Tag Archives: Ministry Of Municipal Affairs and Housing

It only took 13 years to change Guelph politically, culturally and economically

By Gerry Barker

August 22, 2019

Opinion

Part Seven of Seven

Experiencing the ebbing of summer as it morphs into fall, I reflect on the forces and political events that in the past 13 years have changed Guelph forever.

The city has changed as the demographics have changed. Many new people have moved to this city touched by gentle rivers, lush parks and being a preeminent home to the new Canada, one of diversity, tolerance and peace.

With that statement of idealism comes the downside of transferring a beautiful city to meet the challenges of a changing planet, separate of the demographic between the young and old and the handmaiden of authoritarian civic rule.

The outcome has been a mixed bag of modernization, coupled with a rigid cultural shift that transferred political power to an efficient majority of progressive believers in change at any cost.

It has been incredibly uncomfortable in this period of dominant control of our civic affairs, pegged to some 16 years of Liberal-dominated provincial governments. In fairness, some of the mistakes in wasted capital were made in Guelph by the administration of dream catchers.

If you have been following this series, you have read the details of the high cost of change driven by a council and senior staff to turn the city, they said many times over, into a world class municipality of unparalleled elimination of fossil-fueled vehicles, alternative transportation (bicycles), reduction of waste, developing self sufficiency in sourcing clean power.

At the time, these efforts were appealing to the council supporters, including the labour unions, employee associations, the University of Guelph and Conestoga Community College, plus the two Liberal governments at Queen’s Park.

The previous six parts of this blog have detailed, in my observation and opinion, a dismal record of misuse of power and personal ambition lust to alter a way of life.

New housing did not include detached homes

The type of housing in the city changed dramatically almost overnight. The virtual elimination of detached single- strip attached homes incorporated in low-rise condominium development. It was the urging of the Wynne Liberal provincial government to create the intensification developments to discourage detached single-family home sprawl.

Unfortunately, the costs of servicing these new developments soared as the city’s operational overhead costs increased with each new proposal.

City council adopted the intensification proposal mainly because it had a higher return of property tax than the detached home developments.

Many viewers reading the series of blog posts for whatever reasons, may sneer, some will dismiss me as an ”irritant,” I call others the Monday regulars, those who appreciate my reporting and analysis. Then there are the readers on Twitter and Facebook where the blog material is regularly posted.

In my opinion, Guelph is still a small town and managed accordingly. On the ground, we have the size of a city but are controlled by ward councillors who have been in charge for 13 years. I call it parish pomp politics run chiefly by a part-time council.

There remain important issues to be resolved. Some are the result of a transformation of society. Many are neglected and need action with the most important being the city’s aging infrastructure.

Past mistakes are hard to fix and expensive. If we have learned anything, we need much closer public participation, a new reduced full-time city council elected at large, and nine would be a good number.

Instead of the dated Community Energy Innovation plan, circa 2007, lets study the new jobs that the future will demand. The shift in information collection and delivery has seen the loss of print media including newspapers, snail mail, call centres, transportation, healthcare and delivery of cyber services.

Like it or not, the transformation of our society is bringing rapid changes. Manufacturing jobs are shrinking with the advancement of robot technology that is pervasively replacing workers. This issue will hit Guelph’s manufacturing companies who will have little choice but to lay off employees due to robots taking over.

You know, robots don’t pay taxes, do not participate in the community, don’t drive cars, don’t get emotional and have one line of repetitive thinking. This will seriously impact the future basis of determining business taxes in the city.

Guelph’s drug crisis that is deadly and growing

A comment from a reader described Guelph as the Meth (amphetamine) capital of Canada and the downtown area was awash with needles. Is that an exaggeration? Will legalized distribution of pot change this dangerous opiod growing epidemic? Don’t bet on it.

My experience living in Guelph, is I believe that use of illegal drugs in our city has been a long-term problem. It is one that can be controlled but will never disappear even with the advent of recreational pot.

Guelph police have focused on the dealers of these drugs including the arrival of the powerful opiod fentynal

Several things need to happen: Enforcement of choking off the supply and distribution. That includes drug wholesalers, pharmacists, physicians and illegal drug dealers. This campaign will be costly and take time. It’s time city council stops denying and providing the resources to halt this scourge that is not unique to Guelph. Regardless the drug supply and culture in the city lays the groundwork for very serious consequences.

Dealers and users should be arrested and dealt sever penalties if found guilty. No more releases of accused druggies on their own recognecense, provide the resources for more law enforcement, the courts and the professional organizations whose members may be part of the distribution of illegal drugs.

This is the time to set aside the capital projects such as the proposed Baker Street $350 Million project, the Guelph Innovated District planned purchase, the South End Recreation Complex, all bike lane expansion and climate change and other environmental and Innovation projects.

The focus must turn on the transformation issues now affecting our immediate future. Council has a lot of work to do to meet the new direction of society including public health.

I am in the December of my years but my one regret is that I will not be around to witness and participate in the real changes that are at the doorstep of civilization.

Where do Guelph citizens figure in all this?

I am positive that if the administration is reduced and keeps the public informed regularly, allows online voting and attracts representatives with experience and qualifications, and pays them well as full-time councillors. I am confident if this occurs, Guelph will become more than just another pinpoint dot on the atlas of Canada.

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Does the Guelph administration keep on giving to the University of Guelph?

By Gerry Barker

February 4, 2019

Opinion

Recently, by an 8 to 4 vote council exempted the University of Guelph of paying development charges for its never-ending expansion of facilities.

That’s a great deal by any standard.

But let’s try to understand just what the city receives from the University to maintain taxpayer-supported costs including infrastructure, transportation, public safety, hospital and medical services and city administration.

City taxpayers pay for all of these categories.

Don O’Leary, the University’s Vice President of finance, administration and risk, admitted that he University is paying $1.6 million in lieu of property taxes. This special deal, created the province in 1987, is called the bed-tax.

Each post secondary institution in the province multiplies the number of students attending by $75. That number remains the same today, some 36 years later. There is no allowance for inflation or the effect on city taxpayers in terms of operational costs and population growth of the city.

The city’s operating and capital spending costs are estimated to be 395 per cent compounded, at an average of three per cent per year since the introduction of the plan.

When comparing the property tax rate proposed by the city of Toronto was 2.55 per cent. Yes there will be folks in Guelph who will dispute the fact that Guelph’s 3.93 per cent property tax rate is not valid. It’s relative because size is not what matter.

It’s how to reduce overhead and spending. By practicing more accurate forecasting managing within our means and working to increase revenues. It is not at the expense of property taxpayers. That well has been tapped too often.

But the University of Guelph owns possibly the largest total tract of urban land among the post secondary schools in the province, much of it yet to be developed.

The U of G property contains a larger portion of leased land including a multi-use subdivision known as the Arboretum. In addition, much of the commercial and offices along Stone Road pay a land lease charge to the University that owns the land. Over the years this has been a financial gold mine for the University that grows every year. Is it an increasing real estate bonanza including the Stone Road Mall?

So why are the citizens financing this in perpetuity?

Moreover, while the property tax rate has only dipped twice below three per cent per year in 9 years, The University’s contribution has remained at $75 per student.

Is this part of the $800 million economic contribution to the City of Guelph claimed by University VP O’Leary? Particularly when it is obvious that the University is in the real estate business and receives grants from the province.

Yet city council voted to continue exempting the institution from development fees for another five years.

The council vote was 8 to 4 with Coun. Dan Gibson absent. Breaking it down, voting for this largess was Mayor Guthrie, Counillors James Gordon, Phil Allt, June Hofland, Dominique O’Rourke, Mark MacKinnon, Cathy Downer and Leanne Piper. Voting against the motion were Councillors Bob Bell, Christine Billings, Rodrigo Goller and Mike Salisbury.

One of those councillors voting for the development fee exemption was Leanne Piper who is employed by the University. She should have recused herself as well as any other councillor working or associated with the University.

Who benefits from this economic generator?

. Don O’Leary addressed what the University of Guelph brings to the city. “The University is a significant economic generator and allows the economy to thrive,” he said, adding that the school supports approximately 12,000 local jobs and brings nearly $800 million worth of economic activity to the city every year.

Those economic numbers came from a University produced brochure that lacked the data source of the $800 million that the institution claims brings to the city. Further, that figure of 12,000 staff, according to the brochure, includes staff at a Toronto campus that links Humber College and another campus in South Western Ontario.

What that brochure failed to mention was the endowment fund that the University has reported to be more than $100 million. That represents 25 per cent of the entire annual city budgets.

Then the City’s General manager of Finance and Treasurer, Tara Baker, reported to councillors that Guelph could expect to see $50 million in the next decade in tax-supported growth costs. However, the study found a shortfall of $1.25 million this year that will need to be added to the capital budget, approved by council Jan. 30.

That’s not a rounding adjustment, based on the $50 million it is anticipated to be spent by taxpayers over the next ten years; that works out to $5 million a year. This current shortfall represents 25 per cent that must be added to the capital budget.

But where is the University of Guelph’s contribution to support the taxpayer’s responsibility to pay for those services, the cost of which increases exponentially every year? Oh, they don’t because council voted to exempt the University from paying property taxes and development fees.

Guelph Transit revenue threatened

Breaking news! We have learned that the Ford Government is considering allowing students to opt out of the obligatory transit pass payment each semester.

This comes when Guelph Transit announced that 50 per cent of its passenger traffic is by students, chiefly from the University of Guelph.

If this occurs, transit officials are concerned it will hit the bottom line of operating costs. The shortfall will affect the property taxpayers, as they will have to pick-up the difference.

For the record, the city already subsidizes Guelph Transit by more than $15 million annually. In other words, this service is built for the students and it is an inefficient and costly operation that is used by a minority of residents. If the Ford proposal passes, then Guelph Transit must reduce services and operating overhead.

Guelph is now Discount City

Did I tell you about the other discounts the city gives to the University?

Up to now, the city has granted a 25 per cent reduction of development fees initiated for the University. Staff reported that the full exemption will apply when it comes to community public services such as libraries, recreation, parks, and infrastructure.

The other big discount is the bed tax deal in lieu of property taxes that gives the University a huge break in land taxes. The city will argue that deal is mandated by the province. But not adjusted for 36 years?

I still maintain that the relationship between the city and the University needs a review and sharing of taxpayer costs that support the institution on a daily basis, 24-7.

There is concern that increasing development fees will immediately impact the development industry, thereby increasing housing prices and people looking elsewhere. We have already experienced developers leaving Guelph due to the rigid and unfair treatment by city officials during the eight years of the Farbridge administration.

The Mayor ran in 2014 to abolish the “Guelph Factor” that affected approval times of development proposals.

It appears the ‘Guelph Factor’ is alive and well and being just as impossible and demanding by planning and engineering staff as ever. It still takes two and three years to process a development plan.

It is the Jonah of Guelph that failed to increase commercial and industrial assessment for 12 years. It would have alleviated the pressure on residential properties. Those properties, the ATM machine of City public revenues, that have had to support sacred institutions, costly, failed environmental schemes and still, no downtown library, no south end recreation centre or adequate parking downtown.

Even the staff receives a convenience discount

Correction: city hall staffers will mostly occupy the $22 million Wilson Street Parkade, now under construction. The location is just too convenient.

We have just re-elected the same city council with only two changes. The same group that has driven up taxes and user fees and is proposing another 3.93 per cent

Increase this year in property taxes.

Remember? Mayor Guthrie promising to keep property tax increases at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index. That rate in 2014 was 1.11 per cent. In the intervening years, it has not increased by more than 2.55 per cent.

I regret Mr. Mayor, most of the Guelph electorate felt you had great promise and twice have elected you. Sorry, but you folded like a cheap suit when you went along with a 3.96 per cent property tax increase in your first budget in 2015.

And now with your second post election budget, the proposed property tax increase for 2019 is 3.93 per cen if approved by council.

Déjà vu or is it just a convenient opportunity?

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The Guthrie record: Now are you better off today than in 2014?

By Gerry Barker

October 15, 2018

Mayor Cam Guthrie published a full-page advertisement in the Tribune this past week, just ten days before the civic election extolling his virtues, track record and, regretfully, dodging the vital issues facing the community and lying by omission (LBO).

This is a classic deja-vu of his election in 2014 in which he was the default victor over a Mayor who the public decided was not worthy of re-election. And, with good reasons.

The vast majority of the voting public understood there had to be change at the top. And Cam Guthrie filled most voter’s hopes and expectations beating, Ms. Farbridge by more than 5,000 votes.

The left progressives, who had dominated city council for eight years, were dumb- founded.

As an incumbent candidate, Guthrie campaigned on keeping property taxes at the same level, as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) at the time was 1.95 per cent.

In March 2015, the new council approved a 3.96 per cent property tax increase accelerated by the previously frozen increased assessment on property that was not included in the 2015 budget as presented to the public.

In his four years as mayor, Mayor Cam Guthrie presided over more than an 18 per cent increase in city property taxes.

So, why would citizens believe him now?

So, early in January 2015, guelphspeaks.ca published the fact that Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ann Pappert’s, contract was being reviewed by city council. This resulted in an investigation of who had tipped off guelphspeaks.ca?

The Mayor, enraged over the leak, even sent out an e-mail to an undisclosed group of people, presumed to be his supporters, that Barker was not to be believed as he always got his facts wrong. Really? Prove it!

The new Mayor even threatened a Guelph citizen who published the four-year track record of the CAO’s performance in not balancing the city books and resorted to taking money from reserves to meet the provincial regulations that no municipality can carry a deficit into the new year.

For her trouble, Mayor Guthrie said he would take legal action against this citizen’s accurate analysis of the Ms. Pappert’s five years on the job. That threat disappeared for good reason.

But the Guthrie defence of the former CAO continued

In December 10, 2015, city council met in closed session. The purpose of the meeting was to approve some $98,202 increases to four senior staffers for the fiscal year 2015.

The main recipient was CAO Ann Pappert. Her increase included: A retroactive performance bonus of some $27,000. It also unclouded payments for unused vacation and sick leave credits that totaled a $37,000 increase in her base pay for 2015. This took her remuneration to $253,000 not including her taxable benefits.

None of this was made public until March 31, 2016 when the provincial Sunshine List was published, naming all public servants in Ontario earning more than $100,000.

Comparing her remuneration for 2014 ($219,000) to the 2015 provincial list, demonstrates a 17 per cent increase.

Mayor Guthrie presided over this December 10, 2015 closed session when council awarded these senior managers the huge increase. Guelphspeaks attempted to obtain the minutes of this meeting and was denied after a four-month wait for an answer from Amberlea Gravel, the council-appointed closed-session investigator on retainer by the city.

To this day, Mayor Guthrie has not acknowledged the details or rationale of that closed meeting.

The result was the people of Guelph paid Ms. Pappert in the first two years of the Guthrie administration some $463,000 for 17 months work.

This meeting was just one of 82 closed session meetings the Mayor oversaw in the first two years in office.

In his full-page ad, the Mayor lists the “Community Assets” of the city. These include: Breaking ground on the South End Community Centre ($63 million); Ensure the $350 million (in today’s dollars) Baker Street redevelopment project moves forward (including the $53 million Downtown Library); Setting aside funding for the “much needed” hospital expansion; To protect and promote the tree canopy of Guelph; Create fenced-in dog parks.

As the late Peggy Lee used to sing: “Is that all there is?”

Let’s dissect this “Community Asset” run for the roses by the Mayor.

Let’s start with the fenced in dog parks across the city.

This is not an asset; it’s an operational wish list. But let’s address the real poop problems that pervade our parks, Canada Geese. It’s not pleasant to enjoy our parks when there is a proliferation of geese chomping on the grass randomly pooping wherever they feel. And they are so content most stay in Guelph for the winter. You can fence in dogs but cannot handle the bigger problem of goose infestation. Sounds like a plan, priority dogs. How about goose-control pills?

Aside: Whatever happened to the tax on cats?

The declaration of setting aside funds for the Guelph General Hospital is an important issue. But where is the money coming from? The Guthrie administration has not only followed The Mayor’s campaign promise to maintain property tax increases to the CPI but has socked property owners with a two per cent surcharge.

The money allegedly is to go toward repairing and renovating neglected infrastructure but half of it goes to “city buildings.” Those levy funds go for financing the proposed $63 million South End Recreation Centre in which the Guthrie council has already quietly committed $3 million for preliminary architectural planning.

This is the first major community recreation centre to be funded by a property tax levy of 1 per cent across the city.

At this point you have to wonder where the priorities are.

The Mayor has proclaimed that a new downtown Library will finally be part of the Baker Street redevelopment. This is nothing but an empty promise. It will be ten years before a new Library is open. The mayor and most of council will not be in office because the shovels don’t go into the ground until 2024. Many are frustrated supporters of a new downtown library. It’s just Cam promising anything to pander to their hopes and dreams after 20 years of promises by various administrations.

This is what didn’t show up in Community Assets

The Mayor neglects to reveal his role in the Guelph Hydro merger with Alectra Inc. The crown jewel of real assets has been given away for a pittance.

The proposal has yet to be approved by the Ontario Energy Board.

He must feel vindicated and confident that his support of this multi-million dollar asset giveaway was best for the 55,000 customers of Guelph Hydro.

As the saying goes: “It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

For these reasons my wife and I did not vote for either Mr. Guthrie or Ms. Mlyarz.

If you have not done already we urge you to vote Monday, October 22. Eligible voters have already received their voter card with the location of the poll in each ward. Along with the official voter card, be sure and bring some ID such as driver’s licence, health card, utility bill or your Canadian passport.

Contact the City Clerk’s office. They will be happy to assist voters with information if required.

It’s your city and your vote.

 

 

 

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GrassRoots Guelph offers a solution to end the Guelph Transit work stoppage

Poasted July 26, 2014

The Mayor has invited the Amalgamated Transit Union workers to present a counter-offer in an effort to solve the current work stoppage. On the surface, it is a move to ferret out the real issues that the ATU is holding dear to their cause.

In other words, if you don’t know what they really want, how can you bargain constructively?

The union’s local president says his committee will discuss this latest attempt by the city to settle the dispute at a meeting to be held this weekend.

It’s not always a good idea to bargain in public. Bargaining a new collective agreement is a tricky and complex procedure. It requires give and take and there is bluster, intransigence and power tripping.

But the time has come offer solutions to the impasse. Here’s GrassRoots Guelph’s plan to end the work stoppage.

Past experience dictates that the invitation to counter the city’s last settlement proposal is the beginning of ending the strike/lockout. Sure there are political issues involved in this dispute.

The union wants to force the city to settle, on their terms before the arrival of 22,000 university students, beginning the last week in August. The city needs a quick settlement to save face with the public and get the buses rolling.

So, one wants a settlement on its terms and the other wants the buses to operate sooner than later.

Here’s a plan to resolve the dispute.

Following hearing a union counter offer, the city agrees to address the working conditions’ issues raised by the union. A committee composed of two union appointees, two city staffers, two public members, and an independent chairperson would be established. This committee, with the majority agreeing to an action plan within 90 days to resolve ATU working condition issues, will execute the plan within a year.

The city agrees to pay each member of the locked out ATU a contract-signing bonus of $800, based on agreement of the terms of the new contract.

The term of the agreement is four years, with an annual increase of base pay of 2 1/4 per cent.

The new collective agreement must be settled by Monday, August 18, 2014.

All the contract language, as previously proposed by the city, remain except for the stated changes.

This is a fair and equitable offer that benefits the union, with a commitment to resolve the working condition issues through a defined process. It also contains a new money package that includes an overall wage increase, totaling 10 per cent over the lifetime of the contract, plus an $800 signing bonus.

For the city, it means the transit system that the public can rely on, and will be running without interruption for the next three years.

It represents a win-win for each side and the public it serves.

If you are interested in joining GRG, the growing citizen’s activist movement, send your name address and telephone number plus email address to: grassrootsguelph2014@gmail.com.

To access the GRG website go to: grassrootsguelph.com.

GRG is dedicated to informing the citizens and providing fact-based commentary and ideas to make our city a place in which all people benefit.

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GrassRoots Guelph shares employee cost concerns with Saint John, New Brunswick

http://trinitytoday.ca/2014/03/recommendation-guelph-ont-saint-john-twin-cities/

Check out the above link and learn how Guelph and Saint John share similar concerns about the rising cost of public employees and the long term fallout for citizens in both cities.

GrassRoots Guelph (GRG), the independent citizen’s group, has protested the City of Guelph operations since last August. The group researched and presented a petition to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting an audit of the city’s finances and operations.

The well-documented four-page petition was presented to the Minister on October 1st, 2013. In a subsequent meeting with the MMAH staff, the data and numbers contained in the petition were confirmed as being accurate.

The Minister recently announced that she would not proceed with the audit request instead saying her officials would facilitate a meeting between GRG and city officials. GRG has requested the Ministry to negotiate the terms and structure for such a meeting.

GrassRoots Guelph and guelphspeaks.ca are pleased that we are not alone in Guelph when city government spends and taxes to the detriment of the city population.

There is now ample proof that the majority of Guelph council are supported by the nine labour unions currently making up 80 per cent of the city staff. With a civic election next October 27, the labour unions are gearing up to support their candidates in the election with money and boots on the ground.

The intent is to have candidates who support the current administration to continue the seven- year leftist programs that the public did not vote for or wanted.

GRG believes that employee costs are out of control and a key cause of the soaring city debt excessive spending plus taxes and user fees among the highest in Ontario. GRG is dedicated to changing the way our city is being managed.

Join grassrootsguelph.com today and participate in a growing organization to elect a council that is responsive to all the people and not the chosen few.

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March 26, 2014 · 10:32 am