Tag Archives: Leanne Piper

Why you should care about Guelph Hydro risking your money to finance a flawed energy project

By Gerry Barker

May 30, 2016

The former Dalton McGuinty government launched into a misguided and costly program to move power generation away from fossil fuels to sustainable sources including wind and sun. Oh yes, then we still have a natural gas power plant generating 2,100 megawatts. Question, did it not cost more than a billion dollars to decommission the partially constructed gas generation plants in Oakville and Mississauga? Because the incoming Liberals wanted to save three seats in the area, including that of current Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa.

The first step to fulfill the McGuinty strategy of shutting down the coal-fired generating plants, was to dismantle Ontario Hydro and create three corporations: Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation Corporation (OPG) and the Ontario Power Authority.

Since that move was made, there was the small item of the $35 billion debt left behind by the former Ontario Hydro. Today, paying that charge down for the past 13 years, it was recently removed from your Hydro power bills. Regardless, during that time, we were all charged the HST on our bill. To my mind, I have never seen an accounting of the status of that old Hydro debt or what remains to be repaid?

According to the OPG since 2003, some 13 years ago, the Hydro trio of corporations has spent $16 billion on transmission and distribution. More than $21 billion has been spent on cleaner generation, read that eliminating coal fired- generation.

Since then, The Liberal governments of McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have never balanced the books, creating an annual Ontario deficits ranging from $7 billion up to $13 billion. They did it because they could.

Let’s look at Guelph Hydro that in the past five years has seen hydro bills increase by an estimated 25 per cent. Part of this was passed through by OPG because of the aforementioned costs of converting from coal to wind, sun and natural gas.

An ignoble effort that has driven Ontario’s electricity costs to one of the highest in North America. The record shows that, there is so much power being generated 24-7 in Ontario that the surplus is sold at much less than cost, to neighbouring U.S. states. You can’t store electricity so the province has failed miserably to plan power development to match the needs of Ontario consumers. Instead, we end up subsidizing U.S. power users.

This has resulted in providing cheap Ontario power to competitors below the border, rebuilding the manufacturing base of those jurisdictions, while Ontario’s manufacturing base declines.

It is important to know that part of the high cost of power in Ontario were the deals made with private organizations, to build wind farms and solar arrays. The payoffs were juicy giving 20-year contracts to organizations that were guaranteed a kilowatt per hour rate of 20 cents, about 13 cents higher than what it cost to produce power. So the result was an enormous increase in the cost of retail power to Ontarians.

What does all this have to do with Guelph’s power customers?

Shortly following the 2010 civic election, Mayor Karen Farbridge organized Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI), naming herself as board chairman; four of her most trusted councillors plus two independent members were also added to the board. In 2011 Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert was named Chief Executive Officer of GMHI.

The mayor believed that Guelph needed to adopt alternative energy systems to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Her problem was she could not use the financial resources of the City of Guelph because they were tapped out and it would affect the city’s credit rating.

So, she decided to bring the city-owned Guelph Hydro Inc (GHI) into GMHI. Her intent was to use it as the financial source to develop district energy plants and geo-thermal underground heating and cooling. The heat of the two current natural gas district energy pumps would heat the water distributed to select customers. The system was on a closed loop so it required a refrigeration unit to cool the circulated water during the warmer months.

This underground piping has already been installed.

I know, it sounds very complicated and I apologize for using the alphabet soup of acronyms. As it turned out, it has cost the citizens $26,637,244 and the current GMHI CEO/CFO, Pankj Sardana, says there is no hope that the money will ever be recovered. He further said the project should never have been started in the first place.

So, who put up the $26 million? We know that Guelph Hydro separate corporation, Electric Services Inc. (GHESI), inherited Envida Corporation; the organization charged with implementing the failed Community Energy Initiative passed by the Farbridge controlled council in 2007.

And where did GHESI get the money for this energy adventure? They got it from every Guelph Hydro customer in the city. And that’s why Guelph has one of the highest Hydro rates in the country.

In her eight years in office, the former mayor drove up property tax rates by some 38 per cent compounded. Now we learn the truth of her willful use of using Guelph Hydro to finance a thoroughly mismanaged and badly planned project without any regard for risk. She did it in secret, without public consultation or an environmental study.

The final question is why did the Guelph Hydro board of directors never object or question the GMHI operation? They knew what was happening because the GHI leadership was part of the GMHI.

The solution is to abolish the appointed board of Guelph Hydro and elect three Hydro Commissioner in the 2018 civic election. Only this way, the people may get some accountability.

All the players in this from the former mayor and GHI management should share the complicity and blame in the planning and execution of the geo-thermal project. There was no assessment of the number of thermal customers who were ready to sign up. This reminds us of that famous line: “If we build it, they will come.”

CEO Sardana was blunt when he said there was not sufficient number of thermal customers to pay the capital costs or operation of the district energy plants.

It is incredible that senior staff making eye-popping salaries and benefits failed to intervene and prevent this from occurring. Equally, why did Councillors Karl Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland fail to speak when they were involved? Why did they not question the decisions surrounding the development that cost more than $26 million?

They can achieve a measure of redemption by recommending the whole system be shut down and the equipment moth-balled.

Then, council should order an independent investigation into how this project failed and identify the mistakes that were made, resulting in this enormous financial loss of public money.

It was recently revealed that the originator of this debacle was the former mayor, Karen Farbridge. Today she is operating a consultancy to provide a “tool-kit for local elected leaders to build more resilient, sustainable and prosperous communities for all Canadians by taking action on climate change.”

With respect, any potential clients should check Ms. Farbridge’s track record in eight years as mayor of the City of Guelph.

In another post on her blog she said: “It’s the low-carbon economy, stupid.” I guess anyone who doesn’t like her tools are, well: Stupid.

That would include the 20,000 voters who defeated her in 2014.

 

 

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We elected a Mayor to clean up the Farbridge debris and got a sleepwalker

By Gerry Barker

Posted March 1, 2016

Some people wonder why I get angry over the operations of my city.

I am a retired professional newspaper executive. I am a resident of Guelph, who like most of you, pays property taxes, user fees such a water, in and out, electricity the costs of which has zoomed through the roof, and having to deal with increasing traffic congestion.

So, what are my wife and I receiving for the privilege of living in the Royal City?

We’ve lived here for 14 years and our taxes have doubled. Our use of water has increased by 75 per cent and the cost of power has zoomed to a point where it is difficult to estimate the huge increase in this basic Canadian need. All I can say is that when the water bills were removed from the joint billing arrangement with Guelph Hydro, our power bill was $255 and we were not even in the home for the billing month. The announcement of the split said the power accounting would commence in January.

So why do I keep complaining?

I’ve been writing about the Farbridge administration’s era eight years of mismanagement since 2007. My copy has focused on bringing critical analysis of the city administration to the attention of the citizens. In five years, I have written 749 posts on my guelphspeaks.ca blog.

The traditional media coasted along coexisting with the Farbridge administration. I wrote a regular column in the Guelph Mercury for four years until I was told my services were not longer required, a nice way of saying: “You’re fired!”

One of the triggers for my dismissal was that I established guelphspeaks.ca blog in 2011 to allow more frequent commentary than was allowed by the Mercury.

Fast forward: The TorStar subsidiary, MetroLand Publishing, owners of the Guelph Mercury, suspended the print edition of the paper this year. The entire staff was let go and paid off.

This unexpected development shook up the political scene in the city. Without hesitation, the decision has contributed to the downward spiral of administration mismanagememt that has led to a financial crisis.

In recent blogs, guelphspeaks.ca has detailed the mistakes, lawsuits and resignation of a key person in charge of financial management. These are not merely unfortunate occurences, but confirmation of a pattern of gross incompetence.

When I cover this pathway of self-destruction, it is easy to see the weakness in the way our city is currently being managed.

Here’s the absolute skinny:

Karen Farbridge was determined to fashion Guelph into a new city with world class sustainability, waste management, revitalizing downtown and adopting policies that defied logic and benefits to all citizens.

Let’s examine the Farbridge agenda and its impact on our city.

The former Mayor’s action plan included obscuring her intention, solidifying her support, particularly with the nine civic employee unions that represented 80 per cent of all civic workers.

She then, with a solid majority of councillors for eight years, introduced procedural and governance bylaws that locked in her powerful hold on the city administration, including the elected members of council.. She hired only senior staff that supported her agendas.

In eight years, she increased the staff by 50 percent despite a population increase of ony 7.5 per cent.

She authorized the spending of $34 million to build a wet-waste composting plant that is ten times the size of Guelph’s wet waste disposal needs for 20 years. Then she turned over the operation of the facility to a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, builders of the facility.

The untold millions were spent on the Waste Innovative Resource Centre (WIRC) on Dunlop Drive. This was the crown jewel of her “world class” plan to manage waste. The costs of operating this enterprise, to this day, are still unknown. We can only guess where the money came from, including the taxpayers, borrowing from the banks, raidingnthe reserves, or selling off city-owned assets. There has not been a third party audit of that adventure.

Next came the $15.5 millioin spent on a waste collection system using automated trucks costing $150,000 each and bins for households and businesses. Trouble is the system fails to serve and estimated 13 per cent of the population.

Pardon me if I get a little personal about garbage. In 14 years, we have paid a portion of our property taxes for waste collection. Instead, the city refused to enter our 22-home land condominium because the trucks could not turn around at the top of our street. So our small homeowners association pays more tha $6,000 a year for a private contractor to remove our unsorted waste to the WRIC where it is sent to the landfill.

An after-thought, the Guelph Fire Department driving its large fire vehicles does not have the problem of turning around on our street during its practice runs.

Why do I get angry? Because the waste of financial resources over the eight years was capped in 2014 when the city paid an additional $23 million to finish the new city hall and provincial court project’s original contract of $42 million. Then the CAO lied about how the $8.96 million, taken from three reserve funds, would be paid back.

This action by the former administration, also led to raiding other reserve accounts to pay for its mismanagement. Those affected reserve funds are now seriously depleted. The city’s consultants performing a review of operations described the situation as “red flag of caution.”

In the 15 months since Cam Guthrie was elected mayor, there is little difference in curbing the spending with property taxes, user fees and staff costs continuing to esculate. The city’s spending on operational and capital costs in 2014 was 50 per cent higher than either Cambridge or Kitchener.

A new study shows that in the past five years, if Guelph had allocated 50 per cent of the annual operational increases for infrastructure renovation, there would be no need now for a special two per cent property tax levy over the next ten years. Just at the beginning of the 2016 budget talks, this levy proposal was recommended by the staff. Coun. June Hofland quickly buried the proposal on a motion as chair of the finance committee.

I was at that meeting and was not aware that happened until the Tribune revealed the proposal after the budget had been approved some time later. Why wasn’t this tax levy discussed by council? Why did the mayor not allow discussion on this proposal?

Why did the citizens have to learn about this in the Tribune?

I get frustrated when I see seven elected members of city council voting the former administration’s agenda as a bloc. There does not seem to be any balance on this council that lacks informed public discussion and debate.

Our mayor says he only has one vote and has to get along with his colleagues.

That amounts to a tacit admission that he has decided to go along to get along.

It is now time to say no. It is time to tell the elected members of the administration to work togther to reduce the costs of running our city. There are many ways to accomplish this without drastically reducing services.

It won’t be easy when you hear comments from Coun. Leanne Piper who says “the low hanging fruit of cost cutting” has already occurred and there is nothing more that can be done to reduce costs.

The Guelph administration has reached the tipping point of financial collapse. It has reached the stage that revenues are tapped out while costs keep rising. You don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to understand the outcome of this strategy.

A first step would be to replace at least four senior managers, all of whom were hired by the previous administration. For starters, hiring a new city manager and Chief Financial Officer should be a priority to achieve meaningful reform.

Please Note: Events move swiftly and to keep up, check out the guelphspeaks archives for recent posts. As always feel free to comment.GB

 

 

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The world according to Coun. Leanne Piper

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 16, 2016

The nine-year record of city Councillor Leanne Piper, reveals that when it comes to credibility, her record is wanting.

The following contains part her response to a letter sent by Glen Tolhurst that questioned the city’s financial administration.

But let’s review her nine-year performance as an elected member of Guelph city council. This includes her undying support of former Mayor Karen Farbridge who was defeated in the 2014 civic election. Recently, Ms. Piper denied the charge that there is division among councillor stating that most votes are not 7/6, but carry with a much greater majority.

She goes on to complain that those councillors and their supporters who complain about this situation are merely perpetuating division on council. That sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

The real problem is she and her six colleagues are attempting to perpetuate the Farbridge agenda despite its repudiation by the city electorate.

We begin with her assertion that a 3 per cent tax increase does not affect those who pay taxes. Her explanation comes right from the professional staff playbook.

To quote her: “A 3 per cent increase in the ‘net tax levy’ does not mean that your taxes, or anyone else’s, are going up 3 per cent.” She proceeds to explain that 3 per cent is the increase from the previous year’s budget. Okay so far. Then she says that new and revised assessment adds to revenue. The combination of tax increase and new assessment results in the net tax levy. Both are used to determine the mill rate.

She neglects to explain how that ‘net 3 per cent’ does not affect the amount of taxes a taxpayer must pay.

Well councillor, you didn’t mention that for four years the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) did not increase assessments on orders from then Premier Dalton McGuinty. Despote the loss in revenue that did not stop your administration from increasing property taxes annually during that period. In fact, since the 2008 global financial collapse, you were party to approving excessive property tax rates and user fees that far exceeded the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of less than 2 percent per year. Did your associates and street sources not understand the impact on ratepayers?

Is it possible they are not taxpayers and don’t care?

Whatever happened to pay off the Urbacon $23 million cost overruns?

A stunning example of this disregard for reality is the statement of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, that “the $8.96 million settlement with the fired Urbacon contractor of the new city hall, would not affect property taxes.” Most citizens are still waiting for answers to that statement cause their taxes continue to increase.

Coupled with the lowest rate of wage increases in 10 years, it resulted in excessive municipal taxation by your administration. Your lust for revenue translated in forcing many homeowners to struggle to pay their taxes and municipally controlled service fees such as power and water.

You closed your mind when data on city operations as reported by your administration and that of two adjacent municipalities, shows that Guelph’s operating and capital spending is 50 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge.

You obviously don’t understand the principle of exponential growth of self-serving, uncontrolled spending and its affect on taxation.

This analysis is the unvarnished truth as determined by Guelph resident Mr. Pat Fung, CA, and CPA., who presented his findings to council. At the rate the current council increases property taxes and spending, that gap of serious financial disparity, will widen in the next few years. Apparently, Ms. Piper doesn’t believe it or doesn’t want to. The data produced by Mr. Fung was taken from the official Financial Information Reports filed by the three cities to the province.

The result of this misguided municipal tax strategy has placed Guelph as one of the most expensive cities in Ontario in which to live.

Summing up, the main beneficiaries of the city corporation are its employees. With seven unions representing 2,100 city employees, all of whom enjoy wages, salaries and benefits that far exceed private enterprise.

In fact, the Guelph and District Labour Council is a major supporter of the previous administration’s elected officials.

Despite this self-serving body of workers’ control, the people rejected the policies of the previous administration by defeating the former mayor and four of her council who either quit or lost the election.

That vote sent a strong and clear message that the citizens wanted a change in direction of council and the administration.

You and your colleagues, including the remnants of the previous administration, are still in technical control of council. As a bloc, you steadfastly refuse to engage or agree with reforms that the public voted for. Excessive taxation tops the list of public concern.

It’s the epitome of arrogance, disdain and dishonesty in which you and your colleagues have shunned your fiduciary responsibility by glossing over serious financial problems. Not the least of which is the $23 million loss associated with the Urbacon lawsuit and its fall out.

Yet, you and your colleagues refused to attend a January 25 regular council meeting claiming that your actions were to “protect the integrity of the corporation and staff.” The five of you walked away from your responsibility refusing to represent the people who elected you.

And the real reason was, during a closed session, you and your colleagues realized you did not have the majority to get your way and you walked away.

What were you thinking? Did you believe that you were a trade union with some kind of collective agreement that allowed you to walk out? Come the next civic election be prepared to defend your service to the electorate.

And that’s the world according to Coun. Leanne Piper.

 

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Is spending $101,000 of taxpayer money on “Wellbeing” a good idea?

By Gerry Barker

February 15, 2016

The city released the list of recipients who received public funding to carry out their plans and causes. An eight-person committee, in the name of a program called Community Wellbeing Grant Allocations, spent $101,000 in 2016.

The question arises, should the taxpayer be funding some 48 separate organizations targeting specific special interests? This largess appears to support fringe organizations that are politically oriented. They are assumed to be non-profit but there is no indication of this in the statements of recipients, issued by the city.

Let’s look at some of the grants that have been awarded, then you be the judge of whether those organization receiving public money are worthy of public funding.

To Kazoo or not to Kazoo?

My favourite is the “Kazoo Festival” that was given $5,000 to be used to enhance accessibility by expanding all-ages events. Is there a Kazoo parade in the offing?

Or, the “ED Video Media Arts Centre” awarded $13,000 to staff the centre; provide edit suites, workshops, exhibition programs, and support for local artists. Why are taxpayers funding this when there are ample opportunities in the community colleges that supply similar services?

The “Hillside Community Festival of Guelph” received $11,000. This event isn’t even held in the city. Founded by Coun. James Gordon, it sells tickets to attend and is a commercial operation that should not receive financial support of Guelph taxpayers. It is a Guelph event in name only.

Another music event is the “Guelph Jazz Festival” that received $14,000 to purchase a “large” tent, pay artist and production fees and fund an additional Friday night performance of “Jazz at Market Square.” I love jazz but this is another commercial event that features vendors selling products and should be considered as such.

Two other grants went to organizations that defy logic. The “Royal City Musical Productions” received $4,500 to pay rentals of faculty and equipment and wages for venue staff. The other is simply called ‘Silence” that received $5,000 to offer programming and space at low cost to residents and visitors in support of experimental music and sound art. Again, why are taxpayers paying to support commercial self-interest enterprises? This pair of recipients, sound (wrong word?) like they operate in somebody’s basement like Wayne’s World.

But wait! It gets better. Take the $13,000 grant to the “Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival,” This money will be used to offset programming, promotion and administration expenses associated with performance and outreach activities, including a variety of accessible affordable arts programs. Operationsl specifics appear to be absent.

Can we afforx to give away money?

This system of handing out public money was created by the former Farbridge administration. Instead of council having to ponder who gets what and how much, the council decided to adopt a program called “Wellbeing” that was billed as a contributor to the health and wellbeing of the community. A professor at the University of Waterloo developed the concept. Guelph purchased the methodology of the program, believed to cost more than $1 million.

To sell “Wellbeing” to the citizens, the city held a public meeting in the RiverRun Theatre. The crowd was chiefly composed of city staffers dragooned into attending. It was a charade nevertheless and council adopted “Wellbeing.”

A committee of eight individuals was formed but the members were never identified. Their credential and expertise was not given. Nor was there any indication of council oversight of their activities of funding, using public money.

Is it possib;e that “Wellbing” is a thinly disguised attempt to attract supporters to the future fortunes of the Farbridge agenda?

There are a number of organizations in the city that regularly support programs to enhance the ability of special interests groups to improve the core lifestyle of the city.

However, for the city to spend money supporting these groups, it goes beyond its basic responsibility. It is important to remember that the largest source of revenue of city revenues comes from property taxes and user fees.

The financial chickens are starting to return to roost. Already, the city senior staff is recommending a ten-year, 2 per cent special infrastructure levy on properties. Together, with the soaring costs of non-tax funded water supply (4.5 per cent increase this year) and a levy on storm water infrastructure, the ability to pay by taxpayers diminishes. (Non-tax funded, now, that’s an oxymoron because the citizen must pay it regardless,)

These financial gymnastics are coming from a staff that should know better and a council that is well, ill equipped to even understand the basic and ramifications of major financial management.

Case in point, the Urbacon lawsuit costing $23 million over original estimates.

This remains one of the many reasons why Guelph’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent greater than Cambridge and Kitchener. And that tremendous gap rests squarely on the shoulders of those in the city who pay taxes and user fees, that’s you and me.

Perhaps someone in city management can explain why Guelph spends $28,000 per kilometer for road repair and maintenance, when the provincial average is $11,000.

When this city lacks affordable housing, with families in stress and hungry, plus serious, drug and alcohol problems, it’s time to reconsider. We have a city management that has neglected for nine years, the aging infrastructure of a 200-year old city; perhaps it’s time to re-assess its priorities and responsibilities.

The senior staff recommendation? Slap another 2 per cent tax of every property for ten years, to pay for its past neglect and mismanagement.

When does the light come on?

P.S. Would someone be kind enough to send this post to Councillors Leane Piper and June Hofland? They say they don’t read guelphspeaks.ca. Wouldn’t want them to miss it.

 

 

 

 

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The trip wire that plunged Guelph’s finances into disarray

By Gerry Barker

Posted January 9, 2016

We go back to August 2014 when, two months before the October civic election, then Mayor Karen Far bridge persuaded her council to spend $34 million on renovating downtown police headquarters.

The mayor and Coun. Leanne Piper, appointed to the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB), were part of that board’s decision to accept a report by management consultants KPMG that identified the costs of the project.

Leading up to this decision, was consultation with then Police Chief Brian Larkin. He was the main advocate to raise the previous $13 million estimate accepted by council in January, to the KPMG estimate of $34 million.

During much of this process, Larkin was negotiating with the Waterloo Police Services Board to become chief. He announced he was leaving in early summer. As the GPSB is not empowered to finance the $34 million, it was the job of Farbridge and Piper to convince their colleagues to spend the money.

At the same time the mayor was facing settlement with Urbacon Buildings Group over the illegal firing of the new city hall general contractor. In September the city announced it had settled the lawsuit by paying Urbacon $8.96 million, at the time, Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert said the settlement would not impact property taxes.

For Farbridge, it was expedient to get these two issues behind her as she was in a tough battle with Coun. Cam Guthrie, who was running for mayor. In mid September the Forum polling firm released the results of a poll that showed Guthrie was ahead of the mayor by 15 per cent.

By this time, the mayor’s campaign went into panic mode, as there was widespread criticism of the mayor’s leadership.

But there’s more to this story.

Two decisions approved by the Farbridge administration amounted to $42.960,000. The real costs of the Urbacon lawsuit rounded out to $67 million, or some $25 million over the original contract of $42 million.

Looking back at the police HQ project, the role of former chief Larkin who left August 31 being paid some $181,000 for eight months on the job, was amplified by his ringing endorsement of Mayor Farbridge. The Ontario Police Act forbids police officers to publically endorse municipal politicians.

On December 9, 2015, the deadline for bids on renovating the new police HQ was received. So far, the city has not revealed the winner of the contract or the cost of the bid.

The police acknowledged that it has taken almost a year to prepare the bid details and necessary changes to the original estimate. They estimated the work would be completed by mid-2018, another election year.

In its first year in office, the new council has levied some 6.95 per cent property tax increases for the years 2015 and 2016. In addition more than 4.15 per cent of operating expenses have been shifted to debt.

Then the report, generated by the staff, recommending a ten-year, two per cent property tax special levy to pay for needed infrastructure repairs and replacement, was quickly taken off the council table just before 2016 budget deliberations began.

A week later the Tribune reported the facts about the proposed special tax levy stating after ten years the total collected from taxpayers would be $285,000,000. Council shoveled the report to a city committee meeting in February for consideration in the 2017 budget.

What this means to the citizens is a shrinkage of services and property values. The city’s operations and capital spending are 52 per cent higher than either Kitchener or Cambridge. Ask yourself why?

When, during budget discussion, why did Coun. Leanne piper want to hire another arborist to join the staff of five already employed for looking after city owned trees? Or why do we need a municipal holding corporation that delivers a $1.5 million “dividend” annually to the city but loses $2.8 million a year?

Why did the city replace auditing firm Deloitte Touche and hired KPMG? (Reference police HQ renovation estimated by this firm that led to an increase of $21 million.)

As the saying goes: If it smells like a fish, it’s a fish.

 

 

 

 

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Your GuelphSpeaks Weekender

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 13, 2015

How the people won the battle of 2014 but lost the war

We elected a dysfunctional council last year but now the traditional Councillor Christmas Party has been cancelled this year, the first year of their mandate.

What happened to civility, collegiality and good will among the members?

It probably was shattered the first meeting of the year when the majority of seven supporters of the progressive councillors elected, voted in their slate of committee chairs and board members.

In its first year in office, city council has increased property taxes by 6.95 per cent, the total for 2015 and 2016. That does not include the 4.12 per cent increase in water rates for 2016. The costs to the taxpayer is a 2016 increase of 7.11 per cent on the combines tax bill and water bill.

August 2014, the Police Heaquarters project

First, let’s review some history. Starting with a look back to August 2014. Outgoing Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin colluded with Mayor Karen Farbridge4 and Coun. Leanne Piper, the two elected councillors serving on the Guelph Police Services Board (GPSB). In January of 2014, the GPSB approved a renovation of the downtown police headquarters to cost some $13 million.

It became a crusade for better digs for the cops. Chief Larkin pushed for a more extensive renovation of headquarters. The GPSB hired project consultants and accountants, KPMG, to do a study that was used to convince city council to spend an estimated $34 million or $21 million more than the January estimate.

With an eye on the looming election, city council voted to spend the $34 million. There was no business plan, no detailed description of the work and no management plan of the staff moving to accommodate the construction. It was a manufactured rationale that was meaningless without the pertinent details to justify a $34 million acceptance.

About a week ago, Guelph Deputy Police Chief said the project completion was delayed until mid 2018 because detailed drawings and staff management had to be developed before asking for construction bids to do the actual work. On December 8, the bids had to be submitted to the city. This was more than 15 months after council approved the $34 million project.

Consider an inflation rate of 2 per cent times 15 months; the base additional cost of the project is more than $680,000 even before contraction begins.

Larkin has long gone to become Chief of the Waterloo Regional Police Service. Karen Farbridge was defeated in the October civic election. That leaves just Coun. Leanne Piper as the only survivor of the day council’s GPSB representatives sold city council on paying the estimated $34 million bill, the real cost of which has yet to be determined.

If this doesn’t smell like a replay of the $23 million cost overrun, building the new city hall, then perhaps we’re just being either cynical or naive.

September 2014, the Urbacon $8.96 million settlement

The second item of history lies with the settlement, announced in September 2014, paying Urbacon Buildings Group $8.96 million following the new city hall contractor’s $19.2 million lawsuit. Following the bouncing ball, the total overrun of the project zoomed from $42 million to $65 million.

The overrun was the direct responsibility of the Farbridge administration.

Both the police HQ and Urbacon settlement total capital spending is $57 million, before the 2014 election.

The city does not have $8.96 million lying around, let along another $34 million. Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, said the settlement would not impact property taxes and the reserves would be replenished by paying $900,000 a year for five years. That was the staff plan to pay just half of what the settlement cost the reserves.

When the 2015 budget was approved in March this year, Coun. Karl Wettstein moved that the replenishment of the three unrelated reserve funds that were raided to pay off Urbacon, be reduced from $900,000 to $500,000. It’s called kicking the ball down the road for someone else to catch.

He further said that the city staff prepare a revised reserve repayment plan for 2016. More kicking the ball down the road. The city’s operations review, carried out by BMA Management Consultants, noticed this reserve funds depletion, exacerbated the growing problem of under-funded reserve. The warning expression in their report was: “Cautionary Red Flag.”

Addressing Ms. Pappert’s assertion that property taxes would not be affected by the Urbacon settlement, it turns out we are paying 30 per cent higher property taxes in 2015 and 2016 than we did in 2014.

But here’s the truth. The city staff, led by Ms. Pappert and her Deputy CAO, Mark Amorosi, did not recommend any revised Urbacon reserve repayment plan in the 2016 budget, as instructed by Coun. Wettstein. So, how are they going to pay it back?

Nor there is no mention of the impending Police HQ renovation capital costs and the impact on the city’s 2016 capital budget.

Is it any wonder that there is a majority bloc of neo-progressives, whose experience in financial matters, to be charitable, is limited particularly in dealing with an operating budget of $216,442,599? More than 25 new staffers have been hired since the current council was elected. Some are in the process of being hired.

Zooming staff costs

The 2016 staff cost of wages, salaries and benefits will hit more than $200,000,000, or a cumulated gain of 52.5 per cent since 2008. That cost is directly paid through the property tax levy. Consider that for every new staff hire, annual increases in wages, salaries and benefits; the property taxpayer, that’s you and me, directly pays the cost. It is the major reason that Guelph’s property tax levy per person is among the highest in the country.

The failure to contain these costs lies directly with the senior staff management who are supported by the controlling progressive bloc on council. The following are the members of this bloc: Leanne Piper, Cathy Downer, Mike Salisbury, Karl Wettstein, Phil Allt, June Hofland, and James Gordon.

It’s called the 7-6 group and it will not change until 2018 when the next civic election is held or a bloc member defects to support Mayor Cam Guthrie and his supporters.

This is why we the people won the battle but lost the war.

Postscript

Maybe the war’s not over yet. Perhaps some positive changes can be introduced to ameliorate the surging cost of living in Guelph. Optimism works much better than the present negative polarity that is like a dragging boat anchor, stalling responsibility and common sense.

We can never lose the core spirit of our city and council’s responsibility to represent all the people, all the time.

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Is spending $100,000 for catering responsible, reasonable or a rip-off?

By Gerry Barker

Posted November 24, 2015

This week the Mercury reported that the city spent $103,282 on catering in 2014. The only way the citizens learned about this was because the newspaper filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Even then it will take another request to drill down to where the money was spent and who received the money.

DCAO Mark Amorosi is in charge of finances and his comments are opaque and stocked with generalities but no specifics.

For example, he says that the city caters to visitors, such as events at city hall by invitation only, or from outside organizations and government. Then it is appropriate for the city to supply coffee, juice or cookies.

Please Mark, you’re breaking me up.

This isn’t about cookies, coffee and juice, this is about lavish bun feeds at Cutten Fields or Bueno Gusto. This about the use of City of Guelph corporate credit cards being used to cater food and drinks for unnamed senior officials and unknown reasons.

When you divide the total amount recorded, $103,282, by the number of full-time equivalent employees, 2,100, it amounts to $49.18 per employee. So let’s stop kidding anyone. More than 80 per cent of those employees never claimed a dime for city-paid catering. That’s 1,680 staff leaving 420 employees, plus certain members of council, who probably used their corporate cards to cater, but to whom?

Experience has shown that the administration is exposed to people who want something and are prepared to pay for entertaining key staffers (decision makers) and members of council.

It appears that the chiefs of the administration are the main beneficiaries of the city catering budget, if one even exists.

But here’s Coun. Leanne Piper commenting on catering costs: “As far as saving money goes in relation to negotiating next year’s budget, it wouldn’t be worth it for the city to cut catering costs.”

Piper goes on to make the point that most councillors have day jobs, like her, and she says she leaves her University of Guelph job at 4:45 pm and doesn’t have time to go home and eat because council meets, usually starting at 5:00 pm. City Council meets some 26 times a year based on twice a month, except at budget time and takes the month of August off.

Then she adds: “Under the Employment Standards Act. If you’re working a double shift, if you’re working all day and expected to work into the night, then the employer is obligated to provide a meal.”

This warped logic only epitomizes the entitlement attitude that Ms. Piper feels she deserves.

First, who pays for the meal? The University or the City? Second, the city job is a part-time job that she chose. Third, if she thinks that this catering issue is not worthy of close examination, then she has little regard for her fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Guelph as an elected member of city council.

In polite circles it’s known as the Marie Antoinette syndrome: “Let them eat cake”

Oops, this piece is about catering. Okay it’s just an appropriate play on words.

You may ask why the Mercury was forced to obtain the catering information to which it had every right to obtain, from senor administrators. It’s public money and the public has the right to know.

Three years, ago, the former mayor and council spent more than $100,000 to a Toronto consultant to prepare an Open Government Action Plan to allow a free-flow of information to the people.

Today, we have Farbridge supporter Andy Best, manager of the open and transparent government plan. He was hired last spring on a one-year contract paying some $92,000.

Hold onto your hats folks, that contract has been extended under the proposed staff 2016 budget to three years costing $264,000.

Guess the only conclusion is, what’s Andy Best’s job? Is it worth paying $356,000?

Yet it is another expensive hangover of the former mayor’s eight years in office. The trouble is those policies and costs aren’t going away.

At least, not if Leanne Piper has anything to do with it.

 

 

 

 

 

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