of voodoo money management by taking $700,000 budgeted for new parking meter heads on downtown streets. To most people it was another backroom deal to reduce the number of fossil-fueled vehicles on the city. Millions werespent on expanding bike lanes, lane shrinkage to accommodate the bicycles and environmental projects such as the failed roof garden on top of the new city hall.

Speaking of parking. Why did council approve spending $22 million on a multi-storey parking garage next to city hall? Who does it serve? You may ask. With the majority of spaces being assigned to monthly permit holders, it isn’t downtown shoppers.

Here is the formula to remember:

Annual increases of intensification mixed use development;

Plus – annual increased property tax rates;

Plus – increased market values of property;

Plus – increased property assessments;

Equals = increased annual cost of owning propert in Guelph.

The key to stopping this annual bleeding of property taxpayers is to lower operating costs, freeze special interest spending, focus on building capital projects that people need today, not years from now. Conduct a review of all operations by a professional firm.

This last point is the tough one. It will be opposed by the majority of the present councillors who, in all probability, will block any outside study of operations. However, it is the only way that can assess the operational problems and report the solutions.

 

 

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Was Derrick Thomson’s 2018 bonus of $67,703 then leaving a cover up?

By Gerry Barker

June 3. 2019

Opinion and commentary

The definition of free speech is covered under the Charter of Rights of the Canadian constitution.

However, there are other measures that protect the right of citizens to freely address the issues of the public’s business. And do it without fear of retaliation by deep-pocketed institutions. These include governments at all levels, corporations, and the public servants who claim defamation with their legal expenses paid by their employer.

For example, I learned last week that the 2019 property tax rate in Guelph was 3.14 per cent following the annual April city budget adjustments, including applying increased assessments.

It happens every year.

When the budget was passed last December, Mayor Guthrie proclaimed the 2019 property tax increase of 2.63 per cent was the lowest in years.

That friends, turned out to be not true. It is an example of fake news that was spoken by the Mayor knowing full well there would be adjustments when all details are finalized by the financial department.

We are already aware of the staff senior manager’s salary and benefit increases that are never disclosed until reported in the annual provincial Sunshine List. The names of very public employee in Ontario earning more than $100,000 are published each March.

Why do we have to wait for the Sunshine List to learn of the the Guelph salaries for the previous year? The city files the staff information to the province and must realize their decisions will be available to the public. Not even the Sunshine list reveals the reason for changes in salary and benefits..

It should be noted that negotiations with the Chief Administration Officer, the only senior manager who reports to council are held in closed session. The council authority is the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001-239 (2) (b) and (d). That information is not readily available to the public and lacks accountability and transparency (A & T)?

Does that qualify to meet the city’s own pledge to maintain an open government?

This is only the tip of the iceberg that our civic government continues to manipulate pubic information to serve its interests. It is done by concealing the details of a perceived potentially contentious issue behind a barrier of arcane regulations. Or otherwise failing to provide the public with the details of the final outcome. Is this not the epitome of Fake News?

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain conditions in which discussion must be withheld from the public

Here’s another example of message manipulation

The former CAO, Derrick Thomson’s, 2018 salary was revealed in the 2018 Sunshine list. His salary was $335,081.60 plus a taxable benefit of $11,393.57.

Shortly after the Sunshine report was published, in a March 18, 2019 meeting of council, Mayor Guthrie advised that Mr. Thomson received an additional $67,703.59 in compensation in 2018 as per Staff Report CS 2019 – 53.

This increase stated the Mayor was in recognition of Mr. Thomson’s work as co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, concerning the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities that was finalized in January 2019.

Mr. Thomson’s co-chair on the SOC was Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who was appointed by council to be the city’s representative over five years on the Alectra Utilities Board of Directors. Her reported compensation is $25,000 salary plus travel and per diem expenses when attending Alectra meetings.

Council knew in February the CAO was leaving in March

The most interesting part of Mr. Thomson’s career in Guelph was the meeting in February this year in which city council and Mr. Thomson agreed to “part ways,” The result was that the public was not informed of the impact of this decision until March 18 when the 2018 Sunshine list was published.

It appears the cat was out of the bag. But why?

The Mayor’s March 18 explanation to council about Mr. Thomson’s generous $67,703.59 bonus in 2018 seems strange and was awarded before the Ontario Energy Board approval was completed in January regarding the merger of the two utilities.

Speculation is rampant of Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure in March and the reasons remain unknown.

It has always been a mystery to me why the City of Guelph has stifled public participation concerning issues of interest to which the public is entitled.

This is not the first time that senior managers have received large increases and bonuses, withholding the details until the Sunshine List is published.

The administration continues to baffle the public using misinformation, publishing information on its website without informing the public, paying to advertise the “City News” in the only print publication remaining. This alone casts doubt of control over the news pages where advertising and editorial departments should operate separately from each other.

The citizens of Guelph deserve an administration that is competent, devoid of self-serving projects, function as a an open government, accountable and transparent.

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One a personal not: My wife, Barbara Barker, has been invited to display her artwork in the Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich Street. With the assistance of Ted Pritchard, she is displaying 21 paintings she has completed in the past 25 years. The gallery will be on display for the month of June. For further information, call 518 763 7993.

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What does Cam Guthrie really want?

By Gerry Barker

May 27, 2019

Opinion

Is it my imagination or is Mayor Cam Guthrie seeking a higher calling?

It is becoming clear that the Mayor has an agenda to seek higher office.

Here is one example.

Last year’s jumble of the Progressive Conservation leadership debacle led up to the provincial election last June 7. In those uncertain times, Mayor Guthrie, actively campaigned behind the scenes, seeking the PC nomination by acclamation bypassing the nominating convention required by the riding association.

He had already announced that he was running for Mayor of Guelph in the October civic election. He said he loved Guelph and his job as Mayor. He presented his documents on the first day the civic election nominations opened.

In October, he won in a landslide against the NDP backed candidate who ran third in the provincial election. You remember that one that the Ontario NDP launched the fake “orange Wave” claiming the province was going to elect an NDP government.

Instead, the PC’s won 73 seats to form the government and Doug Ford became Premier.

As for Cam Guthrie’s secret ambition to be elected to the Legislature, the huge victory of Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party, saved Guthrie’s future. The Green Party spent $119,0000 to elect Schreiner who won with 29,000 votes.

By comparison, Mayor Guthrie’s official financial statement contained the names of 100-persons who donated some $88,000 to his 2018 mayoralty campaign.

Was it an accident or just good luck?

Call it an accident from which Guthrie could walk away and he kept his job.

The bottom line is, why did the Mayor disguise his intention to run for the Ontario Legislature as a PC? He is, or perhaps was, a well-known Conservative supporting both the federal and Ontario branches of the party. Why did Guthrie deceived the Guelph voters claiming he wanted to be re-elected Mayor while trying to get the nomination for another?

Mayor Guthrie has moved along in his path to high office. As a member of the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus he was elected chairman of the group.

This past week, the Mayor told Guelph Today that the provincial government policies “could” jeopardize building the South End Community Centre and a new Downtown library.

Earlier he commented that the Ford government was using stealth techniques to divert public attention.

“I am very, very concerned,” he said, commenting that so are most municipalities.

So what’s the actual beef here?

The Ford government has floated a proposal to lower municipal developers’ fees. This has thrown some municipalities into a tizzy.

Here’s why, and Guelph has been misusing developer fees for funding capital projects. That is not the purpose of developer fees. It’s about infrastructure connections, increasing public safety personnel and public services impact of new development.

“ Our priorities would have to be re-looked at and it would have to be filtered through an affordability lens of what our taxpayers could handle,” warning this could happen if the municipal developer fees are reduced by the Ford government.

The big problem is the South End Community Centre

Council has already tapped the taxpayers to start the preliminary planning and design of the centre to the tune of $3.5 million. That’s a commitment toward spending the estimated $63 million to complete the project.

Here’s a clue of how council spends your developer fees.

“To be blunt, the Mayor continued. “The taxpayers should not have to front these costs.”

He goes on to state that the new main library will cost more than $50 million and 35 per cent of that was to be funded through development charges. That works out to be $17.9 million to come from development charges.

Here’s the beef.

If indeed, the Ford government mandates lowering municipal development fees, that $17.9 million will increase creating a financial gap for taxpayers to pick up.

In my opinion this is smoke and mirrors. And here’s why.

The long-awaited downtown library is part of the initial estimated cost of the $300 million Baker Street renovation project. The plan is to have costs shared between the city and a private developer. This sharing arrangement details have not been revealed.

This project is to start in 2024 and will take six to seven years to complete. Best estimates is that will be 11 years from now.

The South End project is at least five years to complete once the financing is secure. Hello taxpayers!

Then the city is about to enter an auction of the reformatory lands, aka Guelph Innovation Development lands. The plan is to develop a 245-acre satellite green community that city staff has been working on since 2013. The cost of this is unknown.

Depending on the city’s bid, this is an international invitation to bid on the property owned by the province.

It is understandable of the fallout if the province reduces the developer’s fees.

What taxpayers need to know is why are development fees being used to finance major capital projects that are mostly far over the horizon in terms of years.

The taxpayer and those charged user fees cannot continue to pay for big buck projects when it cannot fix the pot holes or pick up the garbage in parts of the city.

Guelph’s tax rates have averaged more than three per cent per year for the past 12 years greater when compared to similar-sized cities.

Perhaps Guthrie has the right idea, move up and leave the problems to someone else.

 

 

 

 

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Was former Mayor Karen Farbridge ahead of her time, or was blinded by personal ambition?

By Gerry Barker

May 21, 20119

Opinion

In her eighth years as the head of council, Ms. Farbridge launched a composite of advanced environmental projects. She recognized the effect on the city of global climate change. She was also a masterful political strategist who made mistakes along the way. Despite her skill sets and vision she made one big mistake.

Read on and learn or recall the history of a Mayor consumed by all things environmental and turning Guelph into a world leader in self-sufficiency of waste management, banning fossil-fueled vehicles and weed whackers, stopping the use of pesticides, anything plastic that was non-bio-degradable.

She was determined to get us onto bicycles as basic transportation, sort out waste, protecting the tree canopy of the city, revitalize the downtown, building more bike lanes and reduce vehicle lanes to accommodate wider bike lanes, hiring more staff to carry out her numerous polices and projects. Finally, the cost of all this was annual incremental property taxes and user fees.

Whew! How did we survive?

In 2009, the Farbridge city council entered a three-tier government infrastructure plan in which the city was responsible for one third of the approved projects. As it turned out, the city overspent its share by adding projects including $2 million for bike lanes on Stone Road and a new $75,000 time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

These so-called environmental projects included a $34 million organic waste processing facility, to turn wet waste into compost. The facility was financed by the public since 2011, has been run by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the company that built the facility. This company also sells the capacity to other municipalities.

I requested information about the operation as to what has been the payback to the city. I was told that it was not expected to be profitable as it was a city waste management facility and not intended to make money.

This recent explanation summarizes the disregard that the city administration at the time, denied public information. The plant was overbuilt being licensed to process 60,000 tonnes of wet waste per year. The city of Guelph’s 10,000 tonnes of wet waste per year is miniscule. Today, the facility is accepting wet waste from the Regional of Waterloo and other municipalities.

It now appears that the city made a terrible deal and a high price to process its own wet waste in the past eight years.

Well, somebody is making money in this deal, and it’s not the citizens of Guelph who financed it. We can’t even access the finished compost that is sold privately by the operating company.

The $23 million mistake that took six years to explain

On September 18, 2008, there was that moment of mayoralty pique when general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc. was ordered off the construction site of the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offenses court.

The details are too many and complex to cover in this post, except that the original contracted price for the project was $42 million in 2006. When the dust settled in November 2014, the CAO revealed the cost zoomed to $65 million.

This dispute lasted for six years, a lengthy trial that found the city guilty of wrongful dismissal and it cost the Mayor her job losing to a rookie councillor, Cam Guthrie.

There was a municipal exhale following the election in which 43 per cent voted. Most folks pleased that the Farbridge era was over, my wife and I included.

In those heady days of electoral joy, there was a huge Farbridge controlled plan to use a small city-owned corporation called Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) to take over Guelph Hydro to create radical new plans to make the city self-sufficient generating its own electricity and burying pipe underground to supply hot and cold water to a small number of building near the Sleeman Centre.

The mayor’s plan was to install solar panels on all public buildings to be installed by a subsidiary corporation of Guelph Hydro. Installing two natural gas pumps in the Sleeman Centre and Hanlon business Park cost $11 million.

The impact of the GMHI activities were chiefly unknown by the public. In late 2015, council engaged the accounting firm KPMG to conduct a consolidated audit of GMHI. In May 2016, the management of GMHI told council the bad news that the GMHI finances were in disarray and prospects of saving the components was remote. On May 26, 2016, The Chief Administrative Officer of the city and Chief Executive Officer of GMHI for four years, Ann Pappert, left the city staff.

In July a staff investigation of GMHI painted an even more divesting report of the GMHI performance in four years.

KPMG’s audit showed a shareholder’s liability of $60 million.

The disposal of Guelph Hydro

In 2017, city council appointed a Strategic Options Committee to sort through the options to dispose of the city-owned Guelph Hydro that in its 2016 financial report showed a book value of $226 million.

To this day, I maintain this was a giveaway of our power distribution system for peanuts. I believe it was to help wipe out the huge GMHI liability for which the city was responsible. What other reason would there be?

In October 2018, Council voted to accept a merger proposal with Alectra Utilities. January 1, this year the deal closed with the approval of the Ontario Energy Board.

But in 2015, Farbridge loyalists retained the majority of the new council and remain there today. In the October civic election the Farbridge group retained the majority. Only 33 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls compared to 42 per cent in 2014..

These issues will be revisited in a future GS post. The city council still clings to the Farbridge initiatives as our taxes and operating overhead increases every year.

One closing example: Some 23 new employees were hired in the 2019 budget costing annually $9.2 million.

Result? We got a majority Farbridge-inspired council because the majority of voters did not bother to vote last October.

 

 

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Is there a new citizen’s organization on the horizon: Huelph Guelph 22?

By Gerry Barker

May 13, 2019

Opinion

Is Mayor Cam Guthrie still a card-carrying member of the Guelph riding association’s Progressive Conservative Party?

I should state that Mr. Guthrie does not like me and the feeling is mutual.

My wife and I voted for him in the 2014 civic election despite his screaming accusation on the phone just days before the election that: “You have cost me the election and my wife and children are crying.”

It is a known fact that the final days of an election campaign can cause hysteria, uncertainty and what I call the Nixon syndrome of intense paranoia about those enemies surrounding him.

Gee, Cam. I wasn’t one of them.

That was the beginning of the end in which a relationship disintegrated. Regardless the GrassRoots Guelph supported his candidacy. I wrote many posts revealing the mismanagement by the former mayor’s council involving a $23 million cost overrun. That included the new city hall and provincial court conversion of the old city hall.

It only took Mr. Guthrie about 45 days to send an email to a number of people informing them that I did not know what I was writing about and frequently got the facts wrong. One of my supporters sent me a copy, as I was not on his mailing list.

My sin? I reported that council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

I then realized that Cam Guthrie had a powerful ego fed by ambition but little experience to support his lust to seek power and control.

To be fair, those first four months were not easy for the Mayor.

First, he did not have the support of the majority of council, most of whom were part of the former mayor’s council supporters.

His first test was overseeing and approving the 2015 city budget.

During the 2014 election campaign, candidate Guthrie promised that he would keep the property tax rate at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) level that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

On March 25, 2015, the budget was revealed. The property tax rate was more than 3 per cent and adjusted later for the increases in assessment of Guelph properties to total 3.96 per cent.

It would take a year before the truth about that budget was exposed.

It turned out that council approved $98,202 increases to three senior managers for 2015 but never told the public who or why. That is until the provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning $100,000 or more were published.

Guelphspeaks.ca was the only media outlet that compared the salaries of city employees with the 2014 Sunshine List. And that, Inspector Clouseau, is how the public learned of the names and increases. However, at the time, still unknown was the “why” for the increases.

In my opinion, this plan was hatched in the waning days of the election campaign. Regardless council had to be aware of it, including the Mayor who already supported CAO Pappert, who resigned in April 2016 and left the city May 26.

When the 2016 Sunshine List was published in March 2017, Ms. Pappert was paid $263,000 but only worked five months.

Former employee Derrick Thomson replaced her in June 2016. Eight months later he fired colleague DCAO Mark Amorosi, one of the three recipients of the 2015 secret senior manager pay increases.

In March 2019, CAO Thomson and the city “parted ways.” Thomson was earning $335,000 plus an $11,000 taxable benefit. There was no explanation and a four-month search was launched to find a successor.

It was the end of a dark cloud of cover-up hanging over the city, as all three senior career employees were gone. Mayor Guthrie presided over 84 closed-session council meetings in two years that denied any public participation, accountability or transparency to which the public is entitled.

It only proves that pigs can fly.

Addendum

Recently, Mayor Cam Guthrie formed a Task Force to investigate and develop a plan to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. In the Task Force’s third report, it admitted that the local groups currently engaged in dealing with this serious problem, lacked sufficient funds to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is stating that Provincial Budget cuts will result in “tax hikes and service cuts” for cities. Has the Mayor read the Ontario budget and supporting documents to reach that conclusion?

This is a Guelph/Wellington problem that has needed funding to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately successive city councils have not addressed the growing problem and  the treatment of addicts occupying the city. That’s why the Mayor decided to corral the stakeholders responsible for the homeless and addictive.

Perhaps, it’s time not to depend on senior governments to finance our problems and how to pay for it. All Ontario municipalities lacking the power to broaden the narrow tax base reliant on property taxes and user fees. That’s why when it comes to dealing with a serious  local situation, council’s only  alternative is to take their begging bowls to Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.

And this is where Mike Schreiner, MPP and Lloyd Longfield, MP use their influence to help solve the problem of under-funding.

Until support comes from the province and Ottawa, both the city and county will be unable to make real change in dealing humanely with those less fortunate persons and addictives.

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