Tag Archives: Maypr Cam Guthrie

Was former Mayor Karen Farbridge ahead of her time, or was blinded by personal ambition?

By Gerry Barker

May 21, 20119

Opinion

In her eighth years as the head of council, Ms. Farbridge launched a composite of advanced environmental projects. She recognized the effect on the city of global climate change. She was also a masterful political strategist who made mistakes along the way. Despite her skill sets and vision she made one big mistake.

Read on and learn or recall the history of a Mayor consumed by all things environmental and turning Guelph into a world leader in self-sufficiency of waste management, banning fossil-fueled vehicles and weed whackers, stopping the use of pesticides, anything plastic that was non-bio-degradable.

She was determined to get us onto bicycles as basic transportation, sort out waste, protecting the tree canopy of the city, revitalize the downtown, building more bike lanes and reduce vehicle lanes to accommodate wider bike lanes, hiring more staff to carry out her numerous polices and projects. Finally, the cost of all this was annual incremental property taxes and user fees.

Whew! How did we survive?

In 2009, the Farbridge city council entered a three-tier government infrastructure plan in which the city was responsible for one third of the approved projects. As it turned out, the city overspent its share by adding projects including $2 million for bike lanes on Stone Road and a new $75,000 time clock in the Sleeman Centre.

These so-called environmental projects included a $34 million organic waste processing facility, to turn wet waste into compost. The facility was financed by the public since 2011, has been run by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maple Reinders, the company that built the facility. This company also sells the capacity to other municipalities.

I requested information about the operation as to what has been the payback to the city. I was told that it was not expected to be profitable as it was a city waste management facility and not intended to make money.

This recent explanation summarizes the disregard that the city administration at the time, denied public information. The plant was overbuilt being licensed to process 60,000 tonnes of wet waste per year. The city of Guelph’s 10,000 tonnes of wet waste per year is miniscule. Today, the facility is accepting wet waste from the Regional of Waterloo and other municipalities.

It now appears that the city made a terrible deal and a high price to process its own wet waste in the past eight years.

Well, somebody is making money in this deal, and it’s not the citizens of Guelph who financed it. We can’t even access the finished compost that is sold privately by the operating company.

The $23 million mistake that took six years to explain

On September 18, 2008, there was that moment of mayoralty pique when general contractor, Urbacon Buildings Group Inc. was ordered off the construction site of the new city hall and renovation of the old city hall into a provincial offenses court.

The details are too many and complex to cover in this post, except that the original contracted price for the project was $42 million in 2006. When the dust settled in November 2014, the CAO revealed the cost zoomed to $65 million.

This dispute lasted for six years, a lengthy trial that found the city guilty of wrongful dismissal and it cost the Mayor her job losing to a rookie councillor, Cam Guthrie.

There was a municipal exhale following the election in which 43 per cent voted. Most folks pleased that the Farbridge era was over, my wife and I included.

In those heady days of electoral joy, there was a huge Farbridge controlled plan to use a small city-owned corporation called Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. (GMHI) to take over Guelph Hydro to create radical new plans to make the city self-sufficient generating its own electricity and burying pipe underground to supply hot and cold water to a small number of building near the Sleeman Centre.

The mayor’s plan was to install solar panels on all public buildings to be installed by a subsidiary corporation of Guelph Hydro. Installing two natural gas pumps in the Sleeman Centre and Hanlon business Park cost $11 million.

The impact of the GMHI activities were chiefly unknown by the public. In late 2015, council engaged the accounting firm KPMG to conduct a consolidated audit of GMHI. In May 2016, the management of GMHI told council the bad news that the GMHI finances were in disarray and prospects of saving the components was remote. On May 26, 2016, The Chief Administrative Officer of the city and Chief Executive Officer of GMHI for four years, Ann Pappert, left the city staff.

In July a staff investigation of GMHI painted an even more divesting report of the GMHI performance in four years.

KPMG’s audit showed a shareholder’s liability of $60 million.

The disposal of Guelph Hydro

In 2017, city council appointed a Strategic Options Committee to sort through the options to dispose of the city-owned Guelph Hydro that in its 2016 financial report showed a book value of $226 million.

To this day, I maintain this was a giveaway of our power distribution system for peanuts. I believe it was to help wipe out the huge GMHI liability for which the city was responsible. What other reason would there be?

In October 2018, Council voted to accept a merger proposal with Alectra Utilities. January 1, this year the deal closed with the approval of the Ontario Energy Board.

But in 2015, Farbridge loyalists retained the majority of the new council and remain there today. In the October civic election the Farbridge group retained the majority. Only 33 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls compared to 42 per cent in 2014..

These issues will be revisited in a future GS post. The city council still clings to the Farbridge initiatives as our taxes and operating overhead increases every year.

One closing example: Some 23 new employees were hired in the 2019 budget costing annually $9.2 million.

Result? We got a majority Farbridge-inspired council because the majority of voters did not bother to vote last October.

 

 

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Reasons to exercise your privileges of freedom by voting Monday October 22

By Gerry Barker

October 20, 2018

Let’s say you are not planning to vote on Monday.

The reasons vary such as, I’m too busy to bother; my vote won’t make any difference; my daughter has the measles; I don’t like any of the candidates; I rarely vote at all so, why now? Finally, my boss won’t give me time off work to vote.

Well, here’s why.

For the past 12 years the progressive left, first under former mayor, Karen Far bridge, and then under Mayor Cam Guthrie has dominated the city administration. In his case he was a closet conservative who went along with the progressive majority on council, to get along.

The last of our years

Perhaps we should work backwards examining the city operations under Mr. Guthrie.

In 2015, it started with the Guthrie election promise of keeping the property tax at the same level as the Consumer Price Index that was 1.99 per cent. Council approved the 2015 budget in March that year and the property tax increase was 3.96 per cent, that had to be adjusted to reflect the increase in assessment of all properties in the city.

That election campaign promise has evaporated in the mayor’s first term. In fact, the estimated four years of property taxes cumulative effect is 18 per cent. This includes the two-year property tax of two per cent levy was imposed two years ago.

Then, in December 2015, a closed session of council awarded $98,202 salary increases between four senior managers: CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Al Horsman, Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson. Only Mr. Thomson remains as CAO.

Fast-forward and the Guthrie council conducted 82 closed session meetings in the first two years in office. This did not include the closed meeting of the Strategic Options Committee that led to the take-over of Guelph Hydro by Alectra Utilities. The Ontario Energy Board approved this multi-million dollar deal October 18, 2018, just five days before the civic election.

Sure you still won’t bother voting Monday?

Here are more reasons to take the time to vote.

Mayor Guthrie stated in a pre-election announcement that a new Public Private Proposal (3P) to spend an estimated $350 million in today’s dollars, on redevelopment of the Baker Street parking lot. The private partner is Windmill Developments based in Ottawa. The Mayor said there would be a new downtown library included in the plan.

Sounds exciting, right?

The project will not start construction until 2024. It is estimated it will take another four years at least to get the new library open and running. That’s more than ten years from now. The public’s share of this project has yet to be determined. As an aside, the city claims it has already invested $29 million of Baker Street renovation.

Note that part of that investment includes the $22 million five storey Parkade being built next to city hall with no connection to the Baker Street proposal.

This Hocus Pocus financing is a bargaining chip negotiating with the private Baker Street partner.

In the six years waiting for construction to start, inflation will add another 12 per cent to the current estimated cost. That’s more than $42 million. Mr. Guthrie won’t be mayor plus council will have a number of new members.

If you believe this data, don’t bother to vote because you can’t change it. Wrong!

Your vote is vital as     s the city administration must change.

You see, the progressives don’t want you to vote. The Bloc of Seven majority on council forced a vote denying the use of Online voting in 2018. Their reasons were smothered in a wave of academic opinion claiming that E-voting created “massive security holes” thereby was dangerous.

This is an example of power over reality. In 2014, some 12,767 citizens voted Online without a single glitch or complaint. The progressive saw their leader defeated and four councillors either were defeated or did not run.

How do you change it?

Make sure to vote Monday. You have your voting card and all you need is a driver’s licence, or utility bill, or property tax statement. Your health card must have your address, some of them don’t.

Guelphspeaks.ca believes there are a number of excellent candidates ready to serve their city. This election will be different and hopefully bring change accompanied by accountability, transparency and open government.

Once elected, the candidate not only serves his or her ward but they become the stewards of the city representing all the people.

Finally, thousands of Canadians in the past 100 years gave their lives to preserve our way of life. That includes freedom of speech, public participation in government.

A personal remembrance is that of my father, his two brothers and his sister who served in France in the First World War. John Sydney Barker and Thomas Mitchell Barker were both killed in action. My parents honoured their memory by naming me after them.

It brings sadness and privilege to remember that more than 100,000 Canadians gave their lives in two world wars. They have paid a terrible price to secure our freedom.

Let’s remember them by voting this Monday.

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Wynne Government degrades space for homeowners with its high-density housing policies

By Gerry Barker

December 26, 2016

Former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion reported to Premier Kathleen Wynne that the Province’s rules of urban development were imposing anti “sprawl” restrictions on builders and citizens. The government is engaged in forcing urban municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area to build high-density housing (HDH) – strip-linked homes, low rise condos and town houses.

These policies are frustrating the human desire for space where they live. I call it government degradation of personal space.

There is a basic human desire to have a home where there is freedom of movement and a place for families to grow. The latest demands of the pointy-headed planners in downtown Toronto, is to increase the number of households and jobs per hectare from 50 to 80. In already urbanized areas, the increase rises from 40 residences per hectare to 60.

There are two terrible long-term caveats to consider in this provincial decision. One is affordability of single-family homes. The cost of these homes will rise exponentially as builders of those homes either flee to other distant jurisdictions or switch to build HDH homes. As the number of single-family homes decreases, the cost of housing in Metropolitan areas in the province will explode. It is already happening in Toronto.

Those municipal leaders who are in favour of high-density homes dismiss this argument. Mostly because it’s about revenue. Those HDH developments deliver millions in added revenue because the increased number of residences deliver more revenue per hectare than single-family development. The HDH residences are taxed not only for operating and capital spending by the city but provide increased assessment, contributing to the municipality’s bottom line.

The Province’s experts say this is greater use of land and less strain on civic services. But every time your assessment increases, your taxes go up.

The story of HDH in Guelph

You do not have to travel far in Guelph to see the high-density developments that were planned and approved by the Farbridge administration in her eight years as mayor. She saw the value in boosting revenue from these developments south of Arkel to Clair Road east of Victoria and Gordon Street.

Another more recent HDH development is on Eastview Road adjacent to the former Guelph landfill site.

In eight years, the Farbridge administration did not approve any single-family home development in the city. It is a city with hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, much of it owned by the University of Guelph.

This is what I call cramming people into a residence that has no street parking, waste removal, with many forced to use private contractors because the city collection vehicles cannot maneuver. Yet, many residents in these HDH developments still pay for waste collection through their taxes.

The former mayor and her council supporters, were well ahead of the curve ten years ago when they launched the HDH development program while explaining it was part of the Provincial government’s “Places to Grow,” policy.

Farbridge campaigned in 2006 that the city had to stop urban sprawl (read that single family homes). I remember a column written by Tony Leighton in the Mercury at the time, complaining that the single-family homes built in Guelph were all the same with little design or panache (my word). I recall the term “cookie-cutter development” used.

That was the beginning of planning a city without including single-family home development. The basic planning principle of mixed-use development was thrust aside by the Farbridge Administration for all the wrong reasons. The most glaring was the abandonment of develeoping affordable housing in Guelph by the administration for eight years.

City angles for getting something for nothing

Today, ten years later, we have a city council determined to (a) gain control of the 549 acres of the Reformatory lands without paying the Province, and (b) sending the mayor to consult with Premier Kathleen Wynne, MPP Liz Sandals and MP Lloyd Longfield. The inclusion of Longfield escapes me as the lands are totally out of his jurisdiction.

The administration is proposing a “collaborative accommodation” with the Province. This would justify the estimated thousands of dollars already spent by city employees to plan a bucolic “Vision,” a Euro-style, ground efficient complex, that is self-contained with shopping, work sites and bicycles. Perhaps a few electric motorized scooters.

Now the Provincial Liberals are anxious to overcome their revenue deficits by next year, according to Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Do you believe that the city administration, is sending our mayor to persuade lending us the rights to plan the lands without paying for it? The Wynne government can be blamed for a lot of mistakes but I don’t believe this will be one of them.

Think about it. If the Province allowed this modern version of lend lease, can you imagine the rest of Ontario’s 445 municipalities will demand a similar deal to gain ownership of provincial lands?

It then brings up the question: If the working agreement between the city and Province regarding the reformatory lands expired in 2014, why is the staff bringing it up now? Who is pushing this? Is it the staff or the majority of Council who support another failed Farbridge initiative?

The staff admits there is no money to purchase the property. This is self-evident, as the administration cannot afford to build the Wilson Street Parkade, South End recreation centre or a new downtown library.

These are all long term, capital projects that former and present administrations have failed to fulfill.

Where did the money go?

Taxes and user fees have increased steadily.

The answer is that our money has been spent with irresponsible abandon on building monuments to self aggrandizement such as the Waste Resources Innovation Centre on Dunlop Road; and increasing city staff to a point that is unsustainable when compared to similar sized cities; the multi-million dollar losses Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc endured that was personally chaired by the former mayor and Chief Executive officer, Ann Pappert; The $23 million loss building the new City Hall complex.

These are some of the reasons why there is a capital funding deficit of $170 million, according to Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thomson.

If the city cannot afford to purchase the lands, how does the administration sell the idea of putting a large-scale development on lands they do not own? Doesn’t the owner of the lands have to approve the plan of subdivision and go through the long approval process? How is the public, the Ontario Municipal Board that would have to adjudicate any objections to the plan and, interested parties become involved in the process?

On a slightly different topic, a release by a Guelph radio station last week declared the salary for CAO Thomson was $230,000 fixed for three years. What was new information is that his contract includes six weeks vacation plus an extra week in lieu of overtime. It is difficult to comprehend why the CAO should be rewarded for working overtime. This means that the CAO will be off the job 13.4 per cent of his time in office each year of the contract.

Then there is the car allowance of $800 a week or $9,600 per year. That is a taxable benefit. When he was Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, his car allowance was $6,300 a year.

It appears Mr. Thomson’s annual remuneration totals $239,600 or $4,607 a week.

What the release didn’t mention was the effect of the cost of Mr. Thomson’s pension or the other perks of his office.

Mayor Guthrie felt it was a fair arrangement and praised Mr. Thomsom for revealing some of the details of his executive pay.

Now, if only the mayor would reveal the details of the $98,202 increases that went to former CAO Ann Pappert, DCAO’s Mark Amorosi and Derrick Thomson for 2015. It would reinforce his dedication to open government and his fiduciary responsibility to the people.

 

 

 

 

 

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