Tag Archives: Mark MacKinnon

GuelphSpeaks annual Top losers and winners for 2016

By Gerry Barker

March 12, 2017

It’s time to review 2016 when we look back and pick those events and people who won some and lost some. It was not a great year for our city as political reform is still a bridge too far. No matter what good things happen and there are a number, they are offset by the frequent absence of transparency, accountability and common sense governance at City Hall. Feel free to add or pooh-pooh the picks.

Coming up is the 2016 Sunshine list in a couple of weeks that will reveal all the names of public employees earning more than $100,000 a year. In June the 2016 audited Financial Information Report should be made available to the public on the city website.

First, Here are the losers:

  1. Mayor Cam Guthrie abandoned his promises to reduce property taxes to the equivalent of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In three budgets over which he has presided, the property taxes approved by council were increased by 10.08 per cent. He, along with eight councillors, voted to approve the 2017 budget.
  1. Waste management and the struggle to unwind costly business practices and losses by the former management of waste control, collection and environmental services. The leadership is gone but citizens remain stuck with the financial fallout. The former internal auditor said the waste management operation was losing $270,000 a year. That flies in the prediction that controlling waste and diverting it from the landfill would be self-liquidating. Help is on the way, (see number 5 in winners).
  1. The hundreds of Canada geese who make their year-round home in Guelph paddling in the rivers and munching on parkland grass. Well, you know the rest of the story when they leave their calling cards. What ever happened to that $50,000 approved by council a couple of years ago to study the goose problem?
  1. Those two councillors, June Hofland and Karl Wettstein, who were members of the GMHI Board of Directors for four years and paid for their service, never said a word about the collapse of GMHI. During a GMHI discussion by council, Wettstein recused himself because he had a “pecuniary interest.” That’s not all he had.
  1. The privately owned Guelph Storm Junior Hockey club successfully extracted $5 million over ten years in a new rental agreement with the city. It effectively ties up the Sleeman Centre for 12 months each year. Under the old agreement, taxpayers were subsidizing the arena by $249,000 a year. Release the details of that contract including revenues, expenses, cost sharing and insurance. Go figure!
  1. To the eight councillors who usually vote as a bloc. They believe in the agenda of the former mayor and perpetuate her theories of a new Guelph. A city with a vibrant downtown, self-liquidating waste management, reduction of carbon emissions and approving high-density development but few single-family homes. Is this what you voted for?
  1. To Coun. Mark MacKinnon goes the annual Chutzpah Award for his assertion that paying taxes is not only an obligation but also a privilege. His rationale was because house prices have increased then people should be prepared to meet their ever-increasing tax bill. Even if it means taking out a second mortgage to pay their taxes. This sounds a little self-serving, isn’t Mark in the mortgage business?

Tah Dah! The Winners:

  1. Those three city councillors, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson and Bob Bell, who had the courage and understood their responsibility to protect the public trust in city government. When the mayor called the vote to approve the 2017 budget, these three Councillors voted no. They deserve your support no matter where you live in the city.
  1. While GS is not a big fan of Coun. Phil Allt, he performed a courageous act donating a kidney to his brother.
  1. The approval of a rationalization of the waste management and environmental services is the right step cleaning up a system that is out of control. Citizens spent $33 million building a compost plant but we cannot even buy the finished composted mulch. It’s sold privately.
  1. The resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert who left May 26 only after she had secured a job as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Culture Tourism and Sports Ministry. Goodbye, hold the luck.
  1. The unfolding details of the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. story of mismanagement, deception and a loss of $26.6 million. There are still many questions about this abortive project that conducted its business in closed sessions led by the former mayor. This is what happens when you operate in an opaque vacuum shutting out public participation.
  1. To former Chief Building Inspector, Bruce Poole, who was fired without cause and sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal. The case broke wide open when, in the process of examination for discovery, Mr. Poole’s lawyer received an external drive from the city Information Technology department that contained 53,000 files, most confidential and unrelated to the case. The city demanded a return of the drive after the story broke in Guelph Today. The result was a rapid mediation of the Poole case that produced a settlement. The outcome remains confidential. Well, I guess this is another case where the city loses another lawsuit. City Solicitor, Donna Jaques, has left for greener pastures joining the exodus of more than 14 senior and upper management employees who have left the city administration in the past 17 months..

 

 

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

City staff report places infrastructure bill at $491 million, double recent estimates

By Gerry Barker

March 8, 2017

The city’s Corporate Asset Manager, Daryush Esmaili, told a meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole earlier this week there is $491 million worth of city assets.

The dollar figures only include those assets requiring repair or replacing aging assets including roads, sewer and water services, rinks and technology used at City Hall.

The report broke on Guelph Today Tuesday and was written by Tony Saxon.

Cited by Esmaili as being in “the red zone” with less than 40 years of lifecycle remaining, includes city parking assets, where 72 per cent of those assets have less than 40 per cent of their lifecycle remaining. Other red zone assets include Guelph Transit, information technology and culture and recreation.

The most startling statistic is Esmaili’s projection of keeping up with infrastructure repairs and replacement that will cost the city $125 million a year for the next 100 years.

Last fall, city council approved a 2017 infrastructure budget of $93 million.

Council also approved a special property tax levy of 1 per cent to fund infrastructure. That doesn’t even come close to raising $93 million. But then Coun. Mark MacKinnon moved that the levy of property be increased to two per cent. But the extra one per cent was dedicated to “City Buildings.” The motion passed and Councillors MacKinnon and Karl Wettstein were happy, as more money would be dedicated to the $60 million South End recreation centre.

At the same 2017 budget meeting, council delayed spending $700,000 for new parking meters on Wyndham Street. Instead council would use most of the money to start the architectural planning of the recreation centre in MacKinnon’s and Wettstein’s Ward.

That was a backdoor move to use capital money to fund their pet project.

Those two decisions, made in open council, were, as it has turned out, a monumental error in judgment by a council that had to know what the City Asset Manager and his staff, were working on.

The fall-out is a much needed parking control and added revenue is shelved until next budget. The two per cent property tax levy is halved to accommodate the wishes of the councillors representing Ward Six.

Just for the record, those same supporters of the “City Buildings” levy were told that any pre-contraction planning, estimated to cost $3.5 million, might have to be reviewed and increased because there is lttle hope for the capital spending budget to even think about the south end project. It is particularly important in view of the City Asset Manager’s report on the real cost of infrastructure repair and replacement.

The staff report states that the infrastructure estimates used during the 2017 budget were $259 million, almost half of what the staff is telling us today.

Now, we run a billion dollar corporation like the village idiots who are incapable of making the tough decisions to properly maintain our city and its core systems.

Instead we are trapped in a series of terrible management mistakes ranging from the $34 million police headquarters to the $26.6 million lost by GMHI. Throw in the $23 million paying 50 per cent more for a new city hall, and it’s easy to see that Guelph cannot afford these grandiose schemes any more.

The biggest cost to the city is the overhead costs to run it. Starting with a staff that is bloated and laden with special interest projects that cost money.

Our council, except for a few responsible members, is tone deaf to any criticism. The majority are self-absorbed collection of elected officials. Most of whom are so reliant on staff that much of their judgment is flawed and incompetent.

The loss of management talent, with a few exceptions, has denuded senior staff of key personnel, leaving chaos and mistakes.

The eight-page report by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, that detailed how the city could reduce its overhead but not cut services, was delivered to all councillors and Mr. Fung made a personal presentation to council.

We learned later that council dumped on the report making fun of it after Mr. Fung left the chamber.

Did we elect six-year olds to run our city? Their words and conducting our business behind closed doors would seem to be the case.

October 2018 cannot come soon enough to get the majority of this council out of the civic sandbox.

4 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

It’s not about tax and spend in Guelph; it’s now about spend and tax

By Gerry Barker

December 5, 2016

Editor’s note: I want to thank all those folks who have expressed support for me and www.guelphspeaks.ca.

Here we are nearing the end of the 2017 budget exercise to determine the taxes and fees the citizens will have to pay next year.

Wednesday, December 7, council will finalize the 2017 budget. It has been a carefully orchestrated process to meet a number of capital spending proposals and operating expenses that council is facing today and next year and the years following.

Along comes Ward 6 Councillor Mark MacKinnon stating he intends to introduce a motion to increase the special property tax levy from .5 per cent, as proposed by staff, to 1 per cent for 2017. Councillors Cathy Downer, June Hofland and James Gordon will join his motion but for different reasons as it turned out.

Let’s examine the motives and background of these four members of city council.

Mr. MacKinnon has implied that paying taxes is a privilege of citizenship and citizens owning property should mortgage their properties to pay their taxes. Further, he argues that with the increasing equity in private properties is reason to force people to pay for the wasteful spending of previous administrations. This outrageous theory is the hallmark of the previous administration. The property taxes and user fee increases in the past 10 years have soared in Guelph to a point where the city operating and capital spending costs are 50 per cent greater than either Kitchener and Cambridge.

The MacKinnon theory is that we all have to pay taxes and user fees whatever council demands. Question: Does that mean that when property values decline, that taxes are lowered?

First, during this entire 2017 budget process the fiscal elephant in the room has been the condition of the city’s infrastructure. There is ample reason for concern. Following a lead by Coun. James Gordon, council spent hours debating the state of the aquifer that supplies water to the city. His target was Nestle who draw on the same aquifer, one of the largest fresh water sites in the world. The fact that the Nestle bottling operations are not in Guelph, failed to deter Gordon and his fellow travelers from trying to plug the Nestle draws.

Which brings us back to the Guelph infrastructure problem. It is reported that the underground water pipes are leaking far more aquifer water that the draws by Nestle. You have to give Mr. Gordon credit. His water crusade caught the eye of the Wynne government and they are debating stopping Private Corporations from drawing water from Ontario sources

Question: Why is attacking a private company licensed to draw water more important to city council than working to fix our leaking infrastructure?

The city infrastructure now needs capital spending of more than $200 million according to an estimate of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

Ward 5 Coun. Cathy Downer, is a member of AMO and presumably she concurs with the estimated cost of restoring the city’s vital infrastructure. It has been starved of funding for nine years because money was being spent on major waste management and other environmental projects. Ms. Downer, although not on council from 2006 to 2014, was a close personal friend of the former Mayor, Karen Farbridge, and was her campaign manager for the 2010 civic election that the Mayor won.

So while Ms. Downer supports doubling the levy for 2017 she wants to split the funding with half going to infrastructure and the other half going toward “city building projects.” She did not detail which city building projects she had in mind.

Ward 3 Coun. June Hofland, agrees with the Downer position in supporting the 1 per cent levy motion. She took it a tiny step further saying that “city building” included partial funding of the south end recreation centre.

To sort this out, this Wednesday night, council will vote on the motion to double the levy for one year. The staff proposed a .5 per cent levy on property taxes for ten years with a reopening of the levy on a regular basis. The staff did not propose doubling the levy in the first year.

Let’s review. Coun. MacKinnon believes that citizens must pay taxes and fees even if they have to increase the mortgage on their homes.

Coun. James Gordon takes the position that fighting a private corporation is more important than solving a serious infrastructure problem in the city he represents.

Coun. June Hofland, supports doubling the levy to 1 per cent but splits the funds to support a recreation centre in Ward 6. That derails the staff proposal to take a longer view to solve the neglected infrastructure problem. She was a member of council during the Farbridge administration and apparently, in her mind, infrastructure repairs and maintenance was not a priority for eight years.

Cathy Downer was not on the Farbridge council. Her proposal to split the property tax levy between operating budget and capital spending, defeats the urgent intent to clean up a neglected mess underneath our city.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the proposals made to council and staff by Guelph resident Pat Fung, CPA, CA, to reduce the operating overhead without affecting services. Staff and Council has largely ignored his recommendations freezing the 2016 budget, reducing staff and non-essential projects.

His analysis of audited city financial statements for four years plus the report of city hired consultants BMA of Hamilton, led to his detailed report that has been received by thousands of citizens.

If the elected officials that you supported don’t listen and react to proposals made by a highly qualified financial professional, what alternative do we have?

Your turn for action comes October 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines