By Gerry Barker
February 22, 2016
On Sunday, March 6, the Ontario government TV channel, TVO, is coming to Guelph.
Called TVO on the Road, the channel staff has rented the University of Guelph’s, Summerlee Science Complex Atrium to hold three functions. These include two recording sessions of the TVO program, The Agenda, moderated by Steve Paikin. Also between sessions one and two, there is a one hour and 15 minute reception for a meet and greet with senior TVO management. The first session is about Ontario’s Food Sustainability. The second one following the public reception is titled: What can Ontario learn from Guelph? You need a ticket to get in and it can be ordered through TVO customer service. The tickets are free.
Glory be! Let us count the watward ways of a dysfunctional, divided city council.
The province won’t learn anything from an administration that, in building a new city hall, ran the cost up by $23 million. To pay the settlement charges to the city hall general contractor that it fired, the administration raided three reserves for $8.96 million.
It’s mindful of the Marx Brothers’ movie titled: A night at the Opera. The Ontario Government has already bet the ranch on creating private development of wind-and solar-panel farms. The result? Citizens are paying the highest electricity charges of most municipalities in the country.
It’s hard to figure out whether Guelph can learn from Ontario or: What can Ontario learn from Guelph?
Both Ontario and Guelph have high debt and high operating costs. This brings to mind the recent analysis of Guelph’s operational and capital-spending costs compared to Cambridge and Kitchener. The answer? Guelph’s costs are 50 per cent higher than either of those peer municipalities.
The author of the analysis, Guelph resident Pat Fung, CA, CPA, presented his findings to city council and received little response. This council is like the Ostrich that buries its head in the sand at the first sign of danger.
Do Steve Paikin and TVO know about the mismanagement and spending that has driven taxes and user fees to become one of the highest in the province? Do they know about Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc., the off-the-books corporation that is financed through Guelph Hydro? Or that it lost $2.8 million in 2014, yet managed to pay a dividend to the city’s general revenues of $1.5 million? Wonder how the city’s appointed auditor stick-handled around that one?
Does Mr. Paikin know about the waste management collection system costing $15.5 million fails to service some 6,000 households and businesses? Why? Because the properties have no storage area for the city supplied bins. Also the special automated-arm trucks cannot navigate in parts of the city. The capper is that the bin operation is much slower than manual operations, resulting in overtime.
Another provincial decision is the property taxing of the University of Guelph’s extensive holdings of lands. The payment is $75 dollars per registered student per year. This amounts to just $1,500,000 for hundreds of acres of land., A large portion includes leased lands to commercial enterprises. It’s easy to predict that the university is virtually paying no property tax because of the income from its leased lands. Guelph and other cities with universities or community colleges have complained to the province about this taxpayer subsidy since 1987 with no change in the rate. And to think that Liz Sandals, the Ontario Minister of Education, represents our city. Her job performance makes her about as useful as a duck at a garden party.
The Farbridge financial hangover
Most of Guelph’s capital spending has been on projects and plans of the previous administration, These include $16 million on the renovation of a convent, on Diocesan property, to create a civic museum with the Guelph taxpayer’s portion being $10 million.
Spending $34 million on an organic waste-processing facility with a capacity that is ten times the city’s wet-waste disposal needs for twenty years. Instead, it imports wet waste from other sources, including Detroit and Waterloo Region. Citizens have no information of the operation of the facility that turns waste into mulch. Despite this and other waste management measures, such as recycling and storage of contaminated soil, the amount of waste sent to the landfill is 45 percent.
The most expensive portion of the city operations is the staff with more than 2,100 employees to run a city of 128,000. Almost all employees are members of nine unions and management associations. Some 80 per cent of the property taxes are spent on the staff. Most are members of the Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System OMERS, with salaries, wages and benefits growing exponentially every year. Also growing is the increasing liability to the citizens.
The underscored problem is the average retirement age of most OMERS members is currently 55, ten years before the first Canada Pension Plan benefit payment at 65. But wait! OMERS pays a bridging CPP adjustment to every retiree, equivalent to their earned pension. That’s on top of their earned pension upon retirement.
Is that not a great deal? The sobering consequence is that currently, OMERS is underfunded by $7.5 billion. Throw in the fact that municipal taxpayers will be responsible for guaranteeing the pension of a former employee for up to 30 years.
This growing liability is ignored by city council and the administration (a small conflict there), but here’s the skinny: As the staff increases, it is safe to assume a turnover every year of 100 employees. If they take retirement at 55, the city is going to be paying for people who contribute nothing to the welfare of the city. And, in many cases, the city is on the hook for years, something that was never considered 20 years ago.
Declaring the war on cars by forcing people to use bicycles
Then there is the war on cars. For nine years, the city has spent an estimated $30 million creating bicycle lanes on major roads. Whenever a road is repaved it is marked to allow wider bike lanes, and in most cases, restricts vehicular traffic to one lane each way. The natural growth of the city has created traffic jams of cars, buses and trucks that build up in both morning and afternoon rush hours. The public statements made by certain members of council that motor vehicles will eventually disappear from Guelph’s streets within 20 years.
The opposite has occurred with more and more vehicles on the road than ever before, and the traffic line-ups at major intersections grow exponentially. The cyclists don’t carry insurance, are not required to have a licence to use public thoroughfares and are a small minority of the population.
So, you can see why the Royal City is no longer regal and the administration has milked the citizens with high taxes and user fees to meet the costs of their personal agendas.
So TVO, if you are seeking the truth about Guelph, it might be useful to include people who know what’s going on before depending of the anticipated barrage of platitudes and promises that the mayor and members of the administration will dish up.
You can bet they won’t explain why Guelph’s operating and capital costs are 50 per cent higher than that of our neighbours, Kitchener and Cambridge.