Tag Archives: Mayor Guthrie

Get ready for the 2017 budget dance that threatens civic enlightenment

By Gerry Barker

October 13, 2016

The city staff is busy these days to create the proposals for two main operational budgets for 2017.

There is the tax-supported budget that includes much of the operating expenses of the city including all city employees, as well as city, police, fire, and EMS. This cost consumes 80 percent of all property tax revenues. According to the analysis done by Pat Fung, CPA CA, in 2008, total city operating costs were $246.801 million. In 2015, the last full Financial Information Report (FIR) available, the city spent $385.611 million an increase of $138.810 million in eight (FIR) reporting years or an increase of 56.2 per cent.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), increased by just 11 per cent, the city population increased by 8 per cent in the same period. The non-taxable services including the cost of electricity, was increased by 42.5 per cent in just the past four years. Water as well, exponentially increasing by an average of 4 per cent every year since 2007 despite the reduction in consumption.

Now, the city is adding a levy to pay for maintaining the storm water sewer system to be paid through your hydro bill. Along comes Premier Wynne’s new carbon tax also being added to your hydro bill starting in January. Let’s not forget the $5 charge to dump your yard waste at the Waste Management centre on Dunlop road.

Property taxes are only the beginning of citizens’ costs to live here

So let’s get this straight. In 2017 citizens will face paying separately for five required services. Its just more user fees loaded onto residents who are already paying taxes through their property values.

When you think about it, it’s paying a tax on a tax just to live in this city. We have to have electricity, water and waste removal. These are essential bread and butter costs to citizens.

Take this new Wynne carbon tax. If you own a car, motorcycle, motorized boat, snowmobile, gas-fired lawnmower, anything you own that uses fossil fuel including natural gas and oil-fired appliances; you are already paying a carbon tax on your usage of fossil fuels.

In the case of gasoline, the city receives a rebate on the federal gas tax that amounts to some $2.5 million. Now it appears that may be reversed as the Wynne carbon tax takes its place. Anyone wonder where that tax is going, the city or the province?

Regarding the Guelph 2017 budget, the elephant in the room is the huge bill to replace aging infrastructure, some of which may be 200 years old. The Association of Ontario Municipalities, (aka AMO), has estimated the cost of infrastructure repairs and replacement in Guelph is $205 million. That is a large chunk of change.

Last December, city council held a closed–session meeting, before the open public one, in which it decided to push a staff proposal of a 2 per cent, ten-year surcharge on property taxes into 2017. This staff proposal would increase Guelph property tax rates to more than 5 per cent for 2017.

Council agreed last December to kick the can down the road.

Looking back during the eight years of the Farbridge administration, there was little effort to tackle the aging infrastructure problem. But they managed to build more bike lanes, shrink major roads to provide more bike lanes. The administration concentrated on environmental services such a waste management, alternative energy sources, and downtown revitalization.

The single largest cost on the city books each year was for environmental services.

There are a lot of mistakes that were made managing this area including the deal made with a Detroit contractor to process recyclables in the Guelph recycling plant requiring an extra shift to do the work. The quality of material for recycling from Motor City created sorting problems and the deal fell apart leaving taxpayers with a bill of more than $1 million.

Then there is the decision to build an organic waste processing facility costing $34 million. The capacity was approved to process 30,000 tonnes of wet waste per year. Guelph only produced 10,000 tonnes per year so other sources were invited to send their wet waste to Guelph. Chief among them was the Region of Waterloo that committed to providing $10,000 tonnes paying less than the operating costs of the facility. Trouble was they couldn’t provide their contracted supply. Today, it is not known if the organic waste plant is running at capacity or not. If not, the city taxpayers are picking up the bill.

The financial costs of operating this facility have never been revealed. The plant is manned by employees of Aim Environmental, a subsidiary of Maple Reinders, builders of the plant. Another Maple Reinders subsidiary, Organix, sells the mulch produced from the wet garbage.

The people of Guelph get bupkiss from this deal except to pay the operating costs of the plant, forever.

Then along comes building a new Downtown Library, again

Preparing this 2017 budget is fraught with problems. In July, the Mayor managed to get council to pass a resolution to include the new downtown library in the 2017 portion of the capital budget.

What I don’t get is Chief Administrative officer (CAO) Derrick Thomson has already stated that the ten-year, capital-spending budget, is already under-funded by $170 million. So where is the money coming from? There is no attached source of funding for this project. The irony is that Karen Farbridge promised a new library 15 years ago in her first term in office. The estimates of paying for this ranges from $60 million to $93 million.

Let’s convince city council to build the library downtown

Perhaps there should be an organized public effort by the Friends of Library to engage in fundraising by approaching the service clubs, and other community organizations to show the city administration that they are ready to subsidize a new downtown library. Never mind these handouts through the wellbeing policy of the previous administration; the Library is a vital and important part of our social connections in our city. The numbers are there, so we must act. If citizens care enough to raise enough serious money to convince the council to stop stalling and build the new downtown Library, then what are we waiting for?

Why not start with the city including a $1 million annual commitment for the next five years toward the library project? Include it in the 2017 budget and not just a bookkeeping entry but cash deposited in a special segregated account. This should galvanize the citizens to build a beautiful downtown library to broaden the reach of our real sociability for young and old.

But folks, history has told us that we must take action now. The powers at 1 Carden Street will get it.

A modern Library is not just about books. It’s about connecting people to encourage cultural events, to hold conferences and workshops, even a snack stop … it’s a meeting place and keeper of who we are and who we can be.

The Farbridge administration, in its wisdom in 2007, spent some $16 million renovating a decrepit unused convent on Catholic Hill owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.

Construction took five years to complete the project that was, by city admission, over budget by $3.3 million and has less than a tenth of the traffic of the outdated downtown library.

Trouble is, the heritage element of council, supported a decision that used the excuse that it was saving a pre-Confederation building that today has little resemblance to the original. And, It was taken and renovated on someone else’s property.

So Mayor Guthrie, why not tell us the whole story? Is this part of your legacy to create a 3P deal, a joint project of public and private investment, to combine the library with a redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot?

If that happens, what does council do to replace all that lost parking spaces in the downtown where parking is already a serious problem?

With the record owned by the city in building major projects that had cost overruns and delayed completions, it is difficult to assume that anything will change within the present administration culture.

These star-crossed city managed projects include the Wyndham Street underpass; bike lanes that start nowhere and stop nowhere; the farmer’s market renovation; the Waste Management Innovation Centre; The new City Hall project; the Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc attempts to install alternative energy solutions costing some $37.1 million; the civic museum (see above).

Managing cultural sites at a loss, is that why the city can’t build a new library?

The city management of two major cultural edifices, The Sleeman Centre and the RiverRun theatre complex is subsidized by $781,000 of taxpayer money every year.

This is not a credit to Guelph. Nor is it fair to the taxpayers.

We have people on council who believe that these two sites are investments. Those among us see it as a total failure of management. Particularly since the Mayor praised the recent ten-year contract between the privately-owned Guelph Storm Hockey Club that has reduced their rent by $50,000 a year taking the city subsidy of this facility to $299,000 a year or $5 million over 10 years.

There is a vacancy of clear thinking; judgment and basic understanding how the city works on the part of the majority of councillors.

We can’t do much about it now.

But think. In the next two years if citizens will band together and raise say $10 million, do you think those elected officials will go to the polls ignoring the debris of their basic functionality?

If they fail to support the downtown public library project and the role of citizens, they do so at their own peril in 2018.

Let’s do it Guelph! The politicians need to have their lamp ignited.

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When respect cuts both ways

By Gerry Barker

October 5, 2016

Comments on the www.guelphspeaks.ca this week have been informative and conducted with respect of citizens’ perspective of living in Guelph.

This shows that people are thinking about how their city has been managed. They are also articulating their point of view with respect. It’s refreshing if only the administration would listen.

Here’s how the owners of the Guelph newpapers and other media played ball with their power unequivacally supporting the administration, not for four years, not for eight years but to date almost forten years.

As a critic of the administration(s) for the past ten years, I am attacked from all sides, particularly by senior management and surrogates of the majority of elected officials. This group was most active prior to civic elections in 2010 and 2014.

For five years up to 2011, I wrote a regular column called Between the Lines in the Mercury editorial page that criticized the Farbridge administration’s mismanagement, particularly of city finances.

I received an email from the managing editor in the fall of 2011, saying I was fired because the paper was going in a different direction. For the record, not only that didn’t happen but also the publication folded last January. That event shocked most people but I predicted it a year before because there was not sufficient revenue to support the publication.

I charge that Ms. Farbridge and her confederates spoke with the Publisher of The Record in Kitchener who was also publisher of the Guelph Mercury, to stop using my column Between the Lines. The messenger was Lynn Haddrell, Editor in Chief of both papers to Phil Andrews, Managing Editor of the Mercury. I always respected Phil but I knew he was caught between a corporate decision and having control of the content of his newspaper. None of these people are part of the Guelph political scene today nor does the Mercury exist.

The relationship between former mayor Farbridge and the Guelph Tribune

As for Ms. Farbridge and four members of her former council, she is no longer in charge of our city.

Why did Ms. Farbridge have the power to do what she did to get rid of http://www.guelphspeaks.ca? Her leverage lay with he city paying an estimated $400,000 a year of taxpayer money to the Guelph Tribude to run “City News” pages in every issue of the paper.

This is nothing but naked power exercised to get rid of an individual consistently critical of the city operations.

Then in early 2012, the administration again tried to shut down http://www.guelphspeaks.ca. This time, Executive Director of Human Resources and Legal Services, Mark Amorosi, stated the city notified a Guelph blogger (not me) that the city would no longer respond to requests for information from “any personal blog website.”

I took it that he meant me.

Amorosi went on to say that the city only interacts with “legitimate media outlets” that follow the Ethics Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ).

It appears that while Amorosi used the CAJ as the benchmark of who should have right of access to public information, he couldn’t have read the CAJ Ethics Guidelines. If he had, he would have read the following:

“News organizations- including newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television – provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such we (CAJ) seek to include views from all segments of the population.”

“Personal online activity, including emails and social networking should generally be regarded as public and not private.”

Believe me folks, it takes a lot of energy, research and dedication to produce a blog that is always available online to anyone and comments on events that city hall doesn’t want to talk about. And I do it using my own money because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

Government is for all the people not the chosen few

I do it because I don’t believe that any government, particularly in Guelph has the power to suppress, muzzle or deny information to which the citizens are entitled. This includes Provincial and Federal freedom of information laws.

Despite the information roadblocks set up by the administration, the ugly underbelly of gross mismanagement by an entrenched administration and majority of council is gradually exposed.. It includes neglect of vital civic issues such as affordable housing and family services, the aging infrastructure and wasteful spending on projects that were poorly planned and executed.

The evidence is there. Yet there is an element in this city that keeps saying it’s time to move on. They wish.

So let’s make it simple:

* How do we pay for the Urbacon $23 million excessive new city hall costs? How do we replenish the drained reserves?

* In 2011, Coun. Leanne Piper bragged that the city had more than $80 million in reserve funds. Most of this has evaporated as the reserves were used to cover up mistakes. These include lowball budget forecasting causing negative variances of the city budget at year end. The Province requires that the city accounts be balanced by year’s end.

* The sloppy and careless Community Energy Initiative has already cost $37.1 million and counting. The Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc (GHI) has a staff costing $267,000 annually, yet its Chief Executive Officer says GMHI has no money. Add to that the Guerlph Hydro subsidiary, Envida Community Energy Corporation owes GMHI $11 million and it does not have any money.

Gee, do you think you could run your personal budget that way?

* The role of Guelph Hydro in this convoluted financing of a co-generation plan is murky because the GMHI meetings were all held in private sessions. The plan is supposed to not only generate 10 megawatts of power from each District Energy Node (gas fired pump) to the grid, but also supplies hot and cold water to a small number of nearby buildings. The outcome has been a financial disaster due to poor planning and execution with Ms. Farbridge chair of GMHI until her defeat in October 2014.

Yes we can fight city hall

Supporting this administration is the little paper that can’t, the Guelph Mercury Tribune. It’s biased with one-sided coverage of the administration has been revealed when the paper refused to publish Guelph citizen Pat Fung, CPA, CA’s expert analysis of the financial state of the City of Guelph. Not only that but the paper refused a full-page ad on the Fung analysis claiming it wasn’t documented, was inflammatory and too political.

And all this time we believed that more people would be able to read the financial analysis.

The administration. who received copies of Mr. Fung’s analysis, rejected his findings and this was dutifully echoed in the Tribune news pages. Instead of responding with reasonable questions following Mr. Fung’s five-minute presentation to city council last Monday, council waited until he left the chamber to bolster their opinion that his findings were inaccurate.

For the record, not one member of council or the senior management holds the Degree of Chartered Accountant or Certified Public Accountant. DCAO Mark Amorosi controls city finances. He does not possess degrees in either of Mr. Fung’s professional designations nor has his experiences, performing financial analysis and senior staff management for major corporations.

Now comes the next stage of getting the eight-page Fung analysis to as many people as possible. A group of citizens are supporting a complaint about the paper’s refusal to carry the report. They are in the process of contacting the National Press Council to complain about the Tribune’s rejection of a thoroughly researched report..

Think about this. The city has a communication department with 11 communication specialists plus someone on contract. It includes one of that number to be exclusively assigned to the Chief Administrative Officer, Derrick Thomson. Question, does Mayor Guthrie have his own communication specialist assigned to him? Just asking.

Let’s see, the cost of this department is just over $1 million not including taxable benefits. The Tribune has only two reporters covering city hall and they have to file reports twice a week.

Respect is won only when there is open and transparent government that is accountable to the people. And a community newspaper that has no competition openly covers both sides of the story.

Oh yes, whatever happened to Andy Best who was hired last year to bring that type of government to Guelph? Just asking.

 

 

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How a failing Guelph administration is protected by a Mayor defying criticism

By Gerry Barker

October 3, 2016

When Mayor Guthrie announced his intention to run for mayor in January 2014, he talked about “For a Better Guelph.” He also mentioned the “Guelph Factor” as part of the problems facing the city and his reason for running.

But then, he campaigned on holding property tax increases to two percent or the

Consumer Price Index (CPI) that in 2015 was 1.1 per cent. In 2015, his first year in office, the Guelph property tax increase was 3.96 per cent including the effect of the assessment increase on properties.

On December 10, the Mayor presided over a closed session of council that approved paying four senior staffers $137,894 in salary increases for 2015. As this was a closed session, the reasons for including the discussion and vote have yet to be made public.

The four senior managers, CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson, and Al Horsman received excessive increases that became public with the publication of the Ontario Sunshine List last March. Mr. Horsman resigned in August 2015. Ms. Pappert resigned last May. Mr. Thomson also resigned in April to take another job but was brought back to take over the CAO position in June.

Is this the Mayor’s new interpretation of “A Better Guelph?”

Then along comes a Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA CA who examines the audited Financial Information Reports published by the city for the previous four years. He also examined the 2014 BMA consultant’s report of city operations.

This culminated in a detailed analysis of the city’s operational costs, compared with similar sized cities. It broke out the costs of the various departments and institutions of the city and compared them to the Ontario averages.

Mr. Fung, acting as a concerned citizen, sent each member of council a copy of his analysis August 18. Last Monday night, he made a five-minute presentation summarizing his findings. The council response was zero, although the large crowd in attendance applauded the presentation.. In fact, the Mayor shut him down when he directed a question to DCAO Amorosi.

The Mayor followed it up commenting: “I find it a bit disturbing that people would come in here and challenge our staff in this way.”

What does Mayor Guthrie mean when he adds, “in this way?” Are the people he represents not supposed to complain when accurate facts of financial mismanagement are exposed? Which “way” should the people react and respond?

Our Mayor seems to have drifted away from the people, who supported him, to go out of his way to protect the hired help. Does he seriously believe that there aren’t people in the city who clearly understand the gross mismanagement of the city that he promised to correct?

How does a credit rating reduce operational costs?

If the Mayor doesn’t understand the financial state of the city, how does he fulfill his promise of a “Better Guelph?” Does he believe that an AA+ credit rating by Standard and Poors (S&P) makes it all better?

You remember the S&P rating company. Between 2006 and 2008, it gave inflated credit ratings to mortgage-backed securities sold by most major U.S. and global banks. The S&P ratings nearly collapsed the global economy when millions of so-called investments were found to be worthless, except for the people who sold them using S&P credit ratings to support their validity.

Some Questions: The staff reported that S&P gave the city the AA+ credit rating in 2013 same as it is today. Did the city pay for this S&P report and how much did it cost? Why is there a three-year gap between the reports? How does this pat on the back credit rating affect operational costs of the City of Guelph? Answer: It has nothing to do with operational costs. Finally, when the city borrows money, it backs the debt with the assets of a $500 million corporation as collateral. This applies to most Ontario municipalities who borrow money. But then, Guelph already exceeds its debt ceiling as set by city councils.

Aren’t the city staff and some members of council applying the same tactic to misinform the citizens and lull them into not complaining? It appears that the Mayor has joined in that chorus of dumbing us all down.

Which brings us to the public financing of the Guelph Mercury Tribune

When Pat Fung took his report to the Tribune for publication, he was told they couldn’t run it because it was “too long and too political.” At no time did Editor Doug Coxson offer to have a reporter review Pat’s analysis to develop a news story.

By any interpretation, it is a news story and worthy of coverage.

I spoke with Pat and suggested we take out an advertisement in the paper to print the details of his report. I also agreed to raise the money for the ad.

I delivered the copy to the paper last Tuesday that the ad representative accepted and downloaded from UBS drive. I also presented a cheque for $2,083 to pay for the ad. On Wednesday morning, I checked to see a finished proof of the ad and was told there were “red flags” about the copy. And there had to be changes.

I asked if the ad was to run Thursday and was told no, not until the paper approves the copy. I requested the objections in writing and was told they would not comply but the ad rep would give a brief summary of the objections. These included lack of documentation, inflammatory content and details of who was placing the ad and contact numbers.

It was obvious, Metroland Publishing, the owners of the paper, had made a decision not to support the Fung analysis, either in the editorial section or a paid ad.

Now this deliberate blocking of free expression is going to be forwarded to the National Press Council for adjudication. The complaint will name the owners, TorStar Corporation, its subsidiary Metroland Publishing and The Guelph Mercury Tribune.

It’s astonishing, that in this day and age that a newspaper, enjoying a monopoly as the only paper in the City of Guelph, refuses to print a legitimate and accurate analysis without even attempting to review it or write a news story.

Instead, the paper published a news story with the heading: “Persistent city finance critic rebuffed at Guelph Council meeting.” Had the reporter read the Fung analysis? Did the editor even consider doing a news story about a citizen, trained and experienced in his profession, regarding the financial status of our city?

The answer my friends, is simple. The Mercury Tribune receives an estimated $350,000 to $500,000 a year from the city for publishing the “City News” pages in every edition of the twice-weekly newspaper. Those ads are paid by public funds so we have forcibly become partners with a newspaper. A newspaper that is biased favouring its city ads client and refuses to recognize its responsibilities to its readers who have legitimate causes and deserve space in the paper.

Citizens are victims in this unholy alliance between the city administration and this newspaper.

So much for democracy and free speech.

*            *            *            *

An important message from the editor

Dear Donor:

In the last three weeks, I solicited funds to pay for a full-page advertisement in the Guelph Tribune to reproduce the excellent analysis of the City of Guelph’s financial condition, compiled by Guelph resident, Pat Fung, CPA, CA.

I regret to inform you that the Guelph Tribune refused to publish Mr. Fung’s report as editorial comment using the excuse it was too long and too political. But then, the paper refused to allow citizen’s to purchase ad space to expose Mr. Fung’s details of the state of city finances.

I am personally embarrassed over these developments that I believe is nothing but planned suppression of the news that affects our community. I made a commitment to all donors to ensure that more residents would receive the Fung analysis. I can say now that it won’t happen, using the Tribune.

But, there is active planning to pressure the Tribune and extend the reach of www.guelphspeaks.ca, the only consistent critic of the city administration and supporter of the Fung Report.

We are appealing to the National Press Council to adjudicate a complaint that the newspaper, restricted fair comment by denying accommodating coverage of the Fung report on the news pages, but denied our attempt to publish the details in a paid advertisement. This is a clear violation of journalistic ethics and responsibility to the readership by suppressing information of vital public concern and interest.

We are not going to let up spreading details of Pat Fung’s analysis of the financial condition of our city. Doing this will require accumulating funds to inform residents of the details. Without access to the newspaper, we must seek other means of communication to express our points of view, both in print and social media using the Internet.

Accordingly, I will refund any donation made for this cause, if requested.

Please email gerrybarker76@gmail.com if you want your donation refunded. Please include your full address and email ID.

Remember why we are here. There will be an election in 2018. If we fail to plan and fund our point of view now, the outcome will not be attractive.

Next time we have to be sure. This is only the beginning of a long march to create real change.

Thanks again for your support and I hope we can count on you in the future.

Sincerely,

Gerry Barker

Editor, http://www.guelphspeaks.ca

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Mayor and Council threaten legal action against citizen Rena Akerman

By Gerry Barker

Posted May 6, 2016

Mayor Cam Guthrie wrote a letter to Guelph citizen Rena Akerman for distributing an email compiling the record of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert, in the past five years. The email was explicit, cross referenced with media reports yet the Mayor states the content was “inaccurate, disturbing and potentially defamatory.”

Well before commenting further, let’s reprint the Mayor’s letter and Ms. Akerman’s reply.

Dated April 28, 2016

From: Cam Guthrie, Mayor, the City of Guelph on city letterhead

To: Rena Akerman

Re: Correspondence received regarding the CAO – Ann Pappert.

Ms Akerman:

I am writing today to inform you that as Mayor, CEO of the Corporation of the City of Guelph and the employer of CAO Ann Pappert that the correspondence sent by you today is inaccurate, disturbing and potentially defamatory. I, along with council, take this matter very seriously.

I respect that as a citizen you are entitled to an opinion regarding the city’s operations. However, I caution you that crossing the line into publishing and distributing inaccurate and defamatory information is not acceptable.

I have already reached out to legal counsel. City council will be determining next steps which may include potential legal action that may be taken against you or others involved with this correspondence.

All employees of the City of Guelph are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. Therefore, a public apology to our CAO is in order before end of day April 29, 2016 and we ask that you cease and desist any further comments that disparage our employee.

Sincerely,

(Signed signature)

Cam Guthrie

Mayor

There you have it. It’s a first for a mayor of a major city. Try to stop criticism of your administration by threatening legal action. Even more galling is the Mayor is using city funds and staff to make his sledgehammer attempt to protect an employee whose performance record was accurately documented.

The Mayor, in his zeal to defend his CAO, may have unwittingly provided the basis of legal action by citizens for defamation against the Mayor and Council.

But let’s review Ms. Akerman’s reply to the Mayor and Council.

*            *            *            *

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

April 29, 2016

Mr. Guthrie:

I acknowledge your email letter dated April 28, 2016

I do agree that the contents of my email are disturbing, as it should be to ALL taxpayers in the City of Guelph. Please be advised that my primary sources are the local media reports (Guelph Tribune Guelph Mercury) and other online documents. My opinions are based on these sources which I believe are valid. If these sources were inaccurate, surely you would have requested a correction or a retraction.

Taxpayers in Guelph put their trust, as well as their tax dollars in the hands of City Hall. I believe our trust and tax dollars have been abused and according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I can say so openly.

For the record, it is a sad state of affairs when you feel you have to threaten me with legal action. This could have easily been avoided if City Hall had not ignored the letters of concern which have been written by a great many people to the editors of our local newspapers as well as the councillors. I have simply taken citizen concerns to the next level through an action that is consistent with a parliamentary democracy, i.e., asking other citizens to directly express their concerns about how poorly Guelph is managed by the current CAO to their governmental representatives.

Rena Akerman

*            *            *            *

Let’s sue the bastards – anonymous

What was Cam Guthrie thinking? That he could blunt any criticism of the public service staff when the level of competence is so patently obvious in the case of the city’s CAO? The simple responsibility of any CAO is to ensure the annual budgets are not overspent. Ms. Pappert approved millions in budgetary negative variances in her five years in office. That information is in the annual Financial Information Reports to the Province.

Yes, unbudgeted events such as an unusual weather event or encountering unanticipated legal expenses can create an unbalanced budget, a requirement by provincial law. It’s the CAO’s job to make sure the budget is not overspent.

But Ann Pappert ran up consecutive budget variances in her five years on the job. So one might ask, how did the city balance the books? They took money from the reserves. The biggie was the $8.96 million settlement cost with Urbacon Buildings Group Inc. In that case they raided three unrelated reserve funds for almost $6 million to partially pay off Urbacon.

For Mayor Guthrie and council to leap to the defense of Ann Pappert, considering the evidence, tells the story of nine years of mismanagement of our city and the millions that have been spent on an agenda controlled by former Mayor Karen Farbridge.

Now, her seven supporters, the Orange Crush, are using their council majority power to degrade public trust by ignoring the mistakes and ill-conceived concepts. Their perpetuation of the Farbridge policies has resulted in Guelph’s operating and capital spending costs to be 50 per cent higher than Cambridge and Kitchener.

That is why Guelph’s property taxes and user fees are so high because of the never-ending need to increase revenue to pay for the uncontrolled spending.

So when a citizen exposes the coruptive core of an administration gone wild, they threaten to take legal action because she had the courage to tell it like it is.

Why Mayor Guthrie does not get it, sinks him to the same level of mindless bungling of the citizens’ business. And, most of the council business is now held behind closed doors, far from the madding crowd.

When it comes to integrity, the Orange Crush represents the worst of municipal governance.

Early in 2015, there was a closed-door meeting to discuss CAO Ann Pappert’s salary and benefits. That was when the 17.11 percent salary increase was awarded for “performance.” And, Ms. Pappert was not alone in the biggest senior management salary boost in the city’s history. Three Deputy Chief Administrative Officers, Mark Amorosi, Derrick Thomson and Al Horsman all received increases ranging from 14 to 19 per cent.

An overdue apology by council is not forthcoming

Not one elected member of council, including the mayor, attending that meeting informed the public, and they still haven’t even acknowledged it. So, who should apologize for this outrageous deception?

The increase was not revealed until 14 months later when the Provincial Sunshine List of those employees earning more than $100,000 was published in March 2016.

This is a case of deliberate deception of vital public business and amounts to lying by omission. Those who approved those increase should hang their heads in shame. They cannot protest that they were bound by the code of conduct rules that prevents minutes of closed sessions be released to the public.

Now ask yourself, why would a mayor and his council, suppress knowledge of this huge increase in 2015 but have the nerve to threaten a citizen with legal action for revealing the shortcomings of the CAO?

Why? Because they could. They did not want the information to leak out because of its impact on the 2015 city budget that was completed two months later.

Another bumbling attempt to shut people up

Lets take the case of the firing of Chief Building Inspector Bruce Poole, a 30-year veteran of city staff. He dared to inform the CAO of a serious breach of provincially mandated building code policy that all building projects require a building permit. He claimed the city failed to take out building permits of its own projects and he allegedly threatened to fine the city.

That got him fired. He has sued the city for $1 million for wrongful dismissal and issued a statement of claim. The city has countered to defend its decision. Meanwhile, the city paid a $1,100 fine for failing to obtain a building permit for renovations to the West Recreation Centre. Is this the smoking gun in this case?

This week, Mr. Poole countered the city’s defence statement revealing that there are 70 city-initiated projects that failed to obtain building permits. One would assume that he knows what he is talking about.

This is yet another example of the Mayor not stepping in to mediate the situation to avoid the potential large expense to the city.

He was also silent in the case of Susan Watson’s frivolous claim that candidate Glen Tolhurst received an illegal donation from GrassRoots Guelph in the 2014 civic election. She lost and so did the citizens, as the cost of the procedure was more than $11,000.

Mayor Guthrie was silent following the walkout of a closed session by five members of the Orange Crush protesting, allegedly that they were protecting the “integrity of the corporation and the staff.”

Tell us Mayor, when do we citizens get the respect of our elected officials without the threat of legal action?

Wow! We elected a Mayor who promised to keep taxes at the CPI level and create a “Better Guelph.”

It is now clear that our Mayor has a different agenda that includes attacking a citizen who supported his candidacy in 2014 and who dares to challenge the competency of the senior staff administrator.

It seems like yesterday when Cam asked me to meet his election team in September 2014. I said at the time that he had to make sure he recruited council candidates that would work with him to carry out the necessary reforms. If he didn’t, the next four years as Mayor would be the worst of his life.

I guess as you sow, you reap.

 

 

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Thanks to a small group of citizens, CAO Ann Pappert has been called out

By Gerry Barker

May 4, 2016

It seems that the present council is more concerned about leaks of their management processes preparing the city budget, than fixing the problem of alleged incompetence of the Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert.

An email sent last week by a citizen, Rena Akerman, carefully documented the management record of Ms. Pappert since she was named to the post It is an indictment of her lack of responsibility as the chief of the entire city budget and staff. But it gets better.

Here is a copy of the Akerman email:

Dear Fellow Guelph Resident,

Recent letters to the editor in the Guelph Tribune from me and others show that many residents of Guelph are very concerned about the day-to-day management of our City.  Overall responsibility for the city’s operational management rests with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Guelph.  The current CAO has been in office since 2011 and her contract is currently being renegotiated for renewal in November.  The Mayor and City Council should NOT renew the CAO’s contract.  Guelph residents need to act NOW to ensure they don’t!  Here’s why:

  1. The current CAO has consistently allowed the annual City Budget to be overspent:

2012 – $11 million overspent (budget of $331 million, spending of $342 million)

2013 – $34 million overspent (budget of $346 million, spending of $380 million)

2014 – $6 million overspent (budget of $369 million, spending of $375 million)

2015 – Not yet available

  1. She has allowed her staff to make misleading statements to the public and Council.For example:

* In September 2015, the final official statement on Urbacon was issued stating that the City Hall reconstruction project cost $65 million, well above the initial budget of $42 million and the approved increases to $55 million.  This statement proudly announced that “with the exception of legal and settlement fees, the civic administration building…was within one percent of budgeted construction costs.”  (www.guelphtribune.ca/news-story/5834818-mayor-says-case-closed-on-urbacon-file.)  A Guelph Mercury editorial correctly noted that this statement amounted to “put(ting) lipstick on the Urbacon debacle pig” (Sept. 11, 2015.)

* In December 2015, despite the 2012-2014 overspending noted in point #1, the Deputy CAO claimed during the presentation of the 2016 budget to Council that Guelph’s “departmental budgets have been reduced over successive years”. (www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/6169580-proposed-bus-fares-amended-as-guelph-council-sets-the-city-s-2016-budget/).

  1. She has not required the use of proven metrics to help determine department budgets and performance.

Guelph is one of 60 municipalities across Ontario that participates in the annual BMA Municipal Competitiveness Study.  This report includes per capita spending on major common municipal services, which some municipalities use to help craft their budgets, assess performance and determine where to look for savings.  Citizen inquiries have revealed that Guelph does not do this. Furthermore, city staff have ignored citizen requests for information about the metrics they do use to set budgets. Without comparative metrics, claims made by the CAO and her staff about the operation of the City are questionable. For example, in Fall 2015, the internal auditor released a report claiming that Guelph’s waste collection is “conducted effectively and efficiently”, yet BMA report data reveals that our cost per tonne is $137 versus the Ontario municipal average of $114, and our cost per person is $29 versus the Ontario average of $10 (www.bmaconsult.com/MCD/overview.htm).

  1. She has made poor project recommendations to Council while not ensuring that basic municipal needs are met.  For example:

* In 2014, Guelph embarked on a revenue-generating venture – the processing of additional recyclables from Michigan.  This project recently failed.  Council’s approval to proceed was based on staff projections that the material sent to Guelph would have a 100% capture rate and a gross profit margin of 9.81% (www.guelphtribune.ca/news-story/6410001-city-dumps-staff-over-failed-bid-to-profit-from-michigan-recyclables).  A 100% capture rate is unachievable (not surprisingly, actual capture was 64%) and a 9.81% gross profit margin is unattractive by any standard because net profit margin is inevitably much lower.  The CAO should never have brought this project to Council for consideration.

* In February 2016, Council began looking at assessing residents and businesses stormwater management fees rather than continuing to cover these costs through property taxes.  Their discussions have revealed that Guelph has hundreds of kilometers of underground pipes and that “no money is now being set aside to replace them on a regular basis.” (www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/6263680-city-of-guelph-eyes-charging-user-fees-for-stormwater-management/)

     5. She has not ensured that overspending has been fully covered or given proper oversight.  For example:

* In September 2014, the courts ruled that Guelph owed Urbacon $6.6 million for wrongful dismissal on the City Hall reconstruction project plus legal fees of $2.2 million.  Since the CAO maintained that “we’ve been putting some money in a reserve” for “a number of years,” Council passed a resolution that transferred only $5.9 million from 3 existing reserve accounts to cover the $8.4 million tab (www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/48400025-guelph-pays-urbacon-6-6m-to-settle-to-settle-city-hall-construction-fight; www.guelphtribune.ca/news-story/5869286-tab-in-urbacon-suit-hits-8-4-million).   Although city staff maintained in 2014 that the Urbacon settlement would have “no impact on taxpayers” because it would be paid entirely out of reserves, the City is currently considering taking on more debt because city reserves are insufficient to take advantage of new federal infrastructure spending (www.guelphtribune.ca/news-story/6309062-urbacon-settlement-haunts-city-hall).

* In December 2015, a Councillor questioned staff about waste management spending for 2015 and was advised that there would be a negative variance versus budget of $0.5 million due to the failed Michigan venture (noted in point #4).  Only 3 months later, it was revealed that the actual variance was $2.6 million and that this loss could have been avoided if there had been a signed contract with Michigan.  Mayor Guthrie has asked for an investigation into what went wrong and why it went undetected for so long. (http://Kitchener.ctvnews.ca/video?binld=1.277213).

Despite her poor performance, Guelph’s CAO received a 17.11% salary increase in 2015, from $219, 657 to $257,248.  In comparison, the 2015 salaries of the CAO’s of Windsor, Kitchener and London were $196,056, $213,029 and $234,982 respectively (www.ontario.ca/page/public-sector-salary-disclosure).

Clearly, this CAO’s contract should not be renewed.  Guelph needs a more knowledgeable and trustworthy head administrator to manage the city’s day-to-day operations if we are to going to get spending under control and start paying down our multi-million dollar debt.

The CAO’s contract is being renegotiated right now so that she can contribute to the City’s 2017 strategic planning efforts that will begin in July.  PLEASE contact the Mayor and/or your ward councilors IMMEDIATELY and ask them to vote AGAINST renewing this contract.  For their contact information, go to:

http://guelph.ca/city-hall/mayor-and-council/city-council/

Thank you for your efforts to help improve Guelph and its future for all residents.

Best Regards,
Rena Akerman, a concerned citizen and Guelph resident for 13 years

*            *            *            *

As you can see, the email is well documented with cross-references to the print media reports. It should also be reported that the financial data in the Akerman email was obtained from the Financial Information Reports and other data prepared by the city staff annually as mandated by the province.

So why is the council, on both sides of the aisle, including the mayor, so upset about the revelations of Ms. Pappert’s performance?

It appears they are more concerned about the information leaks that GuelpSpeaks reveals periodically as well as Ms. Akerman.

For the record, GS was not consulted, involved or engaged in the production of this damning indictment of the CAO’s performance. Although GS has addressed this situation on a number of occasions, there is absolutely no linkage between GS and the group sending out the email.

But here is some history. In January 2015, GS reported that council was reviewing Ms. Pappert’s contract. It ignited a firestorm of protest and defence of Pappert. It included the Mayor sending out a damning email telling the recipients that the editor of GS was unreliable, inaccurate and to be ignored.

Whew, I might as well have left town after the Mayor’s lynching of my character.

But now we know why there was such a damning protest by the Mayor. Yes, there was a council discussion about the future of Ms. Pappert and her remuneration. But it was held in closed session. It took more than a year to find out why the Mayor was so upset to attack the editor for revealing the contract review. His support of Pappert would amount to putting her on a pedestal and bronzing her image in perpetuity

Pappert rewarded for performance before the new council barely took over

They gave her a 17.11 per cent salary increase elevating her 2015 salary to $257.248 plus taxable benefits of more than $6.000 and contractual benefits making her the highest paid CAO in a group of peer city administrations.

Here’s how Ms. Pappert’s 2015 salary of $257,248 compares to Kingston’s CAO, Gerard Hunt, who was paid $215,764 or $41,484 less than the Guelph CAO. Or take Kitchener’s CAO Jeff Willmer, who earned $213,029 or $44,219 less than Ms. Pappert. There is more, London, Barrie, Windsor; their CAO’s pay packages don’t even come close.

So what basis was there to award Ms. Pappert with a 17.11 per cent increase in 2015? Mark Amorosi claims there was a market review, comparing salaries of CAO’s. The report must have left out the two most obvious municipal comparisons, Kingston and Kitchener.

Why wouldn’t citizens complain about this egregious increase that had no basis but political pay back. How can Pappert sleep at night in the face of this damning evidence that she was unable to control the city budget over five years?

Why does Mayor Guthrie support this employee who works under his watch?

Public employees are subject to the same scrutiny as private employees who are in key management positions.

To suggest that Ms. Akerman should apologize is ludicrous and an abdication of the part of elected members of council who are sworn to protect the interests of their constituents. When they view that their job is to protect the staff from exposure to incompetence, it is the hollowing out of our democratic system.

This has been a nine-year systemic manipulation to disregard the citizens who pay the bills and expect to be treated with the same respect that the Mayor and Council appear to ignore.

The closed door awarding of the Integrity Commission was nothing but an attempt by the seven member of the Orange Crush to silence their colleagues so the public doesn’t know what is going on.

When you want to find out who is leaking in camera data, look no further that Coun. Mike Salisbury. His off-again, on-again denial and then confessing he leaked the data to a friendly blogger. speaks highly of his character and performance as a member of council for Ward Four.

This is a wretched time for Guelph with a totally dysfunctional council wallowing through their responsibilities blaming each other for the macabre handling of the public business.

The recent MacLean’s magazine cover was about the killing of the NDP by an eco- based rigid manifesto.

It can’t happen soon enough in Guelph.

Next: The Mayor threatens legal action

 

 

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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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Guelph’s financial operations are rooted in high staff costs and excessive spending

By Gerry Barker

Posted February 12, 2016

It’s the dirty secret that is driving up operating costs. So far, council refuses to tackle it or even listen to valid points describing the sorry state of financial management and the cost to the citizens.

It’s the untouchable cost of running a city after nine years of non-stop wages and benefits growing exponentially exceeding the Consumer Price index (CPI) by a country mile. Throw in the more than 500 new, full-time equivalent employees added in that time, and taxpayers are being forced to ante up every year to keep up.

The truth is that 80 per cent of the property tax levies goes to pay the city staff.

So when the staff submitted its estimate of the property tax increase for 2016 of 1.58 per cent to city council, it was a mythical, contrived figure that had little basis of reality. It’s the equivalent of the workers at Linamar telling the management how much they think it’s going to cost to produce car parts.

So they scare council’s majority, who support the nine civic unions, by saying the Guelph Transit fares are going up and weekend and holiday service will be reduced to save $1.5 million. Compared to the 2013 Guelph Transit overtime bill of more than $5 million, that’s chicken feed.

Oh, woe is me! Says Coun. Phil Allt who again, insists Guelph has to get cars off the road and only public transit is the answer. So the left-brain cramp of some members of council, is maintaining the “war on cars” that beats on.

It’s all part of the senior staff game to serve and protect … their interests, not those who must pay the bills. And there are a number of senior managers that don’t even live or pay taxes in Guelph.

In the past ten years, the growth of Guelph city staff exceeded the growth of our population by 85 per cent.

It’s not just occurring in Guelph

A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says in part that: “We have been hearing about cities having a revenue problem, but it’s clear it’s a spending problem they are dealing with,” said Laura Jones, CFIB executive vice president.

The CFIB report states that a municipal employee in Canada is paid 22 per cent more than an employee in the private sector doing the same job.

“When you look closely, it’s easy to see employee compensation is the root of the municipal spending problem,” said Nina Gormanns, co-author of the report.

This report comes in concert with the Fair Pensions for All organization that has been warning municipalities, for many years of the risks of increasing the size of staff and the increasing benefits paid to those workers.

In fact, the organization presented a documented report to the former Farbridge council, indicating the growing pension liabilities the city was facing. It was ignored and a number of Farbridge followers ridiculed the findings.

The staff strategy to use Guelph Transit to reduce costs in 2016 instead of recommending staff reductions, backfired when the council majority of seven voted to reject Transit fare increases and service reductions.

City consultants warned of reserves depletion

The city recently commissioned a consultant report to review city operations.

The BMA municipal consultants are not unfamiliar with the way our city is being managed; having done a similar report in 2011 that cost $480,442 to complete.

This year’s report raised a “cautionary red flag” on the underfunded reserves. Those raided reserves have had little replenishment since the 2014 civic election as was promised by senior staff.

You cannot raid three reserve funds to pay a lawsuit liability of $8.96 million without a firm plan to pay the money back. In approving the 2015 budget last March 25, Coun. Karl Wettstein, the elder statesman of the Gang of Seven on council, made a motion to reduce the $900,000 scheduled repayment to the reserve funds to $500,000. That passed.

Councillors Wettstein, Leanne Piper and June Hofland were on the Farbridge council that witnessed the firing in September 2008 of Urbacon Buildings Group, Corp., the general contractor of the new City hall.

They have never accepted responsibility for that action that triggered a $23 million cost overrun of the project. For that matter, neither has the former mayor ever admitted any responsibility. The people understood and voted the mayor out of office.

The 2016 budget, approved December 10 included another 2.99 per cent increase of property taxes, plus user fees and more staff.

During budget talks, council buried a staff recommended 2 per cent, ten-year special property tax levy to pay for the city’s ailing infrastructure. It was kicked away to be discussed in the 2017 budget discussions next November.

The 2017 property tax increase prospect, next November, is that if the special levy is approved, plus the storm water levy, plus the 4.5 per cent water use increase, the annual property tax increase in Guelph for 2017 will be more than 9 per cent.

Transferring operational costs to debt can reduce tax increases. It is a glaring example of financial mismanagement that has been practised in this city for far too long. If we ran out lives the way this city is being run, we’d be bankrupt in short order. Swallowed by personal debt used to pay the bills.

Oh! Regardless, that’s what staff did this year.

And that folks, is just one of the reasons why Guelph’s operational and capital costs are 50 per cent higher than Kitchener and Cambridge. It’s why Guelph spends $28,000 per kilometer on road repair and rehab than the provincial average of $11,000. Bike lanes anyone?

These figures are extrapolated from the official annual Financial Information Reports filed annually by every municipality in Ontario to the province.

Figures don’t lie but liars figure…Go figure!

Maybe that’s why the city changed auditors this year.

 

 

 

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The night council put the brakes on spending

By Gerry Barker

Posted December 10, 2015

After a marathon debate last night, the majority of council rejected the city budget as being too high

It was about 12:50 am this morning when Mayor Cam Guthrie said a four-letter word in response to Coun. Leanne Piper’s asking if he would support the proposed 3.42 per cent property tax increase. It was an insulting, request that bespoke of the lady’s insecurity when the chips are on the line.

It occurred at the end of a marathon eight-hour deliberation.“Nope,” the mayor told her. He added to another councillor’s similar question that the rate was too high.

A few minutes later the vote to approve the budget was defeated by a 7 to 6 margin. These councillors voted against approving the budget: Mayor Guthrie, Andy Van Hellemond, Christine Billings, Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, Mark McKinnon, Karl Wettstein. Those members deserve the support of citizens for having the determination to reduce the property tax increase by rejecting the final operating budget.

Those voting for the budget were Councillors James Gordon, June Hofland, Phil Allt, Mike Salisbury, Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper.

It was a victory for the people who have felt powerless for the past nine years to face increased property tax rates, water and electricity fees, other user fees, inflicted by an administration bent on imposing its ideological agenda without recourse.

That came to an end last night.

The thin edge of council majority held by the Farbridge Gang of Seven was shattered when Coun. Karl Wettstein defected. In fairness, Mr. Wettstein has always said he was neutral sitting on council. But Wednesday night, he expressed his concern that property taxes cannot continue to increase at a plus 3 per cent annually.

It was a civil but messy debate throughout the night with some give and take. The Mayor went out of his way to allow all councillors to speak. There were many votes to approve and disapprove the various budget line items recommended by the staff under the leadership of Chief Administrative Officer, Ann Pappert.

The costs kept climbing

 As the evening wore on, it became apparent that the budget item numbers were climbing increasing the tax -supported operational costs. Mayor Guthrie repeatedly asked Janice Sheehy, General Manager of Finance and Treasurer for the impact of each approved or rejected item on the property taxes.

The trouble began when the staff’s non-recommended items were considered and the additions started adding to the tax percentage as reported by Ms. Sheehy. In the final half hour, the rejection votes were increasing as councillors realized they had to stop increasing spending, but it was too late, so to speak.

After all adjustments, Ms. Sheehy reported the final 2016 operating cost was $217,336,736, creating an increase over 2015 of 3.42 per cent. When this figure is matched with the 3.96 percent approved last March for 2015, it would total 7.38 per cent impacting property taxes over two years.

“Nope,” said the Mayor and a majority of council agreed.

Tonight, the budget debate will re-open starting at 6 p.m. at City Hall. There will have to be give and take by all councillors. But it’s now clear that the property tax rate must be reduced to at least 2.5 per cent, closer to the rate of inflation.

There were winners and losers last night. The staff’s recommended expansion budget was split in two, one part contained the staff recommended items and the other the non-recommended items. Why it was done that way, bespeaks of an attempt to make the staff look responsible and doing its job. Instead it opened the door for some councillors to add the staff rejected items to the new budget.

This budget process, designed by the staff, was a dismal failure. Why would they tell council that they were not recommending a number of items? Why not just recommend what they deemed necessary and leave it like that?

There were more ulterior motives swirling around than a carnival merry-go-round.

Who were the winners last night? First and foremost are the citizens of Guelph. Then Mayor Guthrie who stood firm when he had to and stopped the accelerating spending. And those councillors who believed that living in Guelph is too expensive and that spending has to be arrested.

The losers: The six councillors voting for the budget increase who still don’t understand that the people voted last year for change. Last night they got it and now all members of council must work together to adopt new ideas to increase efficency, destroy the culture of the previous administration and go down in history that this council finally got it right.

Tonight there will be some major spending changes to reduce the 3.42 per cent tax rate defeated last night.

Let the slicing and dicing begin

 I have two items that need to be pulled from the budget. First, is the Staff Rationalization Study, approved at $250,000. This is a staff recommended item that seconds its management responsibility to a third party to support its own job performance. Not needed now and instead commence a program, department by department, to analyze performance and job descriptions. The internal auditor can make a major contribution in those processes provided she has a free hand.

The second is the $264,000 cost of maintaining the Open Government Action Plan that was approved in September 2014. The city has already spent $100,000 to a consultant to create the plan. Last July, the city hired Andy Best, a key supporter of the former mayor, to manage the plan. It was reported to be a one-year contract paying $92,000.

Now this has morphed in 2016 paying, $117,000 to Mr. Best, a tidy $25,000 increase to someone who has been on the job five months. Then there is $147,200 allocated for goods and services. There was no justification offered for that item.

This is a hangover project created by the former administration. Guelph does not need this after what occurred last night. We have a council that is more open and transparent than the secretive, manipulating former administration it replaced.

Two senior staff members need to refresh their management targets to meet the demands of the people. There is a culture of entitlement existing at City Hall, the Guelph Police Services Board and the Fire department. It’s a culture that senior staff must correct to meet the demands of the people and those councillors who the people elected to represent them.

Notice that the EMS was not mentioned. They asked to hire another paramedic to speed up response times and the $84,000 position was voted out of the budget.

But they did vote to add a zoning inspector costing $128,000

The words you never heard in eight hours were “Urbacon” and “Sunshine List.”

In 2014, CAO Ann Pappert said the $8.96 million settlement of the Urbacon lawsuit would not affect property taxes. How’s that working for you? She then said the settlement money was taken from three unrelated reserve funds. She said that the city would replenish those reserves by paying $900,000 a year for five years.

That didn’t happen and there was no reference to it in the staff recommendations.

The Ontario givernment’s annual Sunshine List keeps on growing naming all civic employees earning more than $100,000 plus taxable benefits. This year, Guelph will report an additional 15 to 20 new staffers to the 2015 list reported in 2016.

At least now the spending brakes are engaging.

Tomorrow, guelphspeaks.ca, will publish the final budget figures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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