Tag Archives: Mayor Cam Guthrie

Is the Province shutting down the city’s development fee piggy bank used to finance capital projects?

By Gerry Barker

June 29, 2019

Opinion

The story in Guelph Today was an expose’ of the weakness of our Mayor protesting the provincial legislature’s Bill 108. That’s the one that proposes reducing the amount of development fees a municipality can charge developers.

The whining over this from the Mayor and his council has been going on for some time. Tara Baker, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer, said the impending bill could cost the city $150 million over the next ten years. That averages $15 million per year.

Have the developer’s fees morphed into a piggy bank to finance certain capital projects? You can bet that Guelph is not the only municipality that has discovered this silent source of revenue.

Bill 108 deals with changes in the Development Charges Act. The city’s GM of Finance suggests that two key capital projects include, the estimated $53 million proposed downtown main branch library and the $63 million South End Recreation complex, might be in jeopardy.

Nothing new here, we have been waiting 19 years for a new library

For several years, the city has been increasing development fees by using proceeds to fund capital projects. This includes sweetheart deals that suspend payment of those fees for up to ten years.

It is next to impossible for citizens to find the details of these deals intended to encourage residential development downtown.

More important, why doesn’t the city come clean about transferring funds from the Brownfield remediation reserves to cover the ten-year development holiday not paying those development fees or suspending property taxes? Take your pick.

Municipal development fees or impost fees, are intended to connect new development with vital city services such as water and sewer hook-ups, power, increased emergency staff and equipment, parks, hospital, transit, and infrastructure.

This party started in 2007

Former mayor, Karen Far bridge, campaigned in 2006 vowing to “put Guelph back on track.” Sad to say that promise has gone off the rails as personal issues to convert the city into a paragon of environmental rectitude and a world class leader in coping with climate change.

The administration was determined to reduce the use of fossil fuels and spent millions trying to force cars to use major streets by shrinking lanes to allow bike lanes.

Today there are more vehicles using Guelph streets causing daily congestion.

The majority of her council is still pushing much of that agenda. The 12-year cost to citizens has been more than $1500 million due to poorly planned projects to satisfy the former mayor’s desire to create a new Guelph, one that was to be world class.

Was this a competition?

Compared to what? Let’s start with the money spent on waste management: The organic waste processing facility costing $34 million and built with a capacity of processing 60,000 tonnes of wet waste a year. That decision was made when Guelph processed only 10,000 tonnes a year. The plant was built by Maple Reinders (MR) then was staffed by a subsidiary company of MR that also sold the compost created. So the city turned over the entire project to the original developer, MR.

Financed by the taxpayers since 2011, not one ounce of composted material is available to citizens.

Conclusion? Guelph is in the organic waste processing business but cannot access the finished compost.

The $23 million mistake building the new city hall

Here’s another example of wasting money. The new city hall project was contracted to cost $42 million, it lost a major lawsuit by the defrocked general contractor, Urbacon Biuldings Group and ended up costing$65 million.

But wait! The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc chaired by the former mayor, according to the KPMG consolidated audit cost $66 million in shareholder equity.

That’s more than $123 million wasted by the previous eight-year term of the former mayor.

City enters the real estate business

Those are the biggies. While all that was going on, in 2012 city council was planning to create a green city on 245 acres in the former Reformatory lands, property it did not own. Known as the Guelph Innovative Development, (GID) it is now being offered in a modified auction to all qualified parties. The result of the sale will be announced at the end of July.

Where is the city going to find the money to purchase the land if it wins the auction? Take more from the reserves to take ownership and then spend millions to develop it?

Then we have the Baker Street redevelopment project estimated to cost $350 million in a Public, Private Project (3P) to create a retail, library and condominium centre on the site of the Baker Street parking lot.

Mayor Guthrie announced the project during the October election campaign. We know how that turned out. Shovels in the ground are scheduled to start in 2024. The big question needing an answer, is what is the liability to the citizens?

But it took the administration headed by Mayor Cam Guthrie to giveaway Guelph Hydro with an adjusted book value of $16o million to Alectra Utilities for a 4.86 per cent of 60 per cent of the utilities’ profit. Was that a great deal or not?

The mysterious departure of CAO Thomson

It gets better. Both co-chairs of the council appointed Strategic Options Committee to dispose Guelph Hydro, Former CAO Derrick Thomson and the un-elected chair of Guelph Hydro, Jane Armstrong, personally benefited from the merger.

Thomson received a $67,000 performance bonus for his role in the merger while Ms. Armstrong was appointed by council to be its representative on the Alectra Utilities board of directors being paid $25,000 a year for five years plus travel expenses.

Mr. Thomson left the city in March just after the provincial Sunshine List showed that in 2018 he was paid $335,000 plus a taxable benefit of $11,000.

The mayor announced the Thomson bonus March 18, yet not one media outlet reported the bonus or details of why it was awarded in 2018 or the reason that he abruptly ended his employment.

Why our property taxes and user fees are juiced every year

These are some of the reasons why our property taxes, annual increase have exceeded three per cent for more than 13 years. The only exception was in 2014, the civic election year.

Now I know readers of guelphspeaks.ca have read parts of this posting before.

It is my mystifying response wondering why that 90,000 voters were eligible in last October’s civic election but only 30,000 bothered to vote.

There are two reasons for apathy when it comes to vote in civic elections. The first is satisfaction with the previous council’s performance. This reason must be based on accurate information, personal impact of council decisions, trust and loyalty.

The second reason is about coverage and details of council’s decisions that affect the 90,000 residents. Regretfully the media is dependent on city department handouts such as press releases, paid advertising of events, policies and legal matters in the local print weekly.

Rarely do reporters question statements in press releases. They should never be an extension of the public administrations. The media in Guelph has a serious credibility problem in failing to cover the news as journalists and get reaction, from stakeholders affected by the council decisions.

The staff should not be immune to critical thinking. There is the flow of producing what the city wants and that dismisses the media’s obligation to the reader and viewer. Their job is to report the full story and not just what the city releases to them.

That friends, is why two-thirds of the eligible voters did not show up. The media only publishes one side of the story. Even on the social media, individuals dominate the message with an axe to grind and political bias.

Do not expect anything to change.

A major story that has broken is the council has decided to review itself with a hint of public involvement. The exercise is to consider reducing the size of council; change the ward boundaries; decide to only elect full-time councillprs; to complete the study in the first quarter next year.

This exercise will cost an estimated $150,000, details of how and when the money will be spent and on whom?

Check guelphspeaks for more details including both sides of the story.

 

 

 

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Is the Police HQ renovation completion delay another Urbacon debacle?

By Gerry Barker

June 17, 2019

Opinion

Mercy me. The similarities between the two most major construction of city buildings, since the Urbacon debacle that ended with the city being found responsible for firing the general contractor.

In 2014, an election year, it didn’t stop city council from approving the $34.1 million renovation of the 40.7 year-old headquarters. When first built in 1960, the city’s population was 38,000. In 1989, the building was retrofitted and a new wing added.

In 2014, the need was apparent, as the city population is now more than 131,000.

Is it déjà vu, all over again?

The new city hall and provincial court project in the old city hall took five years to complete and a cost overrun of $23 million. Now we have the case of the Police headquarters renovation that was approved in August 2014 and has yet to be completed 4.7 years later. The final cost has yet to be determined as the construction was impacted by excessive bedrock formations for new buildings on the site. Also winter weather conditions stalled construction.

This brings us to a new staff proposal to increase the city debt by $33.1 million. In 2017, according to the city, the debt was $110 million. At the end of 2018, the debt was reported as $96 million.

That’s progress right?

Here are the caveats about increasing the city debt

Council, at its June 24 meeting must approve the new debt terms and conditions. However, the staff will present the final numbers and associated cost to council July 8, 2019 according to the news report.

Is that a typo? The staff report follows council approval? It’s time to jack up the car and change the oil.

The new debt is guaranteed by the City of Guelph and it has a 20-year term when fully repaid in 2039, according to the staff report, the end cost of this new loan is $47.8 million.

The lender is not identified nor is the interest rate or any adjustments over the term of the loan.

If now approved the city debt will increase from $96 million in 2018 to $129 million this year. Is it possible that we ordinary citizens could handle the cost of a 29 per cent increase in our debt over 20 years?

FYI, starting next year, the city will be paying $862,000 per year costing 29 per cent more for its 2019 assumed debt.

So, where is the new money being spent?

Of the $33.1 million, $15.1 million is to be spent on the Police HQ renovation and the Wilson Street Parkade, both under construction; some $1.3 million will be spent replacing transit fare boxes; $1.6 million for fuel tank replacement at the city’s operations facility.

The amount to be spent on the two major projects was not spelled out.

It should be noted that the city approved a $16 million debenture for the Police HQ renovation that started in April 2016. The Police Services Board contributed some $3 million toward the renovation. That brought the outstanding balance to $14.1 million to meet the original approved cost of $34.1 million.

This does not include change orders or other unexpected costs that can increase the original council approval last August 2014.

The Wilson Street Parkade financing is murky. Last year, Mayor Guthrie announced the estimated $350 million Baker Street project would include a new downtown library, that is a key part of the plan. Barely mention, the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade was included in the original Baker Street project estimates.

Indeed, many a promise is embedded before an election.

Putting it all together, the report does not specify how and where the balance of the $33.1 million debt funds will be spent. So far, there is some $14.1 million still not allocated.

The other missing piece of promises made is the fate of the $63 million South End Recreation Centre. The city has already spent $3.5 million on preliminary plans from general revenues.

Incidently, whatever happened to that $18.5 million so-called dividend to be received from Guelph Hydrp following the merger with Alectra Utilities?

In my opinion, these developments are paying for a horribly mismanaged past that has milked the citizen’s ability to pay their obligations to the administration.

Under the present administration, don’t expect its collective ambition and disdain for professionalism that in the past four years has turned Guelph into an island of managemnt mediocrity in terms of not serving the people’s interests and blithely ignoring the fallout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Was Derrick Thomson’s 2018 bonus of $67,703 then leaving a cover up?

By Gerry Barker

June 3. 2019

Opinion and commentary

The definition of free speech is covered under the Charter of Rights of the Canadian constitution.

However, there are other measures that protect the right of citizens to freely address the issues of the public’s business. And do it without fear of retaliation by deep-pocketed institutions. These include governments at all levels, corporations, and the public servants who claim defamation with their legal expenses paid by their employer.

For example, I learned last week that the 2019 property tax rate in Guelph was 3.14 per cent following the annual April city budget adjustments, including applying increased assessments.

It happens every year.

When the budget was passed last December, Mayor Guthrie proclaimed the 2019 property tax increase of 2.63 per cent was the lowest in years.

That friends, turned out to be not true. It is an example of fake news that was spoken by the Mayor knowing full well there would be adjustments when all details are finalized by the financial department.

We are already aware of the staff senior manager’s salary and benefit increases that are never disclosed until reported in the annual provincial Sunshine List. The names of very public employee in Ontario earning more than $100,000 are published each March.

Why do we have to wait for the Sunshine List to learn of the the Guelph salaries for the previous year? The city files the staff information to the province and must realize their decisions will be available to the public. Not even the Sunshine list reveals the reason for changes in salary and benefits..

It should be noted that negotiations with the Chief Administration Officer, the only senior manager who reports to council are held in closed session. The council authority is the Ontario Municipal Act, 2001-239 (2) (b) and (d). That information is not readily available to the public and lacks accountability and transparency (A & T)?

Does that qualify to meet the city’s own pledge to maintain an open government?

This is only the tip of the iceberg that our civic government continues to manipulate pubic information to serve its interests. It is done by concealing the details of a perceived potentially contentious issue behind a barrier of arcane regulations. Or otherwise failing to provide the public with the details of the final outcome. Is this not the epitome of Fake News?

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain conditions in which discussion must be withheld from the public

Here’s another example of message manipulation

The former CAO, Derrick Thomson’s, 2018 salary was revealed in the 2018 Sunshine list. His salary was $335,081.60 plus a taxable benefit of $11,393.57.

Shortly after the Sunshine report was published, in a March 18, 2019 meeting of council, Mayor Guthrie advised that Mr. Thomson received an additional $67,703.59 in compensation in 2018 as per Staff Report CS 2019 – 53.

This increase stated the Mayor was in recognition of Mr. Thomson’s work as co-chair of the Strategic Options Committee, concerning the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities that was finalized in January 2019.

Mr. Thomson’s co-chair on the SOC was Guelph Hydro Chair, Jane Armstrong, who was appointed by council to be the city’s representative over five years on the Alectra Utilities Board of Directors. Her reported compensation is $25,000 salary plus travel and per diem expenses when attending Alectra meetings.

Council knew in February the CAO was leaving in March

The most interesting part of Mr. Thomson’s career in Guelph was the meeting in February this year in which city council and Mr. Thomson agreed to “part ways,” The result was that the public was not informed of the impact of this decision until March 18 when the 2018 Sunshine list was published.

It appears the cat was out of the bag. But why?

The Mayor’s March 18 explanation to council about Mr. Thomson’s generous $67,703.59 bonus in 2018 seems strange and was awarded before the Ontario Energy Board approval was completed in January regarding the merger of the two utilities.

Speculation is rampant of Mr. Thomson’s sudden departure in March and the reasons remain unknown.

It has always been a mystery to me why the City of Guelph has stifled public participation concerning issues of interest to which the public is entitled.

This is not the first time that senior managers have received large increases and bonuses, withholding the details until the Sunshine List is published.

The administration continues to baffle the public using misinformation, publishing information on its website without informing the public, paying to advertise the “City News” in the only print publication remaining. This alone casts doubt of control over the news pages where advertising and editorial departments should operate separately from each other.

The citizens of Guelph deserve an administration that is competent, devoid of self-serving projects, function as a an open government, accountable and transparent.

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One a personal not: My wife, Barbara Barker, has been invited to display her artwork in the Evergreen Seniors Centre on Woolwich Street. With the assistance of Ted Pritchard, she is displaying 21 paintings she has completed in the past 25 years. The gallery will be on display for the month of June. For further information, call 518 763 7993.

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What does Cam Guthrie really want?

By Gerry Barker

May 27, 2019

Opinion

Is it my imagination or is Mayor Cam Guthrie seeking a higher calling?

It is becoming clear that the Mayor has an agenda to seek higher office.

Here is one example.

Last year’s jumble of the Progressive Conservation leadership debacle led up to the provincial election last June 7. In those uncertain times, Mayor Guthrie, actively campaigned behind the scenes, seeking the PC nomination by acclamation bypassing the nominating convention required by the riding association.

He had already announced that he was running for Mayor of Guelph in the October civic election. He said he loved Guelph and his job as Mayor. He presented his documents on the first day the civic election nominations opened.

In October, he won in a landslide against the NDP backed candidate who ran third in the provincial election. You remember that one that the Ontario NDP launched the fake “orange Wave” claiming the province was going to elect an NDP government.

Instead, the PC’s won 73 seats to form the government and Doug Ford became Premier.

As for Cam Guthrie’s secret ambition to be elected to the Legislature, the huge victory of Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party, saved Guthrie’s future. The Green Party spent $119,0000 to elect Schreiner who won with 29,000 votes.

By comparison, Mayor Guthrie’s official financial statement contained the names of 100-persons who donated some $88,000 to his 2018 mayoralty campaign.

Was it an accident or just good luck?

Call it an accident from which Guthrie could walk away and he kept his job.

The bottom line is, why did the Mayor disguise his intention to run for the Ontario Legislature as a PC? He is, or perhaps was, a well-known Conservative supporting both the federal and Ontario branches of the party. Why did Guthrie deceived the Guelph voters claiming he wanted to be re-elected Mayor while trying to get the nomination for another?

Mayor Guthrie has moved along in his path to high office. As a member of the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus he was elected chairman of the group.

This past week, the Mayor told Guelph Today that the provincial government policies “could” jeopardize building the South End Community Centre and a new Downtown library.

Earlier he commented that the Ford government was using stealth techniques to divert public attention.

“I am very, very concerned,” he said, commenting that so are most municipalities.

So what’s the actual beef here?

The Ford government has floated a proposal to lower municipal developers’ fees. This has thrown some municipalities into a tizzy.

Here’s why, and Guelph has been misusing developer fees for funding capital projects. That is not the purpose of developer fees. It’s about infrastructure connections, increasing public safety personnel and public services impact of new development.

“ Our priorities would have to be re-looked at and it would have to be filtered through an affordability lens of what our taxpayers could handle,” warning this could happen if the municipal developer fees are reduced by the Ford government.

The big problem is the South End Community Centre

Council has already tapped the taxpayers to start the preliminary planning and design of the centre to the tune of $3.5 million. That’s a commitment toward spending the estimated $63 million to complete the project.

Here’s a clue of how council spends your developer fees.

“To be blunt, the Mayor continued. “The taxpayers should not have to front these costs.”

He goes on to state that the new main library will cost more than $50 million and 35 per cent of that was to be funded through development charges. That works out to be $17.9 million to come from development charges.

Here’s the beef.

If indeed, the Ford government mandates lowering municipal development fees, that $17.9 million will increase creating a financial gap for taxpayers to pick up.

In my opinion this is smoke and mirrors. And here’s why.

The long-awaited downtown library is part of the initial estimated cost of the $300 million Baker Street renovation project. The plan is to have costs shared between the city and a private developer. This sharing arrangement details have not been revealed.

This project is to start in 2024 and will take six to seven years to complete. Best estimates is that will be 11 years from now.

The South End project is at least five years to complete once the financing is secure. Hello taxpayers!

Then the city is about to enter an auction of the reformatory lands, aka Guelph Innovation Development lands. The plan is to develop a 245-acre satellite green community that city staff has been working on since 2013. The cost of this is unknown.

Depending on the city’s bid, this is an international invitation to bid on the property owned by the province.

It is understandable of the fallout if the province reduces the developer’s fees.

What taxpayers need to know is why are development fees being used to finance major capital projects that are mostly far over the horizon in terms of years.

The taxpayer and those charged user fees cannot continue to pay for big buck projects when it cannot fix the pot holes or pick up the garbage in parts of the city.

Guelph’s tax rates have averaged more than three per cent per year for the past 12 years greater when compared to similar-sized cities.

Perhaps Guthrie has the right idea, move up and leave the problems to someone else.

 

 

 

 

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Is there a new citizen’s organization on the horizon: Huelph Guelph 22?

By Gerry Barker

May 13, 2019

Opinion

Is Mayor Cam Guthrie still a card-carrying member of the Guelph riding association’s Progressive Conservative Party?

I should state that Mr. Guthrie does not like me and the feeling is mutual.

My wife and I voted for him in the 2014 civic election despite his screaming accusation on the phone just days before the election that: “You have cost me the election and my wife and children are crying.”

It is a known fact that the final days of an election campaign can cause hysteria, uncertainty and what I call the Nixon syndrome of intense paranoia about those enemies surrounding him.

Gee, Cam. I wasn’t one of them.

That was the beginning of the end in which a relationship disintegrated. Regardless the GrassRoots Guelph supported his candidacy. I wrote many posts revealing the mismanagement by the former mayor’s council involving a $23 million cost overrun. That included the new city hall and provincial court conversion of the old city hall.

It only took Mr. Guthrie about 45 days to send an email to a number of people informing them that I did not know what I was writing about and frequently got the facts wrong. One of my supporters sent me a copy, as I was not on his mailing list.

My sin? I reported that council was reviewing CAO Ann Pappert’s contract.

I then realized that Cam Guthrie had a powerful ego fed by ambition but little experience to support his lust to seek power and control.

To be fair, those first four months were not easy for the Mayor.

First, he did not have the support of the majority of council, most of whom were part of the former mayor’s council supporters.

His first test was overseeing and approving the 2015 city budget.

During the 2014 election campaign, candidate Guthrie promised that he would keep the property tax rate at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) level that was 1.11 per cent in 2014.

On March 25, 2015, the budget was revealed. The property tax rate was more than 3 per cent and adjusted later for the increases in assessment of Guelph properties to total 3.96 per cent.

It would take a year before the truth about that budget was exposed.

It turned out that council approved $98,202 increases to three senior managers for 2015 but never told the public who or why. That is until the provincial Sunshine List of all public employees earning $100,000 or more were published.

Guelphspeaks.ca was the only media outlet that compared the salaries of city employees with the 2014 Sunshine List. And that, Inspector Clouseau, is how the public learned of the names and increases. However, at the time, still unknown was the “why” for the increases.

In my opinion, this plan was hatched in the waning days of the election campaign. Regardless council had to be aware of it, including the Mayor who already supported CAO Pappert, who resigned in April 2016 and left the city May 26.

When the 2016 Sunshine List was published in March 2017, Ms. Pappert was paid $263,000 but only worked five months.

Former employee Derrick Thomson replaced her in June 2016. Eight months later he fired colleague DCAO Mark Amorosi, one of the three recipients of the 2015 secret senior manager pay increases.

In March 2019, CAO Thomson and the city “parted ways.” Thomson was earning $335,000 plus an $11,000 taxable benefit. There was no explanation and a four-month search was launched to find a successor.

It was the end of a dark cloud of cover-up hanging over the city, as all three senior career employees were gone. Mayor Guthrie presided over 84 closed-session council meetings in two years that denied any public participation, accountability or transparency to which the public is entitled.

It only proves that pigs can fly.

Addendum

Recently, Mayor Cam Guthrie formed a Task Force to investigate and develop a plan to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. In the Task Force’s third report, it admitted that the local groups currently engaged in dealing with this serious problem, lacked sufficient funds to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, the Mayor is stating that Provincial Budget cuts will result in “tax hikes and service cuts” for cities. Has the Mayor read the Ontario budget and supporting documents to reach that conclusion?

This is a Guelph/Wellington problem that has needed funding to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately successive city councils have not addressed the growing problem and  the treatment of addicts occupying the city. That’s why the Mayor decided to corral the stakeholders responsible for the homeless and addictive.

Perhaps, it’s time not to depend on senior governments to finance our problems and how to pay for it. All Ontario municipalities lacking the power to broaden the narrow tax base reliant on property taxes and user fees. That’s why when it comes to dealing with a serious  local situation, council’s only  alternative is to take their begging bowls to Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.

And this is where Mike Schreiner, MPP and Lloyd Longfield, MP use their influence to help solve the problem of under-funding.

Until support comes from the province and Ottawa, both the city and county will be unable to make real change in dealing humanely with those less fortunate persons and addictives.

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Was it coincidence that CAO Thomson is gone or just business as usual?

By Gerry Barker

April 1, 2019

This is the day of pranks, tomfoolery and the joke’s on us.

For once in his life, your faithful correspondent is speechless, witnessing the destruction of the city staff superstructure.

Thinking of the old Yogi Berra line: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” It appears this is not Derrick Thomson’s only departure described as a “parting of the ways” just before the provincial Sunshine List is published. It pops up near the end of March each year.

That List is really the only creditable source of all those Ontario public servants earning more than $100,000 a year plus taxable benefits. Dare I say it, but the former Mike Harris government created the List?

In December 2015, there was a closed-door meeting of council allegedly to discuss some substantial salary and benefit increases for the top three senior city staff managers. Not in dispute when council acted, the increases totaled $98,202.

There was no information published until the 2015 Sunshine List reported three months later.

How do we know the scope of those retroactive payments to the senior managers?? Guelphspeaks.ca compared what the three managers were paid in 2014 and 2015. That’s how the increases were discovered.

Turmoil at the top

In January 2016, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson, was the first to resign following the December 2015 meeting that allegedly approved the increases. He was gone two months before the 2015 Sunshine List was published.

Mr. Thomson accepted a position with the Town of Caledon where he lived. He left a job that was paying $207,000 (all figures rounded) plus $10,000 in taxable benefits.

In April 2016, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert announced her resignation but agreed to stay on to assist the new CAO. She left the city May 26, 2016. Her share of the $98,202 was $37,000 taking her 2015 salary to $257,000 plus $6,000 in taxable benefits.

In June 2016, Mr. Thomson was hired to replace Ms. Pappert. He announced that he would reveal details of his contract. In the fall he said he signed a three-year contract with a salary of $230,000 plus an increase of more than an $11,000 taxable benefit.

When the 2017 Sunshine List was published his salary had risen to $245,000.

Then, the city announced in early March 2019, prior to the 2018 Sunshine List publication, that by mutual agreement, CAO Derrick Thomson and the city were “parting ways.”

There was no further explanation other than he left immediately prior to the 2018 Sunshine List hit the Internet.

Déjà vu, again?

There will be no tag days for Mr. Thomson as his 2018 salary was $335,081 plus the $11,000 taxable bonus.

That is more money than the Premier of Ontario is paid.

It indicates that Mr. Thomson received more than a $90,000 increase between 2017 and 2018. The questions remain why was he suddenly gone on a cool Friday afternoon? The absence of explanation is part of the administration’s tight control of public information. You know: “What they don’t know, won’t hurt them.”

These are matters of the public interest yet there is no information surrounding these developments and why the turmoil exists in the senior echelon of the city government.

Almost forgot. Ms. Pappert worked five months in 2016 but was paid $263,0000, according to the 2016 Sunshine List.

The only way the pubic can receive this information is through the provincial Sunshine List. Without it, none of us have a clue and that’s the way the Guthrie administration wants it. The fact that council convened 84 closed-session meetings in 2015 and 2016 is evidence of denying the public access to information.

The rising trajectory shutting down public participation

For the past 39 months, annual property taxes increases in Guelph exceeded that of Brampton, Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Toronto, Windsor and many more. Why? Why are other comparable cities able to manage their finances without hitting the property taxpayers’ ATM every year? Guelph’s tax rate is consistently more than 3 per cent.

For example, this year Brampton’s property tax rate is 1.1 per cent. With all the turmoil that city management has been through, it’s an astonishing achievement.

This year brought a welcome break when the city announced a property tax rate of 2.63 per cent less than the annual  3 per cent for only the second time since 2007. There are adjustments coming that will likely increase that tax rate.

In my opinion, there are two crucial aspects of this failure to govern responsibly:

The left majority of city council has politicized the staff. We blew the opportunity last October by not turning out to vote or participate. Municipal voting only occurs every four-years and we’re stuck with an administration that is frequently incompetent, secretive, authoritarian and irresponsible.

Don’t get me wrong. There are talented and dedicated employees on staff. Unfortunately, in Guelph, the leadership is the weak link.

The other vital action that needs to engage is public participation. This means attending council meetings and presenting contrarian points of view. Further, protest decisions that are not in the public interest. Sad to say, some councillors cherishs ambition and not pragmatism.

The woods are filled with competent and talented individuals experienced in public service. They aren’t hard to find. It’s too easy to blame the staff but after witnessing the merger of Guelph Hydro, council failed to look after its own destroying one of the best group of staffers in the province.

If we don’t react to stupidity and careless statements that city council has already demonstrated, we can only blame ourselves.

The real power governing the city lies with the people.

Let’s restore it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Council speculates spending $10 million to buy 243 acres from Ontario using reserve funds

By Gerry Barker

March 11, 2019

Opinion

First, some history: Shortly following her re-election in 2010, Mayor Farbridge launched her plan to convince the province to give the city almost 25 per cent of the 1,070 acres of the Guelph reformatory lands plus the former Turf Institute land.

The former mayor and her council majority, along with city staff were involved in planning the project. It would reflect the land use values advocated by such urban planners as Richard Florida. It was proposed to be an environmental project that excluded most vehicles, was self-contained with shopping, parks, businesses, where there would be jobs for the inhabitants in short, a development for tomorrow.

It was given the misleading title of the Guelph Innovation District (GID) lands. One to be developed over eight years at public expense before the city owned the peoperty and it still doesn’t.

Did they consider how winter weather would affect the planned mobility of resident’s facing a foot of snow?

Think about it. A fossil fuel free environment modeled on residents being able to work within the community, shop on a bicycle and walk to where ever they choose.

Was it the crown jewel of the Farbridge administration in 2010?

It was another social engineering vision thing, that the design would create a new modern city where people could walk to shop and work. It would be spacious and contain a portion of affordable housing. There would be business sited in the design along with police and fire stations and possibly elementary schools.

The cost of services such as water, sewers, electricity, telephone, and cable to the city systems will be very expensive due to the upgrades needed by the city to provide those necessary services to the site.

It could be Guelph’s Tomorrow Land. Insread it was just another village as part of the city.

But the Wynne government didn’t bite at giving away provincial property. The planning process went on with the blind assumption that the Ontario government would change its mind.

Last December 17, the majority of council voted to negotiate with the new Ford government with a cockamamie proposal to buy the lands using two unrelated reserve funds totaling $10 million as deposits.

Council approved the motion, initiated by Councillors James Gordon and Leanne Piper.

“To me the risk is to the city in this process,” Coun. Christine Billings stated. “We’re playing middle man, and so I see that we have some risk as the stages are set.”

In my opinion, the citizens have all the risk. By Guelph standards, this is a huge undertaking to develop raw land and to flip it to private developers to complete the city’s planned development. In eight years, this proposal has already cost citizens millions, with city staff doing the design, planning and engineering studies.

Considering the elements of risk in this staff proposal, who should have known better, includes the following:

Doesn’t the Province, the seller, employing third party real estate professionals, want to determine the value of the lands in question?

If agreement is reached with potential developers, will the price of purchasing the lands, using public funds, be too high for developers?

Already the city administration has set the ground rules notifying any potential developers that the design must adhere to the city plan.

How long will it take the city investment to be recovered and reserves replenished?

What is the financial status of any developer to guarantee completion of the project?

How long will it take before the city receives income from property taxes, user fees and services income?

Really, the city staff recommended this?

This city has no business engaging in this property flopping scheme. It is another hangover from the former administration to force-feed their proposals, and projects without public input or consideration.

Here are some remembrances of your taxes being squandered:

* The Civic museum – $10 million;

* Bike lanes – $5 million to date and an ongoing expense of $300,000 annually;

* The organic waste processing facility – $34 million and the compost is not available to residents who financed it;

* Capital cost of the bin collection system – $1.55 million;

* Cost over-run of the Urbacon Buildings Group city hall – $23 million;

the GMHI fiasco -$63 million and counting;

* Trafic congestions caused by lane removal to allow bike lanes – cost is unknown and an unintended consequence;

* Downtown parking revenue lost – $77 million over 12 years;

* Affordable housing – nothing;

* Over 12 years annual increase in property taxes and user fees– for now, incalculable.

* The Baker Street renovation by a Public Private Partnership (3P) estimated to cost $350 million and shovels don’t go in before 2022.

* A staff estimate of repairing and replacing infrastructure throughout the city – $450 million over the next 30 years.

These are real numbers not percentages in pie charts

Are you concerned that our city is going into the real-estate investor business, using public funds, is wise and will benefit all citizens?

In my opinion, I do not believe the city has the money, or the expertise to engage in this scheme that is highly speculative. Coun. Billings is right as we are the man in the middle, being financially responsible for completion of this proposed flip from start to finish.

The province will love selling it to a municipal corporation that cannot go bankrupt under provincial law.

The province gets paid in full before the city can resell the property to a third party developer who is now in control of the project. The developer client can demand that his company decides if the plan, demanded by the city, is acceptable.

That presents a large problem that could take years to materialize.

Remember, it took six years to settle the Urbacon lawsuit that the city administration was fully responsible for, spending an additional $23 million to complete the project originally budgeted for $42 million.

To me, the present council is dominated by so-called progressives determined to continue the Farbridge vision of making Guelph a paragon of political correctness and environmentally superior.

How’s that working for you?

 

 

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