Tag Archives: Ian Findlay

More short takes on bridges, budgets and a business plan

Posted October 25, 2013

A bridge too low?

The city takes two years to rebuild the lower section of Wyndham Street including installing crash guards under the CN rail bridge over the street.

Unfortunately, the city brain trust did not measure the distance from the bottom of the crash guards to the newly laid pavement. Result is there have been four collisions with trucks smacking the guards.

This prompted city engineers to close the street trying figure out what the problem was and to put signs up to warn truckers once the real height is determined.

Meanwhile the street is subject to intense investigation until a solution is found.

It only took two years, eh?

When Janet Laird speaks, is anyone listening anymore?

The dilemma of 6,400 condominium residents in the city not having their waste picked up by the new-fangled automated cart collectors, was not helped by comments by garbage poobah, Janet Laird.

Dr. Laird flatly said there is an understanding at city hall that introducing private collection of waste won’t be considered by Guelph. Not until “efficiencies” of the new system are established.

Guess that’s what she has to say seeing she is the author of the $52 million waste management system that doesn’t work. It fails to serve some 6,400 Guelph residences and the organics plant is unable to reach its planned capacity of 30,000 tonnes of wet waste processed annually.

Her response is “we have offered solutions to all condo developments for dealing with the cart system.”  Tell that to the owners. These are the same owners who purchased their property that had been approved by the city officials to receive all services including garbage collection.

Don’t expect this administration to resolve this serious problem, if Dr. Laird has any say.

Coun. Ian Findlay and the Wilson Farmhouse magical business plan

Ian Findlay, ward 2 councillor, is a small business owner downtown. He now proposes to have the city finance $500,000 to renovate the Wilson Farmhouse into a community centre and “green living showroom” for the whole city.

The business case states the conversion will turn a profit of $17,000 a year. Ian please, that won’t cover the debt-servicing let alone the liability insurance and other variable operating costs.

This has to be the dumbest idea for the good councilor to mastermind since his trip to Edmonton a few years ago to study how that city addresses the public human waste problem. Remember the downtown pissoir experiment that barred females from using the temporary facility, only men? Guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ka’ching Ka’ching!

Current public interest in Guelph has the “greening” of the city at the bottom of the family bucket list.  There is far more interest in reining in spending, controlling tax increases and stopping the cuckoo ideas that council members keep bringing up.

Findlay’s proposal deserves a decent burial. It may be fun running the city business and spending other people’s money but politically, it can be a dangerous exercise.

Crafting a city budget for 2014 requires tight public scrutiny

We are approaching the last year of this council’s life. Already the staff has stated that the starting point for the 2014 budget is a 3.4 per cent property tax increase. Hey! That’s an improvement over last year when the staff recommended an 8.5 per cent increase.

There is a major cloud hanging over the city’s 2014 budget gyrations. It’s a petition by taxpayers for an audit of the city’s finances and operations. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing received the petition and has revealed that it will investigate to determine what led up to the citizen demand for an independent audit.  The non-partisan GrassRoots Guelph organization, of which the writer is a member, has made serious charges of documented financial mismanagement.

In the event some or all these charges are proved to be accurate by an independent audit, this will severely affect the 2014 budget that is to be wrapped up in late November.

Another factor affecting the 2014 city budget is the judgment that is forthcoming involving five lawsuits over the construction of the new city hall. This could result in a liability of more than $20 million including legal costs.

Any thoughts by the Farbridge administration that the 2014 budget will be a good news budget loaded with promises of money for the minority special interests and base of supporters can be devastating at the ballot box next October.

Is the party over? Turn out the lights.

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There they go again, when Tom Thumb meets Humpty Dumpty

Posted October 3, 2012

The city staff trots out a new proposal: Spend $4.4 million to upgrade the city’s ability to communicate better and faster.  It comes on the heels of a staff recommendation that the 2013 property tax increase must be 8.5 per cent.

This proposal follows a textbook staff strategy of selling high and accepting low. This has been going on for a long time and has become tiresome and childish.

The senior staff who formulate this strategy on an annual basis, must believe that its political masters are gullible and the taxpayers incapable of understanding how city business is conducted.

The whole scheme usually works, as the majority of city council is dependent on the staff to make decisions. Unfortunately this has led to the corporation being run by a small group of ideologues led by Mayor Karen Farbridge. Not unlike U.S. President Harry Truman in the late forties, the buck stops with her. Perhaps given the Mayor’s political bent, it may be an odious comparison. Mayor Farbridge is no Harry Truman.

Recently, Ann Pappert, the Chief Administration Officer, informed council that its directive to have the staff come up with a three per cent increase in property taxes was a “regressive decision.”  Her remarks also included that the order was not “palatable”.

Meanwhile Coun. Ian Findlay runs around like a rabbit complaining about a report carried in Coun. Cam Guthrie’s blog. Guthrie proposed at a public meeting that any surplus be distributed to taxpayers, but first used to top up the tax stabilization reserve that is currently underfunded. The majority of council defeated it.

That didn’t satisfy Findlay. He tabled a notice of motion that was predictably vague in requesting an investigation.

If the Mayor is as smart as she appears, she’ll sandbag that proposal. She can read the public’s distaste for calling in the Integrity Commissioner again.

The real problem is the distance that exists between what the staff proposes and what council can accept politically. The city’s ability to pay for the mega capital projects already approved has reached a limit.  Adding to the capital projects list is a new downtown library ($63 Million); a new riverside park ($16 million); two sewage sludge storage tanks (estimated $20 million); a South end recreation centre ($37 million).

Then throw in the cost of the lawsuits and OMB hearings yet to be resolved: The $19 million suit against the city hall contractor; the Ministry of Labour suit regarding the collapse of a city owned washroom wall that killed a teenager; The OMB hearing regarding the private proposal to build two tower residences for student housing

Underlying all this is the lack of transparency practised by the city administration. They tell you want they want you to know, not what you need to know.

Latest in the city news follies is the report that the capital budget next year will be maxed out at 20 per cent of the total 2012 budget. The spending figure is  $51.5 million. Doing some quick math, that means next year’s budget will be $257.5 million. City staff admits this will put upward pressure on property taxes and, more importantly, the 2013 budget, yet to be decided.

It is now growing clearer why the staff, led by CAO Ann Pappert, is pushing for an 8.5 per cent increase of property tax rates for 2013. What is unclear is how this 10-year “forecast” was decided and by whom?

Funding for the downtown library includes buying two more properties on Wyndham Street to accommodate the project, but not the project itself. Council has already spent more than $5 million of two Wyndham properties turning the vacant site into parking. You may recall the statement by the chief librarian that the new library would be open for business in 2017 … that’s not in the 10-year forecast.

The same forecast calls for funding of a  “ feasibility study” for the South End recreation centre.

There they go again. Is it not clear that resident’s in the city’s growing South End want a rec centre? Are Ward Six councillors Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein not tuned into that situation? No? Okay we’ll bring in another consultant and do a “feasibility study”.

Let me tell you what most people in the city are ticked off about. The use of outside consultants when there is professional expertise within the ranks of staff; the endless planning that ties up staff in the name of strategy; the difficulty of doing business with the city, be it development, contracts or planning.

It all boils down to citizens wanting the truth, transparent communications, fewer council meetings held in private in and out of City Hall, and a regular, clearer picture of city finances.

If the 2012 operational budget of  $174 million contains a surplus, and the staff costs represent $154 million where does the city figure next year it can spend $51.5 million on capital spending?

That friends, does not add up.

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Hallejua! We have a winner!

The city announced that the vacant post of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) had been filled after the former CFO was fired a year ago. Albert Horsman comes to the city from the Town of Kawartha Lakes where he served as Chief Administration Officer (CAO).

But the title of the senior Guelph staff position is now called – Executive Director of Finance and Enterprise.

The new employee comes to the job with varied municipal experience that is focused on management but does not include a degree in financial accounting.

Indeed the job description makes his position not only to manage city finances but also to seek and create positive enterprise opportunities.

Is this guy a financial manager or a salesman?

Guelph CAO, Ann Pappert described Mr. Horsman’s experience as a municipal finance expert with a background in the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Infrastructure Ontario and the City of Toronto’s financial planning division.

But has he ever been responsible for accounting a city’s finances?

It is another strange appointment to an Executive Director’s post where the titles are longer that an elephant’s trunk, and the job descriptions are buried deep in the bureaucratic bowel known only to the few and not to the general public.

Not wishing the new man any ill will but to paraphrase Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, “this isn’t Kansas, Toto.”

Once Mr. Horsman gets settled in, he will quickly discover the financial picture of the city and the excessive debt currently costing more than $5 million a year in interest just to service the debt. Gradually he will work his way through the voodoo accounting practised by the leadership of this city with the complicity of the independent auditors. The result is taxpayers have had little understanding of the financial mess the city is in.

For example, Coun. Ian Findlay suggested that the 2012 budget be re-opened to permit spending $10,000 to provide a skateboard park this summer. This has been the practice in the past.

Here’s the rub. Why was this expenditure dropped when the 2012 budget was being established last fall?  More to the point, where was Mr. Findlay when the decision was made to drop the project?

It was a dumb mistake but the 2012 budget should not be re-opened. That’s like letting the cats among the canaries. Perhaps the money can be found elsewhere.

In conjunction with his fairly modest request, city council is to consider a staff proposal May 30th to spend upwards of $9 million to develop a downtown park at the corner of Gordon and Wellington Streets.

These are really big picture guys.

The project calls for purchase of commercial properties to develop the park while disrupting an intense commercial node at one of the main intersections of the city.

What was the planning staff thinking? It’s not a bad idea to have a downtown park but the staff proposal is ill conceived. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and the project be sent back to staff to investigate compromise and initiate a more reasonable solution without spending millions.Then, out of the blue, comes the Chief Executive Officer of the Guelph Library suggesting a new downtown library costing $64 million that would open in 2017. So confident of this happening, the library has hired a fundraiser charged with bringing in $10 million to completely finish the interior of the building as proposed by the library management.

In steps Coun. Ian Findlay, who expresses confidence the project will meet the 2017 completion. “Not only will there be a library but there will be commercial space available,” he said.

What are these people smoking? There isn’t public money available in 2012 or in the foreseeable future. To promote such a possibility is egregious and willful.

The new Downtown library is a possibility but it requires private participation and limited public exposure.

Welcome Mr. Horsmen to the city of whacko economics.

 

 

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