Tag Archives: Guelph

Critical words denied by those sworn to allow it, our civic democracy is in peril

By Gerry Barker

December 10, 2018

I am a wordsmith, a lover of language and expression. In some 12 years I have been covering the politics of a city that is drenched in diversion and opacity. I have searched for truth and transparency in reporting some 200 columns in the former Mercury daily newspaper and 997 posts in my blog, guelphspeaks.ca.

I am not always right. It isn’t easy as one pursues the truth from a closed operation known as the City of Guelph. The city administration for those 12 years has been dominated and controlled by a pernicious movement controlled by a coalition of the labour movement environmentalists, the Green Gang and by NDP loyalists.

It is a highly organized group determined to change the way we transport ourselves, collect and process our waste, annually increases charge us for our water, incoming outgoing and storm runoff that now represents 33 per cent of my residential Guelph Hydro electricity monthly bill.

Hey! I’m just a taxpayer

This council has given away, (my words and opinion) our Hydro distribution system to a large corporation that has no connection with the 55,000 customers who were quite happy with the former Guelph Hydro.

That single exercise masked the truth and was not transparent. To this day I would like to hear from any member of council how much the city received for our system. Yes, words do matter but only when they are used to reveal the truthful interests of the public.

The control of this group rests with words. They publish the words that they want you to read and believe. There is little or no media investigation of the major mismanagement of the people’s business since 2007.

Their words are designed to block public participation in the politics of the city.

And In October, that strategy worked because for a lack of transparency and accountability, two thirds of those citizens eligible to vote, some 57,000 of them failed to turn up and vote.

Regretfully it is by design. It’s called the lullaby system. Without a vibrant and responsible media to force open an accountable government to inform people. They are the large group of eligible citizens who are not informed and then assume their vote is not important or needed.

Mushroom manipulation of the public’s business

Here’s what you’ll rarely read or view in the Guelph focused media. Critical news of the administration, particularly when it comes to financial news and development decisions. The exception is the Ontario Municipal Act that oversees the governance of the 445 municipalities in Ontario. That Ministry also published the annual Sunshine List of every public employee in the province earning more that $100,000.

This is an invaluable resource to track down who and how much Guelph employees whomake the list earn each year.

Yes, words, facts and figures do matter. The province gets it, why doesn’t Guelph?

That was a major break-through in discovering how city council, in December 10, 2015, in closed-session, approved $98,202 in salary increases to four top staff managers. Not one of the so-called media covered this, even when the 2015 Sunshine list revealed their salaries in March 2016.

I was interested in the numbers and checked their salaries in 2014 and discovered the size of the increases and to whom they were awarded. The city to this day has never admitted those increases that they covered up for more than three months. Did they believe that none of us would notice or question it?

I attempted in January 2016 to obtain the minutes of the Dec. 10th closed-session. It turned out three levels of consultants denied my request after four months. More on this to come later. It is a form of voter suppression that has been perfected for the past 12 years.

I wrote several posts critical of the silence that enveloped any official explanation or an apology. In addition, my posts aggravated the senior staff and certain members of council.

Yep! Words do matter, along with actions that blind public participation even when such a monumental mistake occurs under the administration’s watch.

Why the city administration wants to control the news

This is an example that words are important and matter in our modern society. Unfortunately, the City of Guelph administration has chosen to shut down public participation because the words do not fit their agenda.

Finally, here’s my point. If city council abuses the right of citizens to know and understand the administration’s operations, there is no better example than the numbers of closed-session meetings of council plus that of some of its non-elected committees.

In two years, 2015 and 2016, council conducted 84 closed-session meetings not including those conducted by other committees appointed by council.

The question is: These suppressive tactics to deny the right of the public’s right to know, are allowed to continue, nothing will change and we can only change it by organizing, and preparing for the next civic election in 2022. Only with political action by the voters can end it and return real democracy to our city.

I will do everything I can as long as I am able to help make this happen. More on this later.

Meanwhile, let’s get started. Let me know, if you are ready to join the coalition to change the way to stop our city being controlled by a group of self-serving people. Drop me a line at gerrybarker76@gmail.com. We can start by forming a steering group to set up an organization that will represent all parts of the city.

 

 

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Reflections on the decay of real journalism in the Royal City

By Gerry Barker

November 26, 2018

I stumbled across an article written by the Mercury Managing editor, Phil Andrews April 3, 2014. Four some five years, I worked for Phil writing a column on the editorial page every three weeks. I’ve worked for a number of ME’s in my life, some really good, talented and could deal with an involved publisher. Others were mediocre, devoid of original thought and officious with staff to cover upon their inability and insecurity. They came and went like ships passing in the night.

Phil Andrews was an “A” list managing editor. Firm but fair and ran a small but productive staff. They are all gone now as the Mercury died in January 2016.

The following is an example of what a news organization should be.   The medium doesn’t matter, and the principles are the same. Phil wrote it in response to a question from the floor when he was guest speaker at the Guelph Wellington Men’s Club.

It is a journalistic mission statement that is now a lost element of good stories, well-written and fair comment based on fact, clearly separating news from opinion.

Here is part of Phil’s reply to his questioner.

“I enjoyed my speaking engagement and Q&A session with the Guelph Wellington Men’s Club this week.

“The first question from the floor for me was posed by a gentleman. I was later advised he was a retired judge.

“He wanted to know who owns the Mercury and how/when we get marching orders to cover certain things and take certain editorial positions. I advised the questioner that the Mercury was a Torstar paper — within its Metroland division — and that it has a set editorial mission statement. I also advised that no corporate-editorial marching orders have ever been issued to me, that the mission statement would likely trouble no one in our market

“The following principles guide our editorial board:”

  1. Community responsibility. The Guelph Mercury will be an advocate for sound planning and good government at all levels. We will encourage local citizens to play an active role in the growth and health of Guelph and Wellington County.
  2. Freedom of speech and thought. The newspaper will uphold and preserve the principles of free speech and defend those who exercise this right. We support academic freedom and universal access to education. We will encourage a full range of opinion on our editorial pages.
  3. Social justice. The Guelph Mercury’s editorials reflect a belief that societies have a shared responsibility to ensure that the most needy and disadvantaged among us have a decent quality of life, including the most basic needs of food, shelter and health care. We support the equal treatment and civil liberties of all citizens as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  4. A United Canada. The Guelph Mercury believes in a strong and united Canada. The newspaper envisions a culturally diverse, bilingual country that plays a positive role on the world stage.
  5. Environmental responsibility. The newspaper supports environmental responsibility through the responsible preservation and protection of the environment for future generations.

I spent 23 years in the editorial department of the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. I was proud that I was a reporter and later editor managing various editorial management areas of the paper.

Some of Canada’s top newspaper people worked for the Star. I covered Marilyn Bell’s swimming across the Strait of Juan de Fuca separating the U.S. and Victoria B.C. then covered the Beatles first North American Tour and went on to conduct a scientific vehicle gasoline consumption test to compare the performance in the leading models of cars at the time.

Through it all, some great bosses who trained me in journalistic principles and accuracy influenced me. I learned during the late and great newspaper daily war between the Star and the Telegram. The name of the game in the Star newsroom was beat the Tely.

Today in Guelph we are bereft of community responsibility with the media being corporately controlled by non-resident corporate owners. There have been several major events in the city of which every citizen’s interest is blocked.

In the first two years of the Guthrie administration, city council conducted 84 closed-session meetings that were never summarized or reported to the public. It is odd that the same number 42 occurred in both years. There are some issues that should be discussed in closed session but not nearly the numbers held by the city of Guelph.

Next comes Freedom of Speech and Thought. City council has the opinion that what citizens don’t know won’t hurt them. That’s a perverse and irresponsible action by elected officials who practise it with the aid of some senior staff. Sadly, news coverage has deteriorated markedly since the Mercury closed in 2016.

Those two principles sum up the decay of news coverage in Guelph. The parade of city softball press releases and the police occurrence sheet is not journalism. News means coverage of events that affect all citizens. It includes the give-away of Guelph Hydro based on a phony premise that the future of electricity distribution is better in the hands of a large power distributer.

As citizens, we are held in the grip of a powerful political organization that has mismanaged our city and in the process has wasted millions.

But if the last civic election is any example of voter apathy, the real reason is they are not informed on a regular basis. The truth, like Elvis, has left the building.

Will the deceit and cover-ups disappear?

Only the people can do that by voting.

We lost that opportunity last October when more than 57,000 eligible voters did not turn up to express their support or denial of those seeking public office.

The enemy of democracy is apathy.

 

 

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As a public service, the latest exercise by the administration isto plumb your opinions to satisfy their operations

By Gerry Barker

November 19, 20118

It all began in 2007 when former mayor Karen Farbridge won a sweeping election seizing control of city council.

For all you history buffs here is what happened some 11 years ago. It was an evolutionary process that took us from blue boxes to three plastic bags to three bins. The last waste management collection move cost citizens $15.5 million. Then it failed to service some 35,000 households because the automatic trucks, costing $150,000 each, failed to navigate many of the high-density condo properties.

Solution: Hire private contractors to remove waste from those condos planned and approved by the City planning department and also the majority of the Farbridge council.

It didn’t take long for residents in condo properties to figure it out that they were being taxed for city pick-up of waste but paying someone else to do it. About a year ago the waste management staff resolved part ofthe problem by changing the collection system to accommodate the owners who were paying extra to have their waste removed.

With the announcement that funds were being made available there appeared to be a number of condo sites that were not to receive the benefits of the new waste removal largess.

Declaration of interest: Our Wellington Condominium 99 Corporation was not included and that’s where we live. More on this later.

I do not blame the current waste management team led By Deputy Administrative Officer Scott Stewart. Joining the staff in 2015, he was handed a rock of wasted funding, poor service and disorganization. In such an important department, it is impossible to turn things around to serve all the residents of the city.

I do not believe this survey will accomplish anything including assuaging those of us who must pay double for waste removal. It is not just a Guelph problem.

Royson James, a seasoned writer in the Toronto Star ,outlined the problems facing GTA municipalities where the rules are different, confusing and counter-productive in basic recyclable technology

In Guelph, we are stuck with a collection system that does not cover all residents or businesses in the city and sorting is done by hand. How does a a sorter distinguish between dangerous medical materials and certain forms of plastic in a high speed assembly sorting likel that includes recyclables from other communities?

Why does the city ship its recyclables to Cambridge where Waste Management operated an automated plant to handle these materials?

Is it pride? Is it to justify the millions spent on the Dunlop Drive Waste Innovation Centre that includes the $34 million organic waste facility that was over built and is run by a subsidiary of the company that built the plant? In fact, the compost produced by the plant is not available to Guelph citizens as it is sold privately. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as we don’t know what’s in it.

So we encourage people to answer the questions and let the management know that the services need reorganization to reflect the modern needs of effective waste management.

About that rock mentioned earlier? There are several factors that reflect the mistakes made by previous administration. Our waste collection and dispersal, in my opinion, is disgraceful, inflamed by ego driven leadership and wasted millions.

Unfortunately, The survey form would not download. It can be located on the city website. In our opinion it has affected many taxpayers for 12 years.

What’s fair and should be addressed for the following reasons?

We live in a land condominium composed of 22 single family homes and the city has never picked up our waste. Instead we pay a private contractor to remove our waste weekly, we have lived in our home for 15 years. Most of our neighbours voluntarily segregate wet garbage from recyclables. We do not have any city supplied bins or carts to dispose of our waste so we use plastic bags. The cost of this to residents is more than $7,000 a year although we must pay for the service through our property taxes.

We have made overtures to the waste management without resolution. We pay to have our street cleared of snow, we maintain our water and sewage system including a connection to the Guelph Country Club.

We believe it is hypocritical of the city to charge for waste removal through our taxes and ignore that we do not meet the high standards of waste removal as dictated by city council.

When city approve a plan of subdivision, why do they not adhere to their own waste management bylaw?

We live in the heart of the city, a lovely island of privacy and independence and pay the same tax rate as those nearby who enjoy the services the city provides.

The solution is simple. Just remove those city services it does not provide from our tax bills. This would include roads, curbs, water and sewer system maintenance, snow removal, waste pick-up including recyclables, street lighting, tree servicing, administration, liability insurance, common area maintenance. Most importantly, residents are required to contribute monthly to our reserve fund to support the various assets for which the city is not responsible.

We understand that other municipalities do grant discounts for services they do not provide.

Our board of directors would be pleased to discuss this possibility or other resolution.

Gerry and Barbara Barke

271 Riverview Place

Guelph, ON. N1E 7G9

 

Bo

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The Ford government has little incentive to bail out Guelph because we elected the wrong MPP

By Gerry Barker

November 15, 2018

Guelph is a no man’s land when it comes to accountability and transparency.

Yet a Guelph Today writer seem to believe that holding closed=session meetings is okay. In the first two years of the Guthrie administration, there were 84 closed-session meetings held by council. It is impossible to obtain the minutes of those meetings.

I know from personal experience when I requested a copy of the minutes of a closed-session held, December 10, 2015. It concerned the pay increases for four top city managers. The request was referred to an outfit in London, known as the “Closed Session Investigators” who took four months to deny my request.

The organization has been on retainer with the city since 2008. Since then there were three requests for minutes of closed-session council meetings all of which were denied.

That’s transparency Guelph council style

It’s a political island in a provincial sea of blue. It has elected a member of the Legislature who is a party of one, the Ontario Green Party. He is a member who is politically left of the late NDP leader, Jack Layton. A man who is bent on creating a David Suzuki brand of an environmental green nirvana that most Ontario electors voted against last June.

The election was a total repudiation of the Liberal government’s policies of structuring a disastrous energy file, the cost of which has yet to be determined. The Kathleen Wynne government imposed a long-term residential development plan on every municipality in the province. The focus of the plan was building residential housing incorporating “Intensification” by eliminating single-family development. By condensing more housing units on smaller acreages, the result was low-rise condos accompanied by strip attached townhouses with little open space.

The evidence of these ghettos of intensification is concentrated along Victoria and Clair Roads. Tiny garages, open space parking for condo owners, and jammed together like sardines.

The bonus to the city was increased assessment that created increased revenue. The downside is these developments do not produce any affordable housing.

All this happened in eight years under former Mayor Farbridge’s two-term councils. And it still continues to this day. City planners have allowed development that has inadequate driveways and narrow streets with little visitor parking.

The Wynne plan called for Guelph to have a population of 175,000 by 2031. However it is predicted that the city is rapidly becoming a bedroom city, occupied by commuters heading for jobs in the GTA.

Successive progressive dominating councils, have ignored eight years of failure of the economic development department to seek and encourage industrial and communications companies to come to Guelph to create jobs.

Economic development, what’s that?

Since 2006, the city’s ratio of residential assessment compared to commercial/industrial has not changed. Some 84 per cent of all city assessment is residential. This places an enormous burden on property owners whose taxes and special levies average more than 3.5 per cent annually.

Just remember that the man just re-elected Mayor, promised in his first campaign to maintain property tax increases at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index. That was 1.99 per cent when he was elected in 2014. His first budget approved in March 2015 by council, was 3.96 per cent following changes in property assessment. Rookie mistake?

The new council, as described by the Guelph Today writer, is not new at all. All of the incumbents were re-elected. Only two new councillors were added. That looks like the same council as before continuing the domination of the progressives who retain a 7-6 majority.

Time to get serious. The city is facing a growing drug problem, a fiscal problem that will never go away until the brakes are pumped to control the grandiose plans to redevelop Baker Street. There is need to freeze further city funds for the Guelph Innovation District on the provincially-owned reformatory lands. What influence does Mr. Schreiner, our MPP, have to persuade the province to part with the more than 1,077 acres of the reformatory property?

Why are we financing these two projects?

There is no capital funding for these two projects that are proposed for long-term construction and purchase of the reformatory property.

Instead, concentrate building a new downtown library with adequate parking and make it convenient to all citizens.

In the near term, there will be the task of funding additions to the Guelph General Hospital as the population increases each year.

Let’s get started building the South-end Recreation Centre in three stages: First, infrastructure for entire project, parking and rinks, community rooms and staff offices; Second, children’s area, library branch and computer facilities, auditorium for stage events and film; Third, swimming pool, change rooms, exercise area and more parking.

Architects and planners can rearrange elements. Once the plan is ready the public should have input. This is a major and necessary project and could be spaced out over the new term of council.

The chief decisions that need immediate attention is to review all audited statements, eliminate unnecessary spending on staff and social programs. The staff reviews are painstakingly slow and the internal auditor should be given assets to speed up the review process.

It’s not all dark and gloom. It is important that financial information be presented to the public in print as well as online. The Financial Department has made great progress in improving the clarity of information but if you don’t have a computer, you won’t see the information. Sending a note requesting preference of citizens to receive important details of city operations will be beneficial to all citizens.

Bon chance, mes Amis

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Will the new council come clean about the GMHI $66 million asset sitting on the 2017 city financial statement?

By Gerry Barker

November 12, 2018

Opinion

In a little more than two weeks, the newly elected city council will take command.

The October civic election sent 11 incumbent members back to council plus two newcomers. Rodrigo Goller and Dominique O’Rourke.

So, nothing has changed when change remains more needed now than in the previous four years.

The seven progressive members of council still hold the majority and will for the next four years. While the Mayor worked to establish a slate to create a personal majority to offset the power of the Leftists, it failed. What occurred was Ms. O’Rourke replaced Mr. Wettstein and Mr. Goller replaced Mr. Van Hellemond.

The voter turnout was one of the lowest in many years with some 57,054 out of 90,786 eligible voters who did not bother.

The only explanation is that those voting absentees must be satisfied the city was in good hands. Or, many were not informed of the issues, present company excepted. Between the communications staff at City Hall and various online bloggers, the organic action of city council was rarely, if ever, reported.

So let’s review: Unfortunately, right now there is faint hope that the new city council will address the mistakes of the past and reform needed governance and financial issues. There is no evidence that those elected incumbents will stop clinging to their failed concepts that have already wasted millions.

For starters, and this is information that you will not find anywhere in the softball media serving Guelph, is the financial asset listed in the official City of Guelph audited Consolidated Position as of December 31, 2017. The listing was the asset of Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) of $66,341,000.

Did you ever read or hear about that?

So the next question is: What happened to that $66,341,000 in 2018? Guess we’ll have to wait for the 2018 official financial statement that will be published sometime next year.

But here is what I believe occurred.

In February 2017, the little known Strategies and Options Committee, (SOC) was appointed by city council to study the disposal of Guelph Hydro that operated under the GMHI board of directors. Initially, the SOC was composed of joint chairmen Chief Administrative Officer (CA) Derrick Thomson and CEO Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro. There were three other non-elected public members.

Their mandate was to sell Guelph Hydro, or amalgamate with another municipally owned electric power distribution system or merge with a large power distribution corporation.

That February meeting of SOC removed the sale of Guelph Hydro as a consideration. What followed was a purge in which Mr. Sardana was removed and replaced by Ms. Jane Armstrong, chair of Guelph Hydro. One of three committee members resigned later stating he was opposed to taking the sale of Guelph Hydro off the table.

The GMHI Board of Directors consisted of Mayor Karen Farbridge as Chair, Councillors Lise Burcher, June Hofland, Karl Wettstein and Todd Dennis plus two non-elected civilian members. The CEO was CAO Ann Pappert. Ms.Papert left her job as CAO May 26, 2016.

Keep in mind that the SOC meetings were held in closed-sessions. GMHI did not produce regular summary of operations, financial statements, objectives or recommendations to council.

Not until October 2017, when Mayor Guthrie announced an agreement in principal to merge Guelph Hydro with Alectra Inc., a large power distribution corporation for several Greater Toronto Municipalities.

All it took was $2.36 million of your money to convince council

Yes, that was what the city spent promoting the deal with town halls, telephone surveys and an online document, the size of the Toronto telephone book, with little substance or financial details. Hard copies of the multi-page book was only available to a few key people. Certainly few of the 55,000 Guelph Hydro customers read the this online-based document, presented just 12 days before the council meeting that approved the deal.

More of your tax dollars at work

Slam Dunk! No details except a glowing endorsement from the Mayor about what a great deal the city had made. In December, city council approved the deal, still under negotiation, by a 10 to 3 margin and the rest is history.

The only evidence that exists today, following the Ontario Energy Board’s (OEB) approval, four days before the civic election, is the statement by the OEB that Alectra Utilies was purchasing all the outstanding, shares and issues of Guelph Hydro Electric Systems Inc, aka Guelph Hydro.

Key word here is “purchasing.” Could it be that the price happened to be $66 million of GMHI as shown on the city’s 2017 financial statement?

Is this what council traded to get out from under the GMHI financial disaster?

All along Mayor Guthrie has stipulated that Guelph Hydro is not being given away.

So why did he not tell the truth and refuse to reveal the financial details?

We may never know except that the $66 million asset of GMHI had better be part of the city’s assets in the 2018 financial statements. I’m betting it may still be there because the merger with Alectra closes January 31 2019. It will take another 18 months before the money disappears from the city books.

By then Guelph Hydro will no longer exist.

I still maintain that Alectra got the bargain of the century. Guelph city council looked like hicks at the circus approving this flawed merger concocted by highly skilled lawyers with little oversight of our representatives..

Of course, the new council should tell us what really happened to that $66 million asset on the city nooks in terms that citizens understand.

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Trumpspin and Canada slaps a tariff on horse manure

By Gerry Barker

November 8, 2018

I’m a guy who is not tolerant of tyrants or ranting tolerants. Case in point was yesterday’s fake press conference conducted by the President of the United States in which he argues that the result if the mid-term election was a great victory for the Republicans.

Was he juiced up with cheeseburgers and diet Cokes again?

Honestly, this guy should have been a car salesman. Whoa pardner! That not fair to most car salesman. For more than an hour Donald Trump ignored the huge victory by the Democrats who now take control of the House of Representatives on January 1, 2019. By any spin Trump tries to downplay it, his life as a politician will be carefully checked as he attempts to deal with the new sheriff in town – 230 Democrates who have the power to say no.

Even perhaps when it comes to expanding health care or legalisig the estimate 800,000 young people, born in the U.S. by illegal immigrant parents. At one point, the Trump administration threatened to deport them even though the U.S. Constitution specially states that if you are born in the U.S. you are an American citizen.

This is the same guy who said that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. therefore was not a citizen and should be removed from office. Wrong but Trump’s racist’s attitude surfaced after he was elected President in 2016.

Sorry Mr. Trump, your spin, laced with lies and vindictive personal attacks on anyone opposed or critical of your performance. Tour press conference performance accurately describes yout \ attitude toward the people who have spoken.

There was a blue wave Tuesday and your passionate posse could not stop it.

*            *            *            *

Back in Canada

Soon the election financial statement that must be submitted by all candidates will be available for public viewing. The candidate who had the highest number of votes was Mayor Cam Guthrie. In fact he received more than two-thirds lf all votes cast in the October 22 election. His opponent, Aggie Mlyarz, also polled surprisingly well received a third of all votes cast.

Again her source of support will be identified either in cash or (in kind, payment by a third party for services rendered).

Only 28 years old, Ms Mlyarz wants to be the political prom queen before learning how to dance. Regardless, her polling in the provincial election in June and in the Guelph civic election was impressive.

What it tells me is the progressive left followers in Guelph are well organized, loyal to the cause and formidable. The re-election of all seven incumbent progressive candidates who retain the majority on council is yet another example of after 12 years, they still control the council agenda. And, voter apathy works well for them because they know their supporters and ensure they get out and vote.

Two ways to break the system is allow online voting in 2022 and reduce the size of council, all councillors who are elected at large, are paid the equivalent of full time work.

*            *            *            *

Financing Jujitsu of the Baker Street redevelopment project

When Mayor Guthrie announced that the city was entering a 3P (Private, Public, Partnership) with an Ottawa company ivlding a huge redevelopment complex on the Baker Street parking lot with he key occupant the new Downtown Library.

The estimated $350 million project announcement failed to provide the public share of the project. But did include the statement that the city had already invested $29 million in the project.

So far, that $29 million is composed of $5 million to purchase two properties facing on Wyndham Street several years go to enlarge the parking lot and provide access onto Wyndham Street.

Then there was an item that the city’s contribution included $22 million, the cost of the

5-storey Wilson Street Parkade next door to City Hall, now under construction.

While the taxpayers are paying this cost, why is it included as a contribution in the 3P proposal? Trying to make us look good?

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Mr. Ford: It’s time to rewrite the University property tax deal

By Gerry Barker

November 1, 2018

Exclusive – Opinion

Before I am accused of insufferable whining, here are some examples of jug-headed decisions made by the current council in the past four years.

My favourite is about the tax on cats. Council taxes dogs, chicken coops, property,  waste removal, water, storm water, developers, businesses and cats.

If it moves, tax it

Council does not tax nuisances such as the growing urban flock of Canada Geese, Bicycle riders and their gear. Throw in the user fees that in 2017 the city received $105,872,000 in user fees alone. That was an increase of $9,744 million over 2016.

The biggest under taxed institution in the city is the University of Guelph. The city’s largest landowner and concentrated education complex is complete with buildings to house first year and graduate students, ultra new classroom facilities, football stadium and hockey arena.

It has a student population of 22,000 from September to April.

Now here’s the sweetheart property deal enjoyed by the University.

City residents and taxpayers subsidize the University population through paying for emergency services –police, fire and EMS as requested by University officials. No charge.

Citizens also subsidize Guelph Transit, spending $65,259 million that includes supplying extra services to accommodate students during the roughly eight months stay in Guelph. Citizens have subsidized an estimated $15 million annually to support Guelph Transit.

What happened to equal partnership?

More recently was the University’s Homecoming weekend that city taxpayers paid to control the excessive drinking, abuse of property and treatment at medical clinics. The Guelph Police Services had to pay for extra officers to keep the peace and the cost to city taxpayers’’ was a reported $63,000.

Remember, your taxes are paying for police and other public services for homecoming and St.Patrick’s Day celebrations by thousands of students, alumni and non-students looking for a party.

It is obvious that the University Police cannot control what is happening in their precinct and requested assistance from Guelph Police Services. Why not? Doesn’t cost the University anything and it takes their cops off the hook.

Now you might say this is a penny-ante complaint but when coupled with St. Patrick’s Day revelry, Guelph police are again beefed up to maintain order. It seems a high price to pay by Guelph citizens who are not involved.

Here’s some background

Celebrating the annual homecoming weekend is a string of five universities ranging from Hamilton to London, all celebrating on different weekends. The top brass at each institution agreed to hold their homecoming on different weekends starting usually at McMaster in Hamilton, Guelph, Laurier in Kitchener, University of Waterloo and University of Western Ontario in London.

The result is a moving weekend party as students bounce from one homecoming to the next. An example was this year when Guelph had its homecoming party and football game, two weeks later Western held its homecoming and the police could barely handle the celebrants in which the affair degenerated in a near riot. There is ample evidence that same drinking and flouting the law occurred at each institution.

It would appear that students and non-students move each weekend to another University homecoming. Why is this occurring? It’s because it means money to the Institutions.

Organized alumni tours encourage donation to the University’s endowment fund or they finance support of new building or courses.

. Since 1987, the $75 payment, in lieu of property taxes, has not changed or indexed to the Cost of Living Index (CPI).

How about your property taxes?

Are you paying property taxes during that time that never increased annually? Of course not. In our case; the annual increase for 15 years has averaged 3.18 per cent. Two things affect your property taxes, inflation and compounding. All I can say is that our property taxes have more than doubled in 15 years. That’s compounding for you.

Property taxes contribute, on average, 80 per cent of city revenues. The rest comes from grants, the gas tax rebate, investment interest and user fees including development charges and impost fees.

It’s easy to see that the University is paying an estimated $1.8 million annually in lieu of property taxes and the city taxpayers must cover 80 per cent of the annual city budget. The total revenue from property taxes for 2017 (the latest financial report) was $233,024 million. That figure includes the $1.8 million received from the University of Guelph’s holdings.

The UofG property tax bill represents 0.00772 per cent of the total paid by citizens. The largest landowner and major post secondary organization’s property tax bill is just not paying its fair share operating in Guelph. Not only that, each year the University’s tax portion of Guelph’s cost of operating actually shrinks.

Translation: They are paying proportionately less than all the city property owners conytribute 3.18 per cent annual increase in property taxes.

A law that’s unfair and stupid

The 2017 operational taxed increase of $8,936 million over 2016. That increase did not include any contribution from the University. So each year the City of Guelph property taxes increase, on average 3.18 per cent, but the University has not increased its property tax payment for 41 years.

That’s thanks to a dated and stupid provincial law that never considered the effect of inflation, passed by the provincial Liberal government in 1987. The deal chiefly protected the province’s growing post secondary schools from paying appropriate property taxes.

By sheer accident, the University of Guelph, over the years, became a huge beneficiary because it owns thousands of acres inherited from the former Agriculture College, before it was granted University status.

Over the years as the city grew, certain parts of those lands, particularly along Stone Road, became cash cows as the University property was leased back to commercial retailers and housing developers. At the same time, the city had to install infrastructure including roads, water and sewer lines plus a fire station. Oh! I forgot the $2 million spent on bike lanes.

This land lease income became a great opportunity to expand the University with new buildings, facilities courses and faculties. However, it brought unintended costs to the city to service the needs of the expanding university. The property tax deal denied the city’s right to collect higher property taxes. Because there was no assessment established of the University properties by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. There was no need the city was prevented due to the fixed rate payment in lieu of property taxes established by the provincial government.

The effect of this property tax loophole was that municipalities were forced to increase its costs to improve infrastructure, emergency services, transit, plus many other services over the years as the city and student population grew.

The University or Conestoga Community College cannot be blamed for this situation. The blame falls directly on successive provincial governments that ignored the consequences for more than 41 years, of this off-loading of the costs that many growing cities are facing in relation to blooming post secondary institutions.

The exponential financial property tax load has fallen on taxpayers and citizens.

Well, the UofG recently released a report showing the economic benefits the institution brings to Guelph and Wellington County. Most of that benefit is focused on businesses through increased sales and services but does not trickle down to the taxpayer who is paying most of the bills. It’s another version of trickle down economics that doesn’t work.

It has been suggested that any increase in the so-called student “bed tax” will only be passed through to the students and families.

Here’s the Bottom Line:

The estimate value of the Univisity of Guelph today, in terms of assessment including buildings and land, internal infrastructure, residential structures, laboratories, sports facilities and a number of other important assets of the corporate complex are estimated to be more that $5 billion.

The University’sconomic statement said itemploys 12,000, not all located in Guelph. This, it claimed, is major contributor to job creation. Again they don’t all live in the city.

The City of Guelph with a population of 131,000, in the 2017 consolidated financial statement shows the city having total assets of $1,186,081,000.

This is a challenge that needs the municipalities affected by this unfair arrangement to call on the government to change it.

 

 

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