By Gerry Barker
March 25 2019
I don’t know about you, well, some of you, but the majority group of councillors that has controlled the civic agenda for more than 12 years. It has becom tiresome and costly. They echoing the New Democratic party’s national policies dominating Guelph’s governance of its responsibilities.
There have been a number of attempts to make our city as a “World Class city” and damn the expense. That’s one aspect that is clear and historical or often hysterical.
Except that it’s our money they are playing with. I estimate that more than $150 million has been spent and wasted on projects that are beyond the support and power of our municipality.
How about this? In 13 budgets crafted and approved by the dominant left, there have been only two where the annual property tax rate has slightly been set under three per cent. When compounded exponentially, it’s more than 50 per cent. I won’t even go into the increases in user fees during those 13 years of budgets from 2007 to 2019.
When the new dominated council came into power in 2007, there were some 1,508 full-time (FTE’S) and part time employees. Today, with the approved addition of some 23 employees, the staff has grown to more than 2,350. It was reported that these additions would cost $9.2 million.
Now here is where it gets tricky, and in my opinion, deceptive
First, the police employee costs are filed separately to the province. From the city employee’s submission both payrolls are required under the Salary Disclosure Act. This Act requires every public servant in Ontario earning more than $100,000 must be included in the Sunshine List. The 2018 report is about to be published this month.
The city published a report wjich stated that 339 city employees were on the 2018 city list earning more than $100K
The question arises, were the police employees’ earning more than $100K included in the city list? Answer, no.
Second, why aren’t they? They are public employees whose remuneration is paid by the residents.
Third, we have the statement that the increase in property taxes for 2019 is 2.63 per cent. Apparently it is to be adjusted next month to reflect additional costs including property assessments and a catchall of undisclosed charges.
We interrupt this column to ask: Ever receive a city financial report?
The word ‘deception’ comes to mind that the budget announcement has become a political action document to assuage any negative public reaction. It also explains the reason why we cannot pay our property taxes in four equal installments.
Budgeting begins with examining performance of the 2018 budget. Knowing that, the staff prepares recommendations to complete the 2019 budget. You will recall this year the staff recommended a 3.99 per cent increase in property taxes, by far the greatest source of operating income of the city.
Miraculously, city council approved an increase of 2.63 per cent. I’d like to congratulate council for holding the line. But they still approved funding the Well-being grant program to non-profit groups totaling more than $300,000. Two years ago, that budget item was some $150,000. Has this been turned into a political support program?
Fourth, the craziness continues.
So far, there are four long-term plans announced in the past two years:
Starting with the Downtown Library that has had the longed gestation period of any project in 20 years. Next comes the South End Recreation development in which the city has already invested more than $3 million with a predicted price tag of $63 million.
Now for the two biggies contracts that will not be completed in ten years:
First, the Guelph Innovation District lands (GID). The city has already invested untold funding by city staff who are busy planning a satellite city on 250 acres on land they don’t own. While the PC government has announced it will dispose of surplus properties, they will not be pushovers. Predictably it will cost millions to secure the property. Why is the administration even considering this? It’s nothing but speculation and land flipping to potential developers.
Second, the Baker Street Parking lot project.
This proposed development has been pegged costing more than $350 million with a private partner described as Windmill Properties located in Ottawa, and specialist in Public Private Participation projects experts or Three P’s.
Shovels will apparently not go into the ground until 2023. Can you hear the sound of the price estimates going up? You have to ask, is what is the cost to the city and terms of the contract, particularly the liability to citizens if it is not completed
Another blunders by council to resolve downtown parking
In the first 2015 Guthrie budget, council agreed to set aside $700,000 to restore updated parking meters on downtown streets. In the 2016 budget those funds were relocated to commence paying for preplanning of the South End Recreation Centre.
It appears, that politics entered the arena (bad pun), with a solution to help solve the downtown-parking problem. Next came awarding a $22 Million contract to build a five-storey Parkade next to city hall on Wilson Street.
Theses two decisions did nothing to alleviate downtown parking.
All this inaction has caused many businesses to close because customers cannot park. Check the empty stores. Perception is more dangerous politically than the threat of defeat to those making decisions.
It has been inferred that the growth in city staff is dominating the parking problems as most employees receive a benefit of free parking. Today try and find a place to park near city hall or the provincial court in old city hall.
During the workday you have to depend on good luck to find a parking space on the city hall area on Carden Street.
Aren’t Parking, potholes, infrastructure and taxes more important than dealing with Global Climate Change?
There are two councillors anxious to convince council to declare a Climate Change Emergency by the City of Guelph.
Coun. Leanne Piper, believes that controlling rising costs is by plucking the low hanging fruit for cost reductions. This means saving money by defunding budget items she believes could be chopped without political consequence.
Her co-sponsor of having city council declare a climate change emergency is Coun. James Gordon, a troubadour and former NDP candidate to the Ontario Legislature.
Now, we all know that the majority of councillors are part of the left side of the political sphere
There seems to be opposition of the proposal that fails to explain exactly what does a Climate Change Emergency do? How much is it going to cost citizens. Which projects get shelved to pay for whatever the emergency is and how can a city of 131,000 residents impact a global climate crisis?
Ms. Piper says that while the city has done much in installing environmental advances it is not enough without explaining any of the above and where the money is coming from.
James Gordon takes a slightly different tack, stating that money spent on projects to reduce the city’s climate footprint is an investment. James, first tell us about what a climate change emergency is and details of the costs.
Does it mean setting up a new bureaucracy to run the Climate Change emergency? Or does it mean banning fossil fueled vehicles, plastic straws, bottles and other plastic products?
For every action, there is a reaction. This is it.
Note, Guelph Speaks Editor, Gerry Barker: Today, March 25, was to be an important step to end the defamation lawsuit.
A Superior Court Judge, January 21, 2019, was to hear my motion to dismiss the claim, to be conducted March 25 and it has been deferred. The claim by a former employees’ laws auit claiming that I defamed him in 2016 is now in its third year.
However, justice moves in mysterious ways. My counsel was notified that our Superior Court Justice could not hear the motion March 25 due to a conflict of assignments.
Less than 24 hours later, my counsel was notified that a new date has been set, U.S. July 4, Independence Day. Is this an omen?