Tag Archives: Karen Farbridge

Clarity alert! Ontario’s Energy Minister says electricity fixes cost $35 billion but the Premier says $50 billion

By Gerry Barker

April 3, 2017

Breaking News

The Strategic Options Committee has lost two members, Pankaj Sardana, CEO of Guelph Hydro and Richard Puccini a retired engineer. Mr. Sardana is replaced by Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who said she felt that Guelph Hydro Electric Services needed a str0nger presence on the committee. She admitted she  and the Hydro board favoured the recommendation of the SOC selling Guelph Hydro if the opportunity arises. The city has yet to announce a replacement for Mr. Puccini.

This is a combination feel good and feel bad story.

It’s based on a first-rate analysis of Ontario’s high cost electricity generation and distribution system reported by retired bank executive, Parker Gallant, published recently in the Financial Post. Gallant looked at his power bill and didn’t like what he saw. We thank FP for providing this important analysis that affects every person in the province.

The good part of this story illustrates the incompetence of the Wynne government in managing the province’s electric power systems coming out of the darkness. The details are a stunning indictment of a ship of fools that we elected to run our provincial government. Their decisions over12 years, affects the entire population, industry and future of our province. It reveals why Ontario has the highest electricity costs in Canada.

How incompetent are they? Well, according to Mr. Gallant, the Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibault, says the province spent $35 billion fixing the broken electricity system since attaining power in 2003. His boss, Premier Wynne, says it cost $50 billion.

If they can’t get their act together, what can the citizens who pay for it, conclude?

Mr. Gallant states: “Thibeault’s $35 billion would represent spending $8,000 per residential ratepayer; Wynne’s $50 billion, $11,000 per ratepayer. Bear that in mind as you travel through my computations. Some of these are estimates from reasonable and reliable sources. The spending, initiated via more than 100 directives issued by a succession of Liberal energy ministers over the past 12 years, often had no connection to fixing anything, or generating electricity.”

Before breaking down where the money went, in Guelph we have a Strategic Options Committee (SOC) composeed of non-elected citizens, working to sell off or merge our Guelph Hydro with another power distributor with the highest bid. Presumably, either option will result in losing any semblance of municipal control of vital electricity distribution. More on this later.

Here is Mr. Gallant’s breakdown of where the billions went.

Total spending on frills, fluff and baubles: $7.4 billion

“First, there are the “frills and shiny baubles” spending category, essentially money spent that neither created new generation nor improved transmission nor reduced blackouts or brownouts.

  • Spending on “smart meters,” which Ontario’s Auditor General in her December, 2014 report, concluded funds were basically wasted since “many of the anticipated benefits of Smart Metering have not been achieved and its implementation has been much more costly than projected:” Cost, $2 billion.
  • The smart grid was supposed to work in conjunction with smart meters. Consumers are billed for the costs of developing the smart grid but the benefits accrue to a few select individuals and companies: Cost, $1.2 billion
  • Closing the coalfired generating plants required Ontario Power Generation to write off the remaining value of the plants when the last one closed in 2014:
  • Cost, $600 million.
  • Costs of conservation programs, in which some consumers are paid to not consume, while the costs between $300 million and $400 million annually are passed on to all Ontario ratepayers: Cost, $2.5 billion.
  • Gas plant moves, from Mississauga and Oakville to Lambton and Bath, Ontario: Cost, $1.1 billio

Total spending on “unreliable and intermittenr” power providers: $21.4 million

Second, considering our “intermittent and unreliable” category, in which the province added wind and solar capacity that is unable to deliver generation when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun’s not shining.

  • Ontario’s independent system operator shows the province will have installed wind and solar capacity of more than 7,000 MegaWatts (MW) as of March 31, 2017, including 4,650 MW of wind at a capital cost of $2.2 million per MW. Cost, $10.2 billion.
  • Solar generation as of March 31, 2017 will total approximately 2,400 MW at a capital cost of $2.6 million per MW: Cost, $6.2 billion
  • Transmission spending by Hydro One to connect wind and solar to the grid and for embedded connection expenditures. Cost, $5 billion.

Those photo-op costs are $2.6 million

Our third category is “photo-op generation,” money spent on large hydro infrastructure projects producing little power but presenting politicians with great photo-ops.

  • Big Becky hydro power expansion. The original Adam Beck Niagara hydro generation plant,, which went $600 million over budget to squeeze an additional 150 MWs of capacity from Niagara Falls. Cost, $1.5 billion.
  • Mattagami Hydro Power project, originally estimated at $1.6 billion to increase the rated capacity by 438 MW, went over budget by $1 billion. Before these two hydro projects were completed, Ontario Power Generations produced 30.6 TWh (terawatt hours) of hydro generation. Despite the addition of 588 MW of capacity, hydro generation in 2016 fell to 29.5 TWh. Generation data from March 21 indicates Mattagami generated power at about eight per cent of rated capacity, while all other hydro was operating at an average of about 50 per cent of rated capacity: Cost, $2.6 billion.

Nuclear power’s value for money

The fourth category is “value for money.” Some of the claimed investments in generation actually provided some value.

  • The Bruce Nuclear refurbishment of two reactors came at a cost of $4.8 billion but, according to Ben Chin, former VP of the Ontario Power Authority, the cost to ratepayers was limited since shareholders were forced to accept a portion of the over-budget costs. Cost, $3.4 billion.

Grand total to the end of 2016: $36.3 billion

This estimate comes reasonably close to the $35 billion claimed by Energy Minister. Glenn Thibault. But more spending is in the pipeline over the next 18 months, including another 500 MW of wind capacity with an estimated capital cost of $1.1 billion, 100 MW of solar for $300 million and 1,300 MW of gas at a rough cost of $900 million.

Total for what’s still to come: $2.3 billion

Even if one includes the money still to be spent, the total investments (most of them wasted) are over $11 billion shy of the $50 billion that Wynne claims has been spent.

We need to see Thibeault’s accounting, and Wynne’s too, to allow Ontario’s taxpayers and ratepayers to determine whether the spending has provided the claimed value for tax dollars.

So what does this mean for Guelph power consumers?

Predictably, Ontario’s power strategies have been a dismal failure that will cost citizens well into the future.

An immediate problem is the operation of the Strategic Options Committee that had pledged to report later this year on their investigations and bargaining with potential purchasers of Guelph Hydro as to whether to sell it or merge with another distribution operator.

This is the second time in nine years that the administration of the city has attempted to recover its equity in the city-owned utility that is profitable. In 2008, former Mayor Karen Farbridge, a member of the Guelph Hydro board of directors, attempted to convince her council to sell the utility to a consortium of Hamilton and St. Catharines power distributors.

The reasons then are the same as the reasons today.

The former mayor desperately needed the money to participate in a $66 million infrastructure plan funded on a one-third contribution by the city, provincial and federal governments. Guelph’s share was $22 million. The attempt failed when the people protested and the majority of council, many of them Farbridge supporters, voted no to the sale.

The mayor still got her money by calling a note of $30 million owed to the city by Guelph Hydro. The result was the city added a few frills such as a new time clock in the Sleeman Centre and bicycle lanes on Stone Road among others.

One of the arguments put forth at the time was that the province wanted the “smaller” electricity distribution systems to sell or merge with larger units. It was not mandated by the province but recommended for lowering costs and increasing efficiency.

Today, that same reason has been given to city council. SOC Co-Chair Pankaj Sardana, Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro, has cautioned members of council that not all mergers are successful partly due to the clash of cultures between the two organizations coupled with a loss of jobs.

The reason for selling is obvious. The city has drained most of its reserves to pay for the mistakes, failed ventures and refusal to reduce its overhead. High debt levels and betting on increased revenues through reassessment of properties, user fees and subsidies from province and Ottawa, is pie in the sky.

All those financial mismanagement episodes for the past 14 years have hobbled the city’s ability to carry out its short and long-term strategies. The quick solution: Sell Guelph Hydro and recover an estimate $125 milllion.

The city is on the brink of failing to have the financial resources to continue its short and long-term strategies. Selling Guelph Hydro is not the solution.

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Royal City Blues: A documentary

By Gerry Barker

March 20, 2017

If there ever was the opportunity to develop a documentary to describe the woeful record, it is now outlining how three administrations have lost more than $136 million in ten years. Perhaps it’s time to reconcile the city’s finances by hiring a Chief Financial Officer with experience and savvy.

Here is a draft outline that details the events that have drained the financial resources of the city, to the extent that the current Guthrie administration is engaged in selling Guelph Hydro to rebuild the financial losses of previous administrations.

The Guthrie administration is hamstrung to even pay for needed infrastructure repairs and replacements, let alone reducing costs. A new city report clearly states that it is going to cost double what the administration estimated when approving the 2017 budget.

And council couldn’t even get that straight when it voted to double the so-called special property tax levy from one per cent to two percent. The staff recommended a one per cent levy to help pay for the infrastructure costs but council added another one per cent to pay for “city buildings.” The reality? It is an attempt to start construction of the $60 million South End recreation centre.

Trouble is there is no capital funding for this project. So council approved shelving some $700,000 to replace the parking meters downtown, a project in the 2016 budget, to produce parking revenue. Then council turned around and spent some $650,000 toward pre-construction costs of the South End recreation centre.

Most people would believe this is a commitment to proceed with the project. Most people will figure out what is occurring is a back-door attempt to force the next council to come up with the capital funding for the project.

Both Ward Six councillors, Karl Wettstein and Mark MacKinnon, pushed this attempt to force future councils to pay for it.

Is this any way to run a city? Any way to mortgage future generations of residents to pay for something they did not vote for? Is it right to ignore the costs of infrastructure to assuage the desires of a minority of citizens?

Already, there are decisions being made to ensure the re-election of the present majority of council including the mayor. A key problem is the greatly diminished level of reserves that have been used to shore up projects and balance sheets for far too long.

That’s where we stand today. But let’s look back at how and when we got into this mess.

Back to the future, Guelph style

In February, City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, resigned and left for a job in North Bay with the Ontario Northland Railway. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Mark Amorosi, who was dismissed, followed right after her departure. They are yet further additions to the exodus of senior executives leaving the city since Mayor Cam Guthrie was elected. Scott Worsfold, another city lawyer resigned last fall.

More than 20 senior managers have left the city since 2014. These are the people who administer the operations of our corporation. In any business, the adage is it’s more difficult to replace a key employee than to fire the incumbent.

An example is the recent announcement that the General Manager of the Community Energy Initiative (CEI), Rob Kerr, has been dismissed. At the same time the city is setting up a Climate Change Office. Is this really needed? Premier Wynne is already taxing us through our Hydro bills for our use of household fossil fuels. These include use of natural gas in a variety of appliances including barbeques, stoves, dryers, fireplaces, furnaces, and water heaters.

And now we need a Climate Change Office?

What follows is a documentary of how our city investments have been squandered by three administrations. Since 2007, these administrations have created social engineering projects that most people did not request or want.

It documents abuse of the public trust, its right to know and participate. We have been subjected to absolute control, secrecy, distortion of facts and unparalleled arrogance. So, we can only blame ourselves as we elected them. Here is a record of how our money was misused and managed without recourse on our part.

Scene One: The genesis of a financial disaster

It’s early in January 2007 when the newly elected Mayor of Guelph, Karen Farbridge, persuades leaders of organizations across the city to join, creating the Community Energy Initiative. More than 20 prominent individuals accepted her invitation to join and participate. They represented the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, The University of Guelph, Guelph Hydro, Industrial and commercial leaders and energy experts.

Little di we know then of the impact on city finances of this project.

Scene Two: Spending $16 million renovating a derelict building on someone else’s property

Mayor Farbridge becomes immersed in running her city and introducing a number of initiatives. These included approval of spending $12.7 million to move the Civic Museum into a leased former derelict convent next to The Church of Our Lady. This project took five years to complete and cost more than $16 million. Of that amount, the federal and provincial governments provided roughly $6 million. As an aside, more than $1 million was spent landscaping the hill in front of the Museum, on land the city does not own.

Scene Three: The $33 million great landfill diversion scheme

With little public input, council approved a new solid-waste management system. It included spending $33 million on an organic waste-processing facility that had a processing capacity that was three times the needs of Guelph for 20 years. It was operated by Aim Environmental a subsidiary company of the builder of the plant, Maple Reinders. Another Maple Reinders subsidiary called Organix sold the compost produced.

Details of the organic operation were never revealed to the public, including the sale of the composted material. The city management said it could not reveal the details because of “private proprietary interests.” An internal audit of the waste- management operations in 2016 revealed it was losing $270,000 a year. The Executive Director of Environmental Services, Janet Laird, resigned after the 2014 election. Her General Manager, Dean Wyman, left in December 2015 for a job in Edmonton.

The department is now undergoing a rationalization study to develop a greater degree of effiency and reduce reduce costs of an operation that is losing $270K a year. This is under the leadership of Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO) Scott Stewart. Good luck, Scott.

Scene Four: A fateful decision to get tough and lose millions

It’s spring 2008. Mayor Farbridge was getting impatient about the progress of General Contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Corporation, building the new city hall and renovating the old city hall into a provincial court. The original contract was $42 million for both projects. On September 19, 2008, Acting CAO Hans Loewig ordered Urbacon off the site, supported by Guelph Police.

For his loyalty, former CAO Loewig was given a four-year contract starting at $199,000 plus generous benefits, including several weeks of vacation annually. Ann Pappert replaced him in 2012.

Urbacon responded by suing the city for breach of contract and sought $19,184,181.71 in damages. This began a legal wrangle that lasted for five years and eventually included five lawsuits. Fast forward to March 2014. Justice Donald MacKenzie delivered a stunning verdict in favour of Urbacon and chastised the chief city witness, the site manager, Murray McRae for his testimony. The mayor’s impatience cost a $23 million overrun of the new city hall, from $42 million to $65 million.

Here is a comment from a guelphspeaks posting September 9, 2014:

“This remains an epic error in judgment for which the Farbridge administration must take responsibility. How can they say, with a straight face, that the costs are covered and there will be no impact on taxpayers? They’re manipulating your money to suit their agenda and again avoiding responsibility.”

As it turned out, it was CAO Ann Pappert, who made that claim misleading the citizens.

Scene Five: The year of multi-mistakes leading to the defeat of the mayor

Election year 2014, witnessed several events. They included the Urbacon decision, transit strike and approval of the $34 million police HQ renovations which would take more than five years to complete. These events impacted the future of Mayor Farbridge and four council supporters who either decided not to run or were defeated.

The progressives were stunned over the loss of their leader. Changes came swiftly. The top senior staff was reorganized when Janet Laird retired to Whistler, B.C. and Derek McCaughan resigned. The shuffle occurred before Cam Guthrie took over as the city’s new mayor, December 1, 2014.

Observation: The city administration does not have much success when it comes to constructing major capital projects and staying on budget. Besides Urbacon, there was the Civic museum, both of which exceeded contracted costs by $33 million.

Scene Six: It’s 2015 and we’re off to a rocky start

Early in 2015, there were events that would shape the new council that was dominated by seven supporters of the previous Mayor and her policies. In January, Mayor Guthrie attacked me in an email urging his followers to ignore me. The outburst was attributed to a piece I published in guelphspeaks.ca in which I said the council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

The Mayor, for whatever reason, supported Ms. Pappert until the day she gave her notice in April 2016 that included her extravagant retirement payoff estimated to be more than $150K. Early last year, concerned citizen, Rena Akerman, sent a detailed email to other citizens outlining the performance of the CAO in the past four years. Mayor Guthrie threatened legal action against Ms. Akerman. Fortunately for him, that didn’t happen.

Scene Seven: the Guelph Municipal Holdings debacle

In 2015, there was an even bigger scandal brewing. Mayor Guthrie and Coun. Karl Wettstein were appointed as council representatives on the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) board of directors. The former mayor said GMHI was to manage the city-owned assets including Guelph Hydro, its subsidiary Envida Community Energy Corp. and the Guelph Junction Railroad.

Simmering below the surface was this disastrous experiment created by the former mayor. It is a wholly-owned corporation of the city. Mayor Farbridge appointed herself as chairperson of the GMHI board of directors, composed of a majority of her council supporters, plus two members of Guelph Hydro and two independent directors. CAO Ann Pappert was appointed Chief Executive Officer of GMHI and remained in that job for four years.

On May 16, 2016, the truth was revealed in a GMHI situation report signed by Ms. Pappert in her capacity as city CAO, and Pankaj Sardana, her successor at GMHI. In fact, in its five years of existence it has never made a dime but the losses climbed to more than $26.6 million. This loss, according to a May 16, 2016 was reported and presented to council, jointly by CAO Ann Pappert and Pankaj Sardana, CEO and CFO of GMHI.

The report stunned everyone when Mr. Sardana said GMHI had lost $26.6 million and had no financial ability to continue operations. It turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg. GMHI had accepted a loan of $65 million from Guelph Hydro to expand its projects to achieve electric power self-sufficiency for the city. That loan is now an impaired asset on the city’s books and was on the 2015 Financial Information Report valued at $69 million. “Impaired Asset,” means that the receiver of the funds, GMHI, has no money to pay the interest on the loan. Also it has insufficient assets underlying the loan.

Over time, this large loan will have to be written off. Unless, the city can sell Guelph Hydro and profit from the estimated proceeds of more than $150 million. Later this year, the Strategic Options Committee will make its recommendation after shopping Guelph Hydro in the market place.

It is only recently revealed the former mayor and the GMHI board had secured land in the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown to build large natural gas-fired generation plants as part of its Community Energy Initiatives. Again, public input was not invited or considered.

The two natural gas plant sites were obtained when the Guthrie administration shut down operations. Guelph Hydro was brought into the city as part of its finances.

It is now plain what the former mayor was bent on accomplishing. Electric power self-sufficiency and sell Guelph Hydro to the highest bidder to get rid of the losses.

Please think about this: If Ms. Farbridge had been re-elected in 2014, we would still be kept in the dark while millions were poured into a scheme to make our city self-sufficient in electricity supply. If fact, Mr. Sardana said that in order to make the two $8.7 million District Energy Nodes to break even, it would require an additional investment of $60 million.

Did the former mayor ever consider the billion it cost to dismantle two partially built gas-fired plants by Premier Dalton McGuinty to save four Liberal seats?

Well folks, so far it’s only cost you and me $96 million including the $65 million loan from Guelph Hydro. It will eventually disappear into the mists of One Carden Street.

For comparison, the Ontario gas plant tear down cost just over a billion dollars. The population of Ontario (including us) is more than eight million people. So Guelph loses $96 million spread over some 121,500 residents and businesses. Our loss will cost $790 per person, babies, young, old and the infirm. That money has gone.

McGuinty’s gas plant loss cost each of the eight million population of the province $12,500.

But wait a minute! We are included in the Provincial figure so that means every citizen of Guelph is responsible for $13,293. A high price to pay for badly managed, high cost social engineering schemes, all of which failed on both levels of government.

The real problem is that it’s public funds that have been misspent. Regardless of whether it’s posted in the Guelph Hydro books or the city books, it’s a stunning loss and misuse of public money. The city has no choice but to write it off.

But here’s the concern for all citizens: Until there is an independent investigation and forensic audit of the whole GMHI debacle, the people will never know the truth. Most recent development is the dismissal of Rob Kerr, general manager of CEI and the formation of ”Climate Change Office.”

Is this what Karen Farbridge promised when she campaigned in 2006 to “Put Guelph back on track?” Just asking.

Scene Eight: Revenge: Thy sting is not so sweet

In early 2015, Susan Watson, a strong supporter of the Farbridge administration, hired a Toronto lawyer to represent her in an action before the Compliance Audit Committee (CAC). It was in regard to a $400 donation that had been given to former Ward Six candidate Glen Tolhurst by the civic action group, GrassRoots Guelph (GRG). Her lawyer argued that GRG was not permitted to donate to candidates under the Ontario Elections Act (MEA).

Two of the three CAC members voted to have an independent auditor examine Mr. Tolhurst’s election financial statement and the role of GRG. As members of GRG, my wife, Barbara, and I, were subpoenaed to appear before the auditor, William Molson of Toronto. We were questioned for an hour and a half. A couple of weeks later the auditor presented his findings to the CAC committee exonerating Mr. Tolhurst and GRG of any breach of the Municipal Elections Act.

The estimated $11,000 costs of this procedure were paid by the taxpayers and not by Ms. Watson who initiated the complaint.

Scene Nine: Along comes the mother of municipal financial failures

Starting in 2011, GMHI annually deposited a $1.5 million dividend to the city. In 2015, GMHI said it had sent a total of $9 million to the city as dividends. The only problem was the GMHI never made any money. Ten days after signing the report, she left the city to work for the Province of Ontario.

So far, more than $8.7 million, the cost of installing the two District Energy nodes, has either been written off or written down. But there remains a number of unresolved issues including contracts with those buildings connected to the co-generation thermal system supplying hot and cold water. The city cannot afford to subsidize these already installed connections to five large buildings. The statement has been made that it will continue to supply the service. The city has maintained that the Community Energy Initiative is under review with decisions to be made when a staff report is presented to council.

The real problem lies with the $65 million Guelph Hydro loaned to GMHI after board chair Karen Farbridge and her board voted to fold Guelph Hydro and its subsidiaries into GMHI. Since then, the city has taken control of Guelph Hydro. But a major problem remains. In doing so the city has shifted the Guelph Hydro loan to GMHI into its own books as an asset, although impaired. That means that in 2015, that impaired asset had grown to $69 million because GMHI had no money to even pay the interest. The huge problem is that there are no assets in GMHI or funds to even pay the interest on the loan.

Well, the fact is the city now has the loan on its books it’s like lending your son or daughter $25,000 to go to college and never expecting it to be paid back. It’s all in the family.

Scene Ten: The fallout of financial mismanagement will affect all of us for years

Please think about this: If Ms. Farbridge had been re-elected in 2014, we would still be kept in the dark while millions were poured into a scheme to make our city self-sufficient in electricity supply. If fact, Mr. Sardana said that in order to make the District Energy Nodes to break even it would require an additional investment of $60 million.

It is only recently revealed the former mayor and her colleagues on the GMHI board had secured land in the Hanlon Business Park and Downtown, to build large natural gas-fired generation plants as part of its Community Energy Initiative.

Again, public input was not invited or considered. Did the former mayor ever consider the billions it cost to dismantle two gas-fired plants, partially completed by the McGuinty Liberals to save four Liberal seats?

Well folks, so far it’s only cost you and me $96 million including the $65 million loan from Hydro.

When you stop and think, imagine what that $96 million could have done to capital spending in the city. Particularly for a new downtown library, the former mayor promised that 19 years ago. Or the South End recreation centre that was promised by the same mayor nine years ago as a priority.

These are bread and butter issues. We have been held hostage for ten years now by a radical group of progressive councillors who are “big picture” representatives. They obsess about climate change, energy, bicycle lanes, public transit, water sold commercially from the aquifer, protecting the environment.

Running a city is not rocket science. Councillor’s primary responsibility is to make sure everything works. It includes roads, water supply, waste disposal, parks and recreation, cleaning the streets, picking up the garbage and creating jobs.

And please don’t tell me that we are better off than we were four years ago adding more than 400 new full time equivalent employees, with property taxes soaring by 14.2 per cent and user fees for using our own dump and managing our storm water.

 

 

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The Guelph Tribune rejected this ad on the grounds it was “Inflammatory”

By Gerry Barker

October 24, 2016

Definition: Inflammatory adj – rousing or likely to arouse excitement, anger, violence, rioting, etc, as a speech. Webster’s Dictionary.

To use this word, inflammatory, is to suggest the ad will cause civic unrest, derision, violence and rioting because of its content, is a supercilious reason not to publish it.

Is this a case where those Guelph citizens who disagree with the administration are being compared to those French citizens who overturned the monarchy of the rulers of France? Under the Guthrie administration, are we being reduced to peasants with no rights or support? If you believe this, then I’m Guelph’s Jean Val Jean and “aux barricades, mes Amies.”

This isn’t just suppression of a different point of view but overt repression of the facts.

The paper’s decision not to publish a paid ad followed its refusal to publish Pat Fung’s analysis in the op-ed page as a service to its readers. The Editor said Mr. Fung had to reduce a 2,800-word document, with explanation charts, to 400 words. He further added that the material was too political. Having given that excuse, how does he justify shortly afterwards running a column by defeated councillor Maggie Laidlaw, praising the work of defeated Mayor Karen Farbridge? He now knows how readers responded to that “community editorial.”

Is there a double standard here?

When reading this ad copy do you believe it promotes violence and rioting?

I agree it will promote and arouse anger among citizens who have experienced the eight Farbridge years when millions were misspent, based on poor managerial judgment and the willful misuse of power.

So, when it comes to the people trying to present facts based on the city’s own audited statements, The Guelph Mercury Tribune, refuses to even accept a paid ad to express a legal opinion on the management of the administration.

In my opinion, it is journalistic suppression of fair comment and opposing opinion of the operations of an administration. Under Mayor Guthrie it is an administration that is hyper secretive and distrustful of the public trust and criticism.

The Guthrie administration has control of the Guelph Tribune by virtue of the “City News” ads that run in every edition of the paper, paid with your money. The annual cost to taxpayers is estimated to be more than $400,000. The paper has a monopoly where there is no print competition.

With this decision to ban legitimate news and response to thousands of citizens, the newspaper loses credibility and becomes what its out-of-town owners want, money, regardless of public political sentiment. Using its controlled distribution system, delivering the paper to most households in the city whether the owner wants it or not, gives the administration almost total control of the media in Guelph.

All except www.guelphspeaks.ca that has a proven track record of exposing the weaknesses and mismanagement of two city administrations. My wife and I have tried to overcome this abuse of the public trust for ten years. We have had success in contributing and exposing the waste and secrecy that are the trademarks of both the Farbridge and Guthrie administrations. And there is more to come.

The support of the people has been amazing and satisfying. GS would not have survived all this time without your support and information. We are just ordinary citizens and taxpayers who have been around long enough to understand what is happening to our city. Our only regret is the failure to balance the council with reform candidates and losing the bid in 2014 when June Hofland edged out Craig Chamberlain by five votes.

The Tribune’s rejection is an example of how the administration is using your money to control the print media in Guelph.

What’s the next step, suppressing potential violence, rioting by the citizens because of an ad that opposes the administration? That’s what this newspaper stated and it is grounded in fear of losing revenue.

Today is the first step in fighting back. GS and its supporters are planning to publish two posts seeking retribution for the blocking by the Tribune of a legitimate and important news story. One that the Editor refused to assign a reporter to even interview Mr. Fung.

Accordingly, we’d like to hear from you either through commenting on the blog or emailing gerrybarker76@gmail.com. If you wish to remain anonymous, please indicate and your comments will be protected using a nom de plume. This is necessary because the reactionary trolls will respond.

A city in crisis

By Gerry Barker, editor of http://www.guelphspeaks.ca with Pat Fung, CPA, CA

September 29, 2016

A stirring wake-up call by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA, analyzes the financial state of the Guelph’s administrative mismanagement of our city that is exacerbated by a bloated bureaucracy and dysfunctional council.

It has now reached a crisis of misspent treasure and lack of confidence by the public in past and present administrations. It is expressed in annual property taxes, and user fee increases. The crisis includes secret deals made with certain developers to induce special treatment by reduction of development fees and taxes. City reserves have been plundered without public knowledge to cover up mistakes.

Reality and responsibility is non-existent as the staff management continues to claim the city is in “sound financial condition,” according to Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) Mark Amorosi.

Since 2008, Mark Amorosi has allegedly been one of senior staff overseeing the soaring cost of living in Guelph. He was hired in 2008 as head of Human Resources. Since then, he has grown in influence becoming a DCAO of Corporate Services, the man in charge of not only HR but also the controller of city finances since the senior staff reorganization following the 2014 civic election.

What Amorosi’s “sound financial condition” claim is compared below to the analysis done by Mr. Fung, an individual with an accredited financial background. The sources of his analysis are contained in the annual audited statements of the City of Guelph and the recent report of management consultants BMA.

Here is a chart, part of Pat Fung’s analysis

Guelph’s Operating Costs 2008 to 2015 (source: audited financial statements)

($ thousands) 2015 2014 2008 $ Change 08 to 15 % Change

’08 to ‘15

General government 27,070 25,136 18,891 8,179 +43.3%
Protection services 79,550 75,506 51,855 27,695 +53.4%
Transportation services 60,381 57,405 43,380 17,001 +39.2%
Environmental services 76,238 72,697 35,035 41,203 +117.6%
Health services 29,180 27,522 18,524 10,656 +57.5%
Social and family services 43,601 52,280 51,183 -7,582 -14.8%
Social housing 21,372 20,444 n/a 21,372
Recreation and cultural services 40,906 39,481 23,947 16,959 +70.8%
Planning and development 7,313 6,155 3,986 3,327 +83.5%
Total Expenses 385,611 376,626 246,801 138,810 +56.2%
Consumer Price Index 126.6 125.2 114.1 12.5 +11.0%

 

Pat: Guelph should reduce its operating expenses by $20 million and freeze taxes and fees at current levels to fund the capital/infrastructure gap. We cannot continue to increase spending on operating costs on top of increasing spending of capital and infrastructure.

Pat’s recommendation: Freezing revenues at 2016 levels and reducing expenses by $20 million, and holding expenses at $365 million for 20 years. City reserves would be built up to $200 million in 10 years. This would be reduced by whatever is spent in the interim on capital and infrastructure. This has the same financial effect as increasing taxes but is funded totally from within the current system of taxation and user fees.

Where did the money go? For example, note two categories: Social and Family services, a 14.8 per cent reduction and Social Housing, of which there was zero change in seven years. These are two key components of the leftist majority agenda on the present council. Yet during those eight years under the Farbridge regime, the categories were totally ignored.

But wait; let’s check out Environmental Services that enjoyed a 117.6 per cent increase. In fact more money was spent on the environment than Social and Family Services and Social Housing combined. Ask Coun. James Gordon about that as he says it’s his job to improve social services including affordable housing.

Here is another chart that captures the per person charges of Guelph’s selected expenditure categories compared to the Ontario Municipal Averages. These per person figures are from the City’s own consultant, BMA.

Selected areas from 2014 BMA report Guelph cost per person Ontario cost per person Excess spending relative to other Ontario Cities based on 120,000 population in Guelph
General government $229 $104 $15,000,000
Fire $185 $165 $ 2,400,000
Waste collection $29 $10 $ 2,280,000
Roads $244 $198 $ 5,520,000
Parks $77 $59 $ 2,160,000
Library $72 $50 $ 2,640,000
Total $836 $586 $30,000,000

According to the independent BMA consultant report, every person in the city pays $836 for the operational costs of these six defined areas. The average in Ontario is $586 per person. That’s a 42.66 per cent difference, or total excess spending by Guelph of $30 million per year.

 

Check this out:

Guelph Ontario

Waste collection $/tonne $137 $114 20%
Roads $/kilometre $27,617 $11,847 133%

* Why are waste collection costs 20% higher than average Ontario?

* Why are road costs 133% higher than average Ontario?

* Except for residential water/sewer usage, why are commercial and industrial     water/sewer costs 10% to 12% higher than average Ontario? Particularly when water consumption has declined by 16 per cent in the past six years.

* Why have Guelph Hydro rates increased by 42.5 per cent in the past four years?

According to the 2015 Sunshine List, the City has 92 middle managers carrying the title “manager,” in addition to senior and supervisory staff. The City must reduce these positions and flatten out the organization to make it more responsive and more cost effective. In our financial situation, we cannot afford this huge layer of middle management.

These soaring costs are one of the problems why Guelph has not achieved greater business and industrial development that increases revenue. The current assessment ratio between residential and commercial/industrial is a dismal 84 per cent to 16 per cent. It has not changed in ten years. The Ontario average ratio in many cities is 60/40. Neighbouring Milton is an example.

Now let’s take the General Government’s cost comparison. Guelph spends $229 per person in this category. The Ontario average cost per person is $104. The difference is a whopping 120 per cent additional cost to every resident of the city.

Further, General Government expense is not a service but overhead. Based on a per capita population, it can be reduced to meet needed operational expenses. This would bring the city government costs in line with what most Ontario municipalities are currently paying. Also, it’s an excellent place to start cutting operational costs.

This method does not affect service cuts to the public, the favourite excuse of the majority of council and the new Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson. He says the staff will not propose any service cuts in the 2017 budget.

The current acting CFO, DCAO, Mark Amoroso, doesn’t like to talk about the per capita cost to Guelph’s citizens. He says it’s irrelevant. Does he care? He lives in Hamilton.

Looking back nine years, how have your household costs affected you? Did the exploding cost of running a city overtake your income, an ability to pay your City taxes? You are not alone.

Only we the people can create change

This message was paid for by a group of Guelph citizens who care about their city. Now it’s your turn. The best way the people can influence change in the way your money is being managed, is to contact your councillor. Each member has received the Fung analysis. Demand answers from them over the excessive spending and mismanagement contained in this well-documented report. Pat Fung has provided indisputable evidence that this city is on the brink of financial disaster, compounded in the past nine years.

To help stop this recklessness, join the thousands of Guelph residents engaged in protest of the way their city is being mismanaged. Please donate to help finance the protest. Send your donation and comments to:

GrassRoots Guelph

Box 250 – 17A – 218 Silvercreek Pkwy, North,

Guelph ON N1H 8E8

Please make your cheques and money orders payable to GrassRoots Guelph. Sorry, we cannot accept credit card contributions, but cash in a sealed envelope is welcome. No contribution is considered too small. All funds received will be used exclusively for creating change in the way our city is being managed.

Both GrassRoots Guelph and http://www.guelphspeaks.ca are non-profit organizations and manned by volunteers. Thanks for participating, welcome to the cause and join the protest today supporting common sense management.

For a copy of Pat’s full analysis, go to: www.guelphspeaks.ca or email pat.fung@sympatico.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Memo to city administration: It’s about the spending, stupid

By Gerry Barker

September 22, 2016

There was a guy named James Carville who, in the 1992 Presidential election, coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Carville was a political agent for Democrat candidate Bill Clinton who was facing George H.W. Bush. That one sentence galvanized the U.S. electorate to elect Clinton their new president.

It doesn’t take much more convincing that Guelph has not only a spending problem but the problem of carrying the baggage of money wasted on various schemes initiated by the former Farbridge administration.

There have been a number of revelations of money wasted. The Urbacon city hall contract lawsuit added an additional $23 million to the original cost of the building, taking the cost to $65 million. An impatient mayor triggered the firing of the general contractor, when the building was 95 per cent finished, caused this. That led to the defeat of the former mayor. She has yet to apologize for that mistake in judgment.

Did the public approve of this?

In her eight years in office, the former mayor and her council majority of supporters, allowed the number of full-time city staff to balloon by more than 35 per cent. The population increase during that period was 6.5 per cent.

Along comes the $37.1 million spent by the city-owned Guelph Municipal holdings Inc. (GMHI). The board was chaired by the mayor and four members of council, giving the chair absolute authority.

She exercised that authority behind closed doors without any public participation or input. Last May 16, we learned the truth about her secret project to develop two District Energy Node pumps, powered by natural gas and through a complex underground co-generation system, supplied hot and cold water to nearby buildings.

The Node located in the Sleeman Centre, supplies the co-generated hot and cold water to the two, new hi-rise Tricar Condo buildings, Sleeman Centre, RiverRun Theatres and St. Mark’s church.

Pankaj Sardana delivered the bad news to council in an open meeting. He said the project was started with a bad business plan and should never have been started in the first place. His presentation to the GMHI shareholders, aka city council was supported by the former CAO, Ann Pappert, who had served a Chief Executive Officer(CEO) of GMHI for four years.

If anyone knew of what GMHI was planning, it had to be her. But no one, the former mayor, the four councillors or Ms. Pappert serving on the GMHI board, said a word. Mr. Sardana’s presentation was the first indication of trouble with this project.

The devil is in the details

On July 13, the staff presented a detailed report on how the project failed and the associated costs. Those costs included the sum of $68.5 million an “impairment” asset on the city books. What is the interpretation of an ”impairment” charge? If the recoverable amount of an investment is less than its carrying value, then the asset is deemed to be impaired. The value must be written down to the recoverable amount.

Now most people know that the city must balance its books every year.

But because Farbridge persuaded her city council comrades to form GMHI in 2010, as a separate corporation, the finances went off the city books. This clandestine approval allowed her to pursue her dream of energy sustainability and reduction of carbon.

This $68.5 million is impaired because the cost of carrying the asset is some $3.5 million and exceeds the revenue. But there is no provision in the city income to pay these interest costs annually. The result is the so-called “asset” becomes a liability on the city books. In other words, the citizens have to pay for this colossal, multi-million dollar mistake. Yet Mark Amorosi keeps saying the city finances are in solid condition.

The mysteries remain: How was that impaired investment money spent? Was it a term loan? Who guaranteed it? Are there hard assets to provide collateral under-pinning the funds?

Mr. Sardana only mentioned that there were investors bankrolling the funds. It now appears that those “investors” were Guelph Hydro through it subsidiary, Guelph Hydro Electric Services Inc (GHESI). This is the billing and collection department of Guelph Hydro. The cash flow from some 55,000 customers each month is estimated to be more than $20 million or $240,000,000 a year.

The next question: Did the former mayor use that cash flow to finance her abortive Community Energy Initiative (CEI)?

And did her demands for GMHI financing, impact the Hydro costs of the estimated 55,000 customers in the past four years? During that time consumer Hydro charges increased by 42.5 per cent in Guelph.

If you can’t use it, pay someone else to take it off your hands

And what is the provincial electricity system doing during that period? Among other things, it is paying U.S. Border States to take its excess power off its hands. That indicates that since 2006, power consumption has dropped in Ontario by 13 per cent. Yet, the province continues to expand wind, solar and natural gas fired generators adding another 1,300 megawatts (MW) this year. The province’s supply of power now has an installed capacity of 40,000 MW.

The highest daily peak demand was in 2006, during the summer, when demand reached 27,000 MW. This year, during a severe drought for most of the summer months, the peak demand exceeded 23,000 MW for just one day.

Despite these facts of provincial power capacity and usage, the former mayor amalgamated Guelph Hydro that is owned by the city, with GMHI. She gained complete control, using the utility as her piggy bank to fulfill her CEI dream of power sustainability and climate control.

Mr. Sardana says that neither GMHI nor the Guelph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Corporation, is financially viable.

With what we know now, I feel the police should investigate this whole GMHI/Guelph Hydro failed plan. If for no other reason, the public needs assurance there is no evidence of fraud, misuse of public funds, failing to disclose GMHI financial data of the operations to citizens. There should also be an investigation into complicity on the part of the former mayor, members of council serving on the GMHI board of directors, and Guelph Hydro.

We know that the Bloc of Seven majority supporters of the former mayor will never agree to any investigation of the CEI despite the evidence, that is now public that they tried to suppress. In fact, the city is advertising for people to apply for the CEI public advisory board, despite the history of CEI and the financial mess that remains.

By failing to accept their responsibility to effectively represent their electors, they face a backlash, if not next year but the year after, when they must answer to the voters in the October 2018 civic election.

In Guelph, preparations are underway to create the staff’s 2017 budget recommendations to Council sometime in the next few weeks. Rumours have been flying about the financial condition of the city.

Citizens who will be able to make presentations during the process will closely follow this procedure to finalize the next city budget.

There is a viable cost-cutting alternative financial plan on the table prepared by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA. It will be interesting to discover how this plan will affect the outcome. To obtain a copy, go to www.guelphspeaks.ca and it is available for downloading.

Please participate, it’s our future.

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Karen Farbridge sticks it to our city like peanut butter in a mutt’s mouth

By Gerry Barker

September 9,   2016

Despite rejection by the people she disrespected for eight years, the former mayor’’s influence remains intact.

After almost 22 months of a new council, the administration of the former mayor has created a debt load that will take years to reduce, if ever.

The real debt of the city lays in the deals the Farbridge administration approved, binding Guelph to off-the-books debt that must be repaid or written off.

Examples include giving the Tricar condo projects a ten-year, complex benefits that defy interpreation as inducement to build condos in the downtown area. The fallout of this is the administration then induced Tricar to participate in the Farbridge dream of co-generation of power and hot and cold running water to their buildings.

How smart was that?

Now Tricar is stuck with a co-generation project that faces immanent collapse. Yes, they agreed to hook up to the District Energy Node in the Sleeman Centre to supply their condos with hot and cold water. But the project, according to Pankaj Sardana, the CEO of the project, is crushed by a bad business plan (a Farbridge historical failing) and should never have been started in the first place.

Taxpayers meanwhile, are stuck with bills totaling $37.1 million plus a $68.3 million impaired asset on the city books that is rapidly becoming a debit due to the failure of the former mayor’s co-generation dream. Add to that, in order to keep the Farbridge Community Energy Initiative (CEI) alive, Mr. Sardana and the Deloitte consultants are stating it will take another $60 million to make the cco-generation, District Energy system work.

Now enter the present city council dominated by the leftist Bloc of Seven. They voted as a bloc to continue to support the District Energy system until the first quarter of 2017. They did say there was to be no further investment until the project is reviewed,

The Bloc of Seven drop-kicks the District Energy debacle to 2018

That decision was another example of this group to drop kick contentious projects into the 2018 budget year to avoid including it in the 2017 budget. It’s off the table for a year thanks to this vote.

Here’s another debt of the Farbridge long-range commitment club. Remember that last minute decision in August 2014 to approve spending $34 million on the proposed Guelph Police Headquarters renovation? The Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB) in January, asked for $13 million. The added $21 million dollar upgrade went through council within days of the lock-down of approving capital projects before a civic election.

Here’s how the pro-Farbridge council at the time financed that project. A Police reserve fund provided $3 million, some $14.8 million is to be collected from future development fees and $16.3 is supplied by going into more debt. So the Farbridge administration mortgaged the police project by using the shaky collateral of fees yet to be collected from unknown future development to cover the cost. But for how long?

It was a compromise made by the devil, the devil you say! Yes we now know why CFO at the time Al Horsman, left Finance for the tranquillity of Waste Management and Environment Services in the November senior management realignment. He left the city last August for greener pastures in Sault Ste. Marie.

This is only one example of how the Farbridge administration and to a lesser extent the Guthrie term, has pledged taxpayer money to pay for projects over the distant future.

The net effect of this financial baggage is to bind future councils to set aside direct or indirect funding of past projects before taking care of the needs of the people they serve.

This is exactly what is happening in Ontario where successive Liberal governments have dumped a debt load of billions onto taxpayers. It is disaster ranking up there with the sinking of the Titanic. The people of Ontario face an almost insurmountable recovery under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne. Her personal approval rating has now dropped to 24 per cent.

It’s amateur night at 1 Carden Street

City council and its senior staff, uses kitchen table financing by taking from one (reserve) account to pay for the overspending of its own budget each year since 2011. These are known as negative variances.

In 2010 the city had $77 million in 97 reserve funds. Today, there are 26 reserve funds with an estimated value of $10 million. The reserves have been tapped out, in order to balance the books as required by provincial law. Because of the excessive spending, led by the Urbacon lawsuit cost the city more than $65 million. The reserves have not been replenished despite the high property tax and user fee increases during the Farbridge years.

This is another legacy left by the former mayor. She not only emptied the reserves’ pot but forced long-term debt of an estimated $250 million onto the shoulders of those who are responsible for paying the bills. That group of stakeholders includes past, present and future residents.

Then consider the new nine-year capital budget, starting this budget year that already is underfunded, according to staff, by $170 million. That means there is no possible way that there will be a new downtown library or south end recreation centre in the foreseeable future. There just isn’t the money or method to finance each of those long-promised projects estimated to cost $105 million at today’s prices.

Ms. Farbridge and her elected progressive supporters have made sure of that.

No amount of new development can possibly repair this egregious abuse of the public purse. Likewise, property taxes already among the highest in the province, cannot meet the demands of needed capital prjects that serve the people. Too much has already been wasted on esoteric environmental projects such as road dieting, bicycle lanes and waste collection. Oh! I almost forgot, climate change. The dominating progressives have pursued their own personal agendas for nine years and have turned our city into one of the most expensive municipalities in Ontario in which to live.

On a personal note, our two-month hydro and water charges topped out in August 2014 at around $620 for two months. Today, hydro is billing monthly along with water charges. Comparing the equivalent period of two drought-affected months in 2016, the billing is $752 or an increase of $132. Same house, same two occupants and we are paying a 21.29 per cent increase.

Blame the Wynne government for our soaring Hydro rates

This is a trend that began five years ago in which the cost of electricity has risen 42.5 per cent. Starting in January, the Wynne government will be adding a carbon tax to hydro customer’s bills. Adding insult to injury, we will also be charged HST on the new tax.

So when the Ontario Minister of Energy claims that Ontario has one of the lowest electricity costs of any province in the country, has he checked them all? Does he explain that under the Liberal government’s energy sustainability program, Hydro is paying U.S. Border States to take our surplus power. That means Ontarians are now subsidizing the electricity needs of foreign states.

Ms. Wynne says relief of high hydro bills is on the way. Here’s a top Premier: Stop expanding our capacity to produce power such at the planned expansion of 1,300 megawatts this year. Also stop paying for private wind and solar producers to generate power that is not needed.

Wonder when that deal trickles down to Ontario consumers?

Toss in the cost of annual subsidies spent on Guelph Transit – $15 million; the Sleeman Center – $249,361; the RiverRun Theatre – $531,440; a city staff numbering more than 2,100 full time equivalent employees (FTE’s) who are paid by tax-funded revenue, representing 80 per cent of the total property taxes collected from some 55,000 households and businesses in the city.

For details on how the city staff has among the highest managerial costs in Ontario, go the guelphspeaks.ca archives and check out Pat Fung’s excellent analysis of Guelph costs compared to other cities.

The math indicates that future staff pension liability, directs the municipality to guarantee each employee upon retirement. The exponential growth of the Guelph civic staff and remuneration has steadily increased that liability and the costs of carrying it. Think about this: We are living longer and city employees, on average, are retiring at 55. Can you imagine that 20 years from now the City will be guaranteeing the indexed pensions of hundreds of former employees. It is possible that we could be guaranteeing the pensions of three former employees at the same time, who retired at 55, lived until 85 and held the same job.

Now add the city’s non-tax funded service increases including city water, Guelph Hydro, parking, storm water usage, $5 dumping fee, use of city-owned facilities including the civic museum, libraries, the Farmer’s Market, donations to 10 Carden Street ($110,000), the politicized Wellbeing give-away operation ($150,000) and a multitude of user fees.

Next comes the annual $300,000 support to build bicycle lanes on major roads that is funded by property taxes.

That’s what we do know. The problem is that there is a lot that we don’t know because of the closed-door meetings of council and its side corporation, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI). For breaking the Code of Conduct, council members can be investigated by the Integrity Commissioner. Councillors are forbidden to reveal the discussions, details, decisions and opinions to the public under a bylaw passed by the previous council covering closed session meetings.

Since 2007, everything has been done to deny information to the stakeholders. City communications are nothing but propaganda pieces instead of explaining the issues concisely, warts and all. Instead, the closed session meetings held by elected officials and selected staff, on and off the premises, hides the truth, thwarts public access and has placed our city in a dire financial situation.

As a sidebar, There are 11 employees in the city communications department. In contrast, the lone print media outlet, the twice a week Guelph Mercury Tribune, has four editorial staffers including the editor, two general reporters and a sports reporter.

If the Tribune can produce news reports with basically two reporters, why does the city need 11?

What a terrible miscarriage of responsibility inflicted by an ideologically dominated group on the people of this city.

Late breaking news.

Former Guelph councillor Maggie Laidlaw writing in the Mercury-Tribune Thursday, September 8, said the Money Sense magazine dropped its rating for Guelph from 15 out of more than 200 cities to 32. Maggie blamed it all on Mayor Cam Guthrie. She crowed about all the awards the former mayor had won and how she was well known nationally and internationally. But Maggie, she was defeated by more than 5,000 votes and you also lost your bid for re-election. Which only proves the adage by the late Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, that all politics is local.

 

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An expert’s analysis of the numbers why City Council must lower run-away operational costs – Part One of Two parts

GuelphSpeaks is proud to present an open letter sent August 18 to city council by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA CA. Mr. Fung will take you through the reasons why the city’s operational and capital costs are well above the average of cities across the province. The charts describe in detail eight years of soaring taxes and user fees to pay for operations caused by the previous administration. He has used 2015 and 2014 as the latest baseline for comparison purposes.

We urge all citizens to carefully examine these important documents, with Part One to be posted Monday, August 29, and Part Two to be posted Thursday September 1.

This letter is a serious analysis from publicly available documents that details the high costs of operations since 2008.

As usual, your comments are most welcome. GB

By Pat Fung, CPA, CA

I am glad to see that some on Council have now stated that our operating costs are too high (Guelph Mercury-Tribune July 15, 2016 – “Special tax levy back on Guelph council’s radar”- http://m.guelphmercury.com/news-story/6769276-special-tax-levy-on-council-s-radar

It is time to reduce operating costs from 2016 levels and freeze taxes and fees at the 2016 levels.

I will reiterate the point that I made at the public budget council meeting in November 2015 – according to the BMA report, there are areas where we spend far too much compared to other Ontario municipalities. In response to my comment, Deputy CAO of Corporate Services Mark Amorosi called BMA cost per person statistics irrelevant. Subsequently, I sent you emails proving otherwise, as such learned organizations as the Fraser Institute, BC Council of Business, Trent University and University of Toronto have stated that cost per person is relevant. Additionally the County of Brant in its local paper professed it was proud to be the low cost provider of services based on the BMA report.

Councillor Allt asked Mr. Amorosi for a full response to my query at that November 2015 meeting. However, other than repeating that he considered cost per person irrelevant and twisting the words of the president of BMA to suit his purposes, Mr. Amorosi has yet to provide what he considers to be important metrics for measuring city performance even though it was requested several times. It is irresponsible for Mr. Amorosi to say something is irrelevant without stating what he considers to be relevant. If he has his own metrics, he should provide them to the taxpayers of Guelph. If the DCAO doesn’t have metrics for measuring performance, how does the Office of the CAO defend its current rate of spending and its statement on the City website last year that said a critical review of budgets was done and the organization was lean? Statistics from the 2014 BMA report which the City paid for indicate otherwise:

A simple review of Guelph’s historical spending makes it evident that Guelph’s expenses are increasing at an unacceptable rate. As can be seen in Chart A below, operating costs rose by 56% or $139 million from 2008 to 2015 while CPI only went up 11% and population went up less than that (Census data not available).

Chart A – Guelph Operating Costs 2008 to 2015 (source: audited financial statements)

($ thousands) 2015 2014 2008   Change ’08 to ’15 % change
 
General government 27,070 25,136 18,891 8,179 +43.3%
Protection services 79,550 75,506 51,855 27,695 +53.4%
Transportation services 60,381 57,405 43,380 17,001 +39.2%
Environmental services 76,238 72,697 35,035 41,203 +117.6%
Health services 29,180 27,522 18,524 10,656 +57.5%
Social and family services 43,601 52,280 51,183 -7,582 -14.8%
Social housing 21,372 20,444 n/a 21,372  
Recreation and cultural services 40,906 39,481 23,947 16,959 +70.8%
Planning and development 7,313 6,155 3,986 3,327 +83.5%
Total Expenses 385,611 376,626 246,801   138,810 +56.2%
Consumer Price Index 126.6 125.2 114.1 12.5 +11.0%
Cost per capita (120,000) $3,213 $3,138  

To halt this trend, I recommend laying off staff, reducing salaries of senior staff and reducing other non-payroll expenditures in the areas cited below in Chart B. There appears to be ample room for reductions because Guelph spends $30 million more per year than the average Ontario city in the following areas:

Chart B

Selected areas from 2014 BMA report Guelph cost per person Ontario cost per person Excess spending relative to other Ontario Cities based on 120,000 population in Guelph
1) General government $229 $104 $15,000,000
2) Fire $185 $165 $ 2,400,000
3) Waste collection $29 $10 $ 2,280,000
4) Roads $244 $198 $ 5,520,000
5) Parks $77 $59 $ 2,160,000
6) Library $72 $50 $ 2,640,000
Total $836 $586 $30,000,000
2014 Operating costs $3,138 N/A  

Other notable metrics from the 2014 BMA Report:

Chart C

Water/Sewer 2014 BMA Meter size Guelph BMA Ontario Average % difference
Residential 200 cu M 5/8” $808 $858 (6%)
Commercial 10,000 cu M 2” $31,999 $28,849 10%
Industrial 30,000 cu M 3” $94,316 $84,510 10%
Industrial 100,000 cu M 4” $308,548 $273,931 11%
Industrial 500,000 cu M 6” $1,522,293 $1,344,195 12%
Waste collection $/tonne $137 $114 20%
Roads $/kilometre $27,617 $11,847 133%

Except for residential water/sewer, why are commercial and industrial water/sewer costs 10% to 12% higher than average Ontario?

Why are waste collection costs 20% higher than average Ontario?

Why are road costs 133% higher than average Ontario?

Based on the above, if Guelph’s operating expenses are reduced by even $20 million (a 5% reduction of the $385 million actual spending in 2015), and taxes and other revenue are held constant, the City will build up its reserves by $200 million in 10 years which will go a long way to funding the capital/infrastructure gap.

Here are some specific reductions within the areas cited in Chart B that should be considered:

General Government (Chart B, line 1)

General government is not a service and all attempts should be made to reduce costs in this area. Reductions here should not affect the general population of the city.

  1. According to the 2015 Sunshine List, the City may have too many Human Resources personnel. We cannot afford them all. Notably,
  • There are 6 people working in Guelph City Hall with HR in their title making over $100,000 per year. One that appears superfluous is the HR Manager, Client Services making $117,000. This is not a position that appears in most HR organization charts. What clients does this position serve? What is its purpose?
  • In HR, there is a Manager, Total Rewards and a Compensation Specialist, both of whom earn over $100,000. Why is it necessary to have 2 positions paying over $100,000 for compensation? Isn’t most of this covered by union agreements?
  • Two other staffers in other departments that look like HR people – a Chief Training Officer earning $126,000 and a Training Officer earning $119,000 – We cannot afford two people in training each earning over $100,000. How many others are there in training? This appears to be way out of line compared to what teachers earn.

Collectively, $362,000 in reductions in annual HR payroll could be achieved by eliminating these management positions – and that’s before considering whether all of the staff that report to them are necessary and/or affordable.

  1. According to the 2015 Sunshine List, Guelph has one of the highest paid CAOs at $257,000. The following chart compares this salary with the CAOs in some Southern Ontario cities. Why does Guelph pay more for a CAO than larger cities?
 

City

 

CAO Salary

 

Salary Difference versus Guelph

 

Population

Population Difference versus Guelph
Guelph $257,000 121,700
Kitchener $213,000 -$44,000 219,200 +97,500
Brampton $230,000 -$27,000 523,900 +402,200
Barrie $241,000 -$16,000 136,100 +14,400

Is the high salary reflected all the way down the chain of command? If so, management salaries must be reduced. We cannot afford paying more than other cities. Guelph’s high salaries certainly are not justified. The poor results that we have seen in recent years do not reflect exemplary performance (e.g. Urbacon; Direct Energy; Recycling Detroit waste; being over budget in expenses most years since 2008; 2016 budget error in waste disposal; CRA assessment reported in 2010 and again in 2012).

  1. According to the 2015 Sunshine List, Guelph has a General Manager, Business Development Enterprise making $156,000. The comparable position in other Southern Ontario cities is paid less, even in Mississauga and Toronto!
City Business Development Manager Salary Difference versus Guelph Population Difference versus Guelph
Guelph $156,000 121,700
Kitchener $132,000 -$24,000 219,200 +97,500
Brampton $111,000 -$45,000 523,900 +402,200
Barrie $140,000 -$16,000 136,100 +14,400
Mississauga $135,000 -$21,000 713,400 +591,700
Toronto $120,000 -$36,000 2,615,000 +2,493,300

Why does Guelph pay more for its Business Development Manager? Are Business Development staff similarly paid higher than others? What are the performance metrics for this department? What revenue has it brought to the City in recent years?

  1. According to the 2015 Sunshine List, Guelph has a General Manager, Culture Tourism and Community Investment who is paid $142,000. This Manager’s salary seems out of line since this position only has responsibility for Tourism while directors in other cities are responsible for Tourism plus Economic or Business Development:
City Position Salary Difference versus Guelph
Guelph General Manager, Culture Tourism and Community Investment $142,000
Hamilton Director of Tourism and Culture $146,000 +$4,000
Brampton Director of Economic Development and Tourism $167,000 +$25,000
Brantford Director of Business Development and Tourism $134,000 -$8,000
Toronto Manager of Tourism $122,000 -$20,000

Given the above, and referring back to point #3 above, Guelph has two high-priced General Managers covering business development and tourism. Is this necessary given the practice elsewhere of combining these responsibilities? It certainly doesn’t appear affordable. What are the performance metrics for this position/department?

  1. At Council meetings. there are staff present (presumably getting paid overtime or time in lieu) who either don’t get called on to explain anything or present reports that are so brief that they don’t appear to justify the staff member’s presence in a Council meeting for 4-5 hours. How much does the presence of non-essential staff at Council and other committee meetings contribute to City Hall’s high overtime costs? How many other meetings do staff attend where they are observers and not participants? Observers and other non-contributors should not attend meetings. They should just receive the minutes.

The complete organization chart for the City is not publically available. However, according to the 2015 Sunshine List, there are 92 Guelph positions with the word “manager” in their title. Clearly, the City has numerous middle managers in addition to other senior staff. The City must reduce these positions and flatten out the organization to make it more responsive and more cost effective. In our financial situation, we cannot afford this huge layer of middle management.

On Thursday, September 1, read Part Two of this important document that demonstrates the facts of soaring operational costs. Mr. Fung doesn’t mince words pinpointing where some of our financial problems lie and how to fix them. His analysis is based on a combination of audited financial statements issued by the city since 2008 and the 2014 BMA consultant’s report.

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An Open Letter to the Honourable Bill Mauro, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs

August 22, 2016

Dear Minister:

My wife and I are residents of the City of Guelph. In this letter I will present facts about the nine-year administration of the city and how the citizens have been negatively affected. I am a retired newspaperman who has written extensively about the city operations and currently write a blog called guelphspeaks.ca.

In all, I have produced 804 posts on the GS blog since 2011.

To describe me as being biased is an understatement. I am politically independent but acutely aware of the betrayal of public trust that eight years of the administration under former mayor Karen Farbridge created. Working with hundreds of citizens in 2013/14, we managed to defeat the mayor and four of her council supporters.

But nothing has really changed. Seven councillors loyal to the defeated mayor are in control of the present council of 13. This Bloc of Seven are supported by a diminished senior staff including the CAO Ann Pappert, resigned in May; DCAO Al Horsman resigned last August to accept a job as CAO of Sault Ste Marie. Only two senior staff remain who were part of the previous administration. Both are in key positions to manage the staff of 2,100.

Cutting to the chase. Who is managing the store?

Here are the facts of a city that is in disarray about the increasing financial mismanagement as there have been seven individuals heading the finance department since 2016. These include David Kenney, Margaret Neubaur, Mark Chapman, Susan Aram, Barbara Powell, Janice Sheehy and Mark Amorosi.

Currently, the position of Chief Financial Officer has been vacant for 19 months. Since November 2014, two individuals were named as general managers of finance and treasurer and the most recent appointee left last March. The DCAO responsible for finances since November 2014, is Mark Amorosi, despite a search for a CFO by a headhunter. He appointed a junior analyst in the finance department as the new CFO. She is currently on maternity leave and will not be available until next year.

The former CAO, Ann Pappert, was responsible for the city staff preparing budgets and ensuring the city’s books were balanced by December 31 as required by provincial law. Every year for five years, there were negative variances near year-end because the budget was overspent. The books were balanced using funds from the reserves.

This resulted in a serious reduction in the many reserves that had been used to balance the books. An independent consultant warned the administration of this situation and described it by raising a “red flag.”

Spending $16.5 million on someone else’s property

The newly elected Councillor Leanne Piper, a former head of the Guelph Heritage Group, initiated the civic museum project in 2007 with council approval. Four years later, the cost had increased by $3 million to more than $16 million. She insisted that the building, a pre-Confederation convent located on property owned by the Roman Catholic diocese of Hamilton, be preserved. The original staff estimate was $12.7 million. Together Provincial and Federal governments gave $6 million. There was protest that the money was being spent on property not owned by the city. Details of the lease arrangement were never reported. The bill for landscaping the building was more than $1 million in 2013.

Paying its share of the 2009 Infrastructure program

The Farbridge administration called the Guelph Hydro note due to the city, to pay for its share of the 2009 provincial/federal infrastructure program costing $22 million. The administration spent an additional $7 million on various projects such as a $75,000 time clock in the Sleeman Centre replacing one that was working perfectly. Another $2 million was spent on Stone Road bicycle lanes.

If you build it, they will come

The organic waste composting facility that was overbuilt in 2011 cost $34 million. This plant was approved to process 30,000 tonnes of wet feedstock per year. The total tonnage of such material from the city each year was less than a third of that capacity. The plant is manned and managed by a subsidiary company of the contractor, Maple Reinders, known as Aim Environmental. The finished composted material is sold to unknown clients. None is offered to citizens who financed the facility. The city refuses to reveal the details of the contract to protect the proprietary interests of the private operator of the plant.

The bin waste collection system that misses 13 per cent of the population

Without public input, the city imposed a $15.5 million waste collection cart system that cannot service some 6,000 condo residences. The automated trucks cannot maneuvre in the new, programmed intensification residences with small yards for bin storage, narrow roads or access. These condo HOA residents must hire private contractors to remove their waste with much of it going straight to the landfill.

The Community Energy Initiative that failed

The formation of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GMHI) by the Far bridge administration included amalgamating Guelph Hydro with GMHI. It was only recently discovered that Envida Community Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Guelph Hydro, spent $8.7 million on a District Energy program. The plan included an underground co-generation pipeline network supplying hot and cold water to some nearby downtown buildings and three businesses in the Hanlon Creek Business Park. This initiative had no benefit to the majority of Guelph residents. It was another example of controlling, far left agenda, to achieve energy and environmental goals that rightfully were the responsibility of senior governments.

Instead, the administration used municipal revenues and credit to pursue an unwanted agenda. The result was neglect of infrastructure maintenance of a 200-year city. For its 2017 budget, the staff is proposing a 2 per cent special property tax levy for ten years to pay for the eight–year neglect of infrastructure maintenance. Combined with the increase in assessments, this will have the effect of driving property taxes to more than five per cent annually for ten years, not accounting for the impact of inflation.

Minister, This entire Community Energy Initiative was planned and executed in closed sessions of GMHI that were chaired by Mayor Farbridge with four of her councillors, two independents and the CEO of Guelph Hydro. The costs of this enterprise are more that $37.1 million. It was all conducted beyond public scrutiny for four years. Until council was told May 16 this year about the failure of the business plan and associated costs, the people were left in the dark. Both GMHI and Envida corporations have no financial capacity. The City of Guelph is holding an impaired investment of $68 million that is rapidly decreasing as an asset on the city books.

The CEO/CFO of GMHI, told council, representing the shareholders, that an additional $60 million will be required to continue the Community Energy Initiative. Regardless, the council majority group voted to keep the system going until the first quarter of 2017.

The high cost of waste management

The Waste Management Innovation Centre has cost an estimated $10 million to process recyclable materials, non-compostable organic materials, waste for the landfill etc. The deal with the Region of Waterloo to process 10,000 tonnes of wet feedstock at less than cost to the organic plant failed to provide the volume agreed to but the Region still had to pay.

There was an un-documented deal with the Rizzo Brothers waste management company in Detroit, to ship and process recyclable materials to Guelph. The deal fell apart when Detroit supplied materials that failed to meet the standard of condition had to be retured or sent to the landfill. The internal audit showed the loss exceeded $500,000. The manager responsible left the city.

The city hall construction lawsuit

The lawsuit by Urbacon Buildings Group Inc. against the city, was for breach of contract involving the construction of the new city hall and renovation of the former city hall into a provincial court. The original $42 million contract, signed in 2006, was exceeded by $23 million in 2015. The city terminated the contract in September 2008 and ordered the Urbacon staff and subcontractors off the site. Justice Donald MacKenzie found the city in breach of contract in April 2014 and ordered costs to be determined by the parties by October. The city attempted to delay that order until after the election and failed. The city settled with Urbacon in September 2014 paying $8.96 million. Some $5.5 million of those funds were removed from three unrelated reserves. Since October 2014, the funds have not been returned to the reserves.

How the four senior staff members helped themselves

On December 9, 2015, the CAO and three deputy CAO’s witnessed council awarding them with salary increases ranging from 14 per cent to 19 per cent for 2015. The new salaries were not announced but because the meeting was held in camera, the bylaw states the persons attending cannot reveal the content of closed sessions. In our opinion, this is a gross misinterpretation of the Ontario Municipal Act governing closed meetings.

The public did not discover the numbers until the provincial Sunshine List was published in March. The CAO received a $37,591 increase making her one of the highest paid CAO’s in comparably-sized cities in Ontario. She resigned in May in the face of public outrage. Details of that severance have not been revealed. The same can be said for her successor, Derrick Thomson, who was on the job for two years, had turned in his resignation, but was brought back to be CAO of the city.

Mark Amorosi, DCAO of Corporate Services including finance and human resources, said after the increases were revealed that the reason Ann Pappert received the large increase in 2015 was because she did not receive an increase in 2014. The Sunshine List says differently with the CAO receiving an increase of $5,051 in 2014.

Minister, these are some of the incidents of mismanagement and waste that has driven property tax rates to among the highest in Ontario. Hydro bills have soared 42 per cent in four years. Water bills increased on average by 4 per cent each year, despite a reduction in usage by citizens and businesses.

Why the comparable neighbouring cities of Kitchener and Cambridge possessing operating and capital spending that is 50 per cent less than Guelph, speaks to the ongoing mismanagement of the city and its governance.

My wife and I are retirees and respectfully ask that you ask your staff to investigate these facts. We believe we have presented the material in good conscience and responsibility. The palpable misuse of trust and manipulation of the rules has ignited a groundswell of distrust and helplessness but citizens are unable to do anything about it.

Your intervention to correct what we, and many others are concerned about, can give ordinary citizens who love our city, hope. Hope for a return of confidence that our city is running professionally the way the province intends.

And public trust and interest is preserved.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Gerry and Barbara Barker

 

 

 

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The Farbridge Fallout: 10 years of a toxic administration leaves an enduring legacy

By Gerry Barker

August 6, 2016

Like most people in Guelph, we are beginning to understand the underground story of financial failure, secrecy and wasteful spending that is slowly emerging following eight years of a Farbridge administration. It is a litany of abuse of the public trust by the majority of elected officials. We have endured an administration riddled with absurd decisions and too much influence over those elected and entrusted with the people’s interests.

We are now witnessing the denuding of senior staff that shares responsibility for spending millions of public money with compliance of the former mayor’s majority of council.

Gone is Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert; Executive Director of Waste Management and Environmental Services, Janet Laird; Executive Director of Operations Derek McCaughan; Former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Al Horsman; Former General Manager of Finance and Treasurer, Janice Sheehy; former manager of Finance (pre Horsman), Susan Arum; Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, now suing the city for wrongful dismissal; former Police Chief Bryan Larkin who played a major role in selling the $34.1 million police headquarters renovation along with former Mayor Farbridge and Coun. Leanne Piper.

Rising from the wreckage is CAO Derrick Thomson, former Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, (DCAO), of Operations; General Manager of Culture and Tourism, Colleen Clack who takes over Thomson’s job as DCAO of Operations including Guelph Transit; Finance department analyst, Tara Baker, recently named Chief Financial Officer, General Manager, Finance and Treasurer. She does not assume the job until next year.

This is another example of moving people up whose experience or accreditation may not match their new responsibilities. Ms. Baker was selected even after the city used a headhunter to conduct a search for a CFO.

There is one senior employee who remains post 2014. Mark Amorosi has responsibility for human resources and city finances as DCAO of Corporate Services.

This situation, in which continuity and responsibility that Mr. Amorosi has artfully engineered, is by reaching in-house and ignoring a professional search. We still paid for it. Since his employment in 2008, he has been the architect of building a bloated bureaucracy that has increased in terms of full-time employees to more than 2,100 from 1,500. He is in charge of all personnel and their issues including salaries, wages and benefits. The city staff is now 80 per cent unionized. And, more than 80 per cent of all property taxes are used to pay the staf.

Staff morale is at an all-time low

The staff has reached the depths of low morale but most hang on because of the money and benefits. Working for the city or the University of Guelph provides above average pay, benefits and job security. But many staffers say it’s a lousy place to work because of a senior management that is erratic, lacks empathy and consistently changes the work plan.

Amorosi, in his unique position of power, also looked after himself and fellow senior staff with those unearned 2015 salary increases for the CAO and three fellow DCAO’s. Those increases ranged from 14 to 19 per cent and the people who paid them were never informed. That is not until the provincial Sunshine List of public servants earning more than $100,000 was released last March.

Talk about a sneaky attack on the public purse. It makes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour almost saintly by comparison. The Yanks at least knew what was happening in that day of infamy. Citizens were not informed about those increases until months after council approved the deal, in closed session.

What does it take to rid our administration of this individual who has been the author and executor of the city’s declining financial capacity? It is now apparent that Amorosi was picked to meet her objectives by Farbridge as her got-to guy to steer her now misguided and failed vision of Guelph.

In order to accomplish those Farbridge goals, and polices, procedural bylaws were passed by her majority of council supporters. She banned any revelation of what was discussed in closed sessions of council known as “in camera” meetings.

A Code of Conduct that would allow the mayor to censure any councillor who spoke out of line following an “in camera” proceeding, backed up the procedural bylaw. In 2010, the Farbridge council appointed an Integrity Commission whose function was to adjudicate alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct by any member of city council.

There were two such actions sent to the Integrity Commissioner. One was against then Ward Four Councillor, now Mayor Cam Guthrie, who along with a minority of councillors threatened to demand a public document that was refused by the staff. The other was against former Councillor Maggi Laidlaw accused of being belligerent with staff during a committee meeting.

Integrity Commissioner gets another five-year contract

The Integrity Commissioner’s report of both cases did not sanction either party. His bill was more than $10,000. The Integrity Commissioner was awarded another five-year term last March with an annual retainer of $5,000 plus an hourly rate when he was engaged.

That contract was approved in another “in camera” session and details were never revealed. It is another example of the public interest being blocked.

When the former mayor organized the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI), she appointed herself as chairperson and four members of council to hold a majority. The Chief Executive Officer of Guelph Hydro and two Farbridge-appointed independents completed the board of directors. Newly appointed CAO Ann Pappert was named Chief Executive Officer. So there is no doubt about the tight link between the City Corporation and GHMI.

For five years, GMHI conducted its meetings in private session, beyond public access or transparency. In all those years, not one councillor who sat on the GMHI board said anything about what GMHI was doing.

And what they were doing was spending some $37.1 million on developing a District Energy plan that included connecting two Nodes (natural gas fired pumps) to a small number of nearby buildings to supply hot and cold water.

The trouble was that $37.1 million wasn’t enough to make the system function. The Nodes were located in the Sleeman Centre and the Hanlon Creek Business Park. A staff report July 18, 2016, detailed the financing of these projects and stated that it was badly planned and executed and required another $60 million to make it work and meet the original objective.

Spending more money on a failed project

GuelphSpeaks has written extensively about this situation and those posts may be found in the blog archives.

Council, on a staff recommendation, hired Deloitte as consultants to advise them what to do next. Council chose to continue the operation until March 2017. Supporting that motion was the Bloc of Seven Farbridge supporters on council plus Coun. Bob Bell. Deloitte’s bill will range between $130,000 and $160,000.

The only way to stop this growing financial disaster is to complain to the Ombudsman of Ontario regarding all those closed meetings held over six years conducted by GMHI, a wholly owned corporation of the City of Guelph.

If just four residents of Oshawa can complain about its council meeting conducted in camera to discuss the sale of its Hydro, it should not take much to ask for an Ombudsman staff investigation.

Here is an extract of how to complain. I’m sending one in, how about you?

Here are your Ombudsman choices

Have you already tried to resolve your problem with the organization’s complaint procedures? If you aren’t sure what options are available, you can speak to the organization directly or the Ombudsman’s staff can assist you.

Note – Yes, several times to no avail. GuelphSpeaks received one annual report (2014) that showed Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. a wholly owned city corporation that included Guelph Hydro losing $2.8 million.

The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about municipalities and universities as of January 1, 2016.

Note – Guelph citizens can now make a complaint.

Fill in an online complaint form (for other options, see below).
It is also helpful to:

*  Get the names and titles of the people you have dealt with at the government or public sector body;

  • Keep track of the dates of your contact with them;
  • Keep all written communication relating to your complaint.

Note: Citizens were not informed of what was occurring during the five years the city was operating a separate corporation that was making decisions with no accountability, transparency or public input.

Submit a complaint online

Please note that we do not accept complaints through Twitter, Facebook, or any other third-party platforms.
Telephone  Our complaints staff is available 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You may also leave a voice message outside of office hours. Toll-free (inside Ontario only): 1-800-263-1830

Calls with our Office may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes and/or to ensure an accurate and exact record.

Email:  
info@ombudsman.on.ca

Fax:    416-586-3485

Mail:    Print our complaint form (PDF)
Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario
Bell Trinity Square
483 Bay Street, 10th Floor, South Tower
Toronto, ON
M5G 2C9

In person:  An appointment is recommended for in-person (walk-in) complaints. Please call 1-800-263-1830 to schedule an appointment.
The office is located at 483 Bay Street, (Bell Trinity Square, 10th Floor, South Tower), Toronto. Office hours are from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Review our Frequently Asked Questions. Or call 1-800-263-1-830 during office hours to speak to Ombudsman staff.

 

Please note:

If you want to complain about the closed-door operations of both the city and GMHI, try to include names and dates of staff or councillor conversations with whom you questioned plus their replies.

A starting point is requesting copies of the minutes of all those GMHI meetings, dates, names and motions. The source is the city clerk’s office.

If you need advice completing your complaint, please send me an email at gerrybaker76@gmail.com. Identification is a requirement. GB
 

 

 

 

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Our 10th year covering the political world of Guelph and beyond

By Gerry Barker

A personal note by the editor of GuelphSpeaks

August 4, 2016

It started in the fall of 2006 when the Mercury refused to publish a letter I wrote complaining about the personal attacks on then Mayor Kate Quarrie. I met with the editor, Phil Andrews, and he said it was the policy of the Mercury not to publish partisan letters 30 days before the October civic election.

I suggested that perhaps I should complain to the Ontario Press Council for the paper’s arbitrary rule not to publish partisan letters. Isn’t the job of the paper to reflect the varied political interests of the community? Phil suggested that perhaps I would consider writing a monthly column, at the bottom of the editotial page starting after the election. My column, “Between the Lines,” was born.

It lasted for five years until Phil emailed me in December 2011 to say the paper was discontinuing the column. I was disappointed but not for long as guelphspeaks.ca (GS) was born.

Now most of those influential players of 2011 are gone. The list keeps growing: former mayor Karen Farbridge; Mercury editor Phil Andrews; death of the Mercury; Editor Chris Clark of the Tribune; Mercury municipal beat reporter Scott Tracey; former Police Chief Bryan Larkin; Janet Laird, architect of the waste management system; Hans Loewig Chief Administrative Officer and the killer of the Urbacon new city hall project; CFO Margaret Neubauer; CAO Ann Pappert appointed in 2011; Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole; councillors Lise Burcher; Todd Dennis; Ian Findlay; Maggie Laidlaw and Gloria Kovach.

And we shouldn’t forget the 2007 firing of CAO Larry Kotseff and CFO David Kennedy. The settlement to these fine public servants was more than $500,000. They were in the way of the Farbridge plans to change Guelph regardless of the cost. Now, how much did former CAO Ann Pappert receive on her recent resignation?

Last man standing

Today, of all those people, only Deputy Administrative Officer Mark, Amorosi, remains in senior city management. Since 2007, Guelph has had eight employees in charge of city finances including Amorosi but not the newly appointed Tara Baker.

That record in itself tells the story of a volatile and mismanaged state of city finances in the past nine years.

I wrote 92 columns for the Mercury and since June 2011, I have written 798 posts on guelphspeaks.ca. This translates into a growing number of viewers of the posts.

In the 31 days of July, thousands of viewers have logged on to guelphspeaks.ca. Readership is monitored daily through the Blog’s independent tracking system.

Summer traffic usually declines as folks go away. But not this July. The key is the blog content and I usually write three posts a week. This requires research including contacts, websites and a lot of background gathered in the past ten years.

July 2016 has been a major news month. The rain was falling inside city hall as the news of wasted funding and senior management changes prevailed, but not outside where real rain is needed.

Over the years, it has been extremely difficult to obtain facts and evidence because our city council still conducts most of its contentious business in the back room, in private. Fortunately, the number of contacts and supporters has grown that supply tips and details of how our city is being managed, or in many cases not.

Conducting the public business behind closed doors

To justify holding these closed-door meetings, the city clerk researches a reason to close the meeting according to the Ontario Municipal Act (OMA) regarding closed meetings. Inevitably the discussion bears no resemblance to the legal reason for closing the meeting under the OMA.

This was illustrated by a recent report by the Ontario Ombudsman regarding a closed meeting by the Oshawa council to discuss selling its hydro system. The legal rationale for holding this meeting behind closed doors was for “training and intelligence” reasons. The Ombud said that legal rationale was not only illegal but an attempt to prevent the public from knowing the details of a major issue. It only took four letters from residents to the Ombudsman’s officer to trigger the investigation.

In Guelph there is now ample evidence that the previous administration deliberately thwarted the intent of the OMA, by holding secret meetings, not only council but also by a wholly owned subsidiary, Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI). This was an off-the-books corporation that was controlled by members of council who were paid a stipend.

It owned and controlled two assets, Guelph Junction Railroad and Guelph Hydro.

The result was taxpayers became responsible for spending $37.1 million on a project over which they had no say, no accountability and were kept in the dark like farm-grown mushrooms.

GS is a blog that never sleeps. It is available 24/7 and I am astonished to discover that viewers drop in to read the latest in the middle of the night.

GS is the only convenient and free professional news and commentary source that discusses serious critical issues facing the city. I have written enough about this city’s operations and personalities to fill three novels.

The controlling council denizens of the left are negatively vocal about guelphspeaks.ca. And the feeling is mutual. You see, I hate dictatorships and our city has been and still is controlled by a group of supporters of the policies of the previous administration. They are part of a nine-year dictatorship that has squandered millions of taxpayer dollars during that time.

Where did all that reserve money go?

Now the cupboard is bare. In 2011, there were 97 dedicated reserve funds holding $77,782,000. Today there are 26 reserve funds and consideration is underway to consolidate the number. It is believed there is less than $10 million in reserves remaining.

Just where did all that money go? This crowd of managers and councillors might as well have worn masks as they robbed the people’s treasure to finance their ideological projects and flagrant mismanagement of our money.

For the 2011 Financial Information Report, the city auditor, Deloitte and Touche, reported that using dedicated reserves to balance a budget is like using your credit card and being charged 22 per cent. The effect is the same.

The city administration has used reserves to balance its books every year since 2011. The management fails to forecast accurate budgets and then overspends to balance the books as required at yearend. The perfect example in 2014 was taking $5.7 million from three, unrelated reserves, to help pay for the $8.96 million required to settle a lawsuit. It followed a trial that found the city wrongfully dismissed Urbacon Buildings Group Inc., general contractors of the new city hall project, before the 2014 municipal election.

Those reserves have yet to be repaid as promised by former CAO, Ann Pappert.

Our new Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson, reports that the current nine-year capital-spending plan, after just the first year, has a $170 million shortfall.

One could say that it is the highest of compliments when the Bloc of Seven councillors strike back at GS for calling them out.

I intend to serve my fellow residents with the most accurate and informative commentary that is the hallmark of this independent blog. I have personally spent my own money to finance GS. I am beholden to no one. I do it because I believe we need true reform of city governance. There will be more on this later.

My name goes on all my posts.

The blog has achieved much and there is much more to cover and report.

I wish to thank the many supporters and contributors. Despite the council majority’s obstructionism, we are making progress.

Please join the growing GS movement to bring common sense and accountability back to our city. Only we can change it. Please let me know about your views and observations by using the pages of GS.

Our greatest opportunity to create change is by collectively challenging the status quo at 1 Carden Street. It means questioning our elected officials regularly by telephone, email and snail mail. Be free to use the comment section of GS to express your opinion.

Contact your friends and neighbours to follow GS and comment their views.

The more citizens who express their views is the key to getting the attention of members of council.

It may be the right time to send some letters of complaint about the closed meetings to the Ontario Ombudsman and request an investigation. A good starting point would be reporting the secrecy surrounding the Community Energy Initiative’s spending and the link to Guelph Hydro.

It’s time to take back our city and return it to the people who own it.

Sincerely,

Gerry and Barbara Barker, my editor, wife, best friend and severest critic.

 

Note: Upon checking the final copy, I discovered several typos.  As as two-fingered typist, they sometimes hit the wrong key. It’s a problem of bad light and errant fingers. GB

 

 

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Guelph’s civic operational crisis took nine years to fester and the solutions will not come soon or easy

By Gerry Barker

June 2, 2016

The newly named Mercury Tribune (MT) asked in an editorial: “Is city hall in trouble?”

Why did it take this long to figure that out? Does blowing $27 million on the new city hall project not get the paper’s attention? For eight years the owners of the Mercury and the Tribune soft-pedaled any criticism of the Farbridge administration.

Since the Mercury went to newspaper heaven, the newly named Mercury Tribune carries on the policies of the owners not to bite the hand that feeds you. That’s a reference to the city advertising that is published regularly in the Tribune. Ironically its titled “City News.” The cost is estimated to be $500,000 a year.

Why government competition regulators allowed two newspapers, owned by the same corporation operating in a relatively small community, remains a mystery. The day the Mercury died marked the end of responsible print journalism in Guelph.

To quote the late Lord Thomson of Fleet, a former newspaper baron: “News is the stuff we put around the ads.”

It’s another example of claiming an inanimate object is in trouble. No, It’s the people who run the show who are in trouble. It has been growing like a cancer in the workplace for the past nine years.

It started with the election of former mayor Karen Farbridge and a majority of council who shared her vision of a socialist nirvana and of being a world leader in environmental practices.

She ran the city as a dictator who believed it was the right thing to do for the City of Guelph.

Her policies included:

* Millions spent on waste management (organic waste facility, waste collection system, the Detroit recyclable deal, failure to collect waste from some 6,000 residences).

* Action to reject the use of fossil fuels that affect climate change (bike lanes, Guelph Transit, deliberate lane reductions in major roads … the war on cars).

* Enforced sustainability of green energy supply, (Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc and Guelph Hydro, the geo-thermal and district energy projects, high water and electricity rates).

* Housing intensification, (eliminating single family homes and failing to produce affordable housing).

* Creating financial mismanagement that has driven the city’s cost of living up by more than 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener.

How council hid behind closed-doors

And you know what? Most of it was achieved behind closed doors with little or no input from the citizens, except their so-called progressive supporters.

The MT editorial concluded: “Council needs to control things behind the scenes and mend the rife before it gets any worse.”

This coming from a twice-weekly paper that receives thousands of dollars in advertising from the City of Guelph called “City News.”

This isn’t Kansas Toto, and the people are awakening to realize that more closed-door sessions are not going to solve the problem of a city management dissolving before our very eyes. The only senior managers left are DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Scott Stewart. At this point, the people do not have the confidence that Mr. Amorosi should be considered as CAO.

It did not happen overnight, but has been building up for years. It intensified with the revelation of the Urbacon affair that cost the city more than $27 million over budget to build a new city hall and to renovate the old one into a provincial court.

That was the last straw for the citizens and, in October 2014, they defeated the mayor two of her supporters and there were two supporters who did not run for office.

To the astonishment of the majority of electors, nothing changed. The senior staff under CAO Pappert, in November 2014, before the new council took over, reorganized itself into a committee composed of the CAO and three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, (DCAO).

Then in March this year, we learned that the three deputies had awarded themselves with huge increases without council’s approval. The current regulation allows the CAO to hire and fire staffers. Only council must approve the CAO’s employment increases.

Well, that’s what happened last December 9, in closed session; Ms.Pappert was given a $37,537 base salary increase for 2015, plus $6,000 in taxable benefits. The public didn’t find out about this 17.11 increase, until last March when the provincial Sunshine list of civic employees earning more than $100,000 was released.

And the Mercury Tribune wants very complex operational change to be solved “behind the scenes?”

This newspaper and its defunct predecessor exacerbated the problem over the Farbridge years by rewriting city news releases. Rarely, I can remember, was there any investigative reporting or digging behind the scenes. And, there was no shortage of material to investigate.

The tiger representing the silent majority is awakening

Now city council has a tiger by the tail. The entire senior management structure needs a complete overhaul. The lower ranked members of the city staff need assurances and guidance to renew efficiency, productivity and restore morale.

There are three key positions that needed as a priority: An independent and professional City Manager replacing Ms. Pappert, a Chief Financial Officer, a Director of Operations. Mr. Scott Steward current DCAO of Environmental Services could be a candidate for the vital operations portfolio. Another possible candidate as a director is City Clerk, Stephen O’Brien.

Mr. Amorosi may want to move on as his responsibilities as head of Corporate Services, should be assumed by the new city manager.

None of this is going to occur overnight. Resetting governance and management polices including salaries and organizational structure will take months, if not years.

Looming immediately is the audit of the GMHI operations to be released shortly. In the fall there is the 2017 budget preparations and consideration of the staff that proposed 2 per cent property tax infrastruture levy for owners.

With the current make-up of city council, the solutions will not come easily. That’s where we the people come in. Tell our councillors to bury their political differences and work together to restore responsible government to Guelph.

If not, work to get rid of those who fail to meet their responsibilities.

If we don’t react, I’m reminded if the late Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo, who said in the Okeefenokee Swamp: “ We have seen the enemy and they is us.”

 

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