By Gerry Barker
November 4, 2019
Dr. Rene Van Acker, dean of the Ontario Agriculture College, part of the University of Guelph is urging people to protest this increase requested by the Guelph Police Services Board.
It seems to be a clash between the academic ivory towers and the 24/7 protection and services of our community.
The professor obviously has never performed shift work, carried a gun, investigated fatal collisions and major criminal occurrences, attended domestic violence calls, and responded quickly to cases that engage citizens.
In short, this is a city with a university sitting in the middle. Often, Guelph police are called for support to control student behaviour on and off campus.
Think weekend’s downtown, homecoming, St. Patrick’s Day, and political protests.
It seems stranger to read the professor’s letter to the editor in which he refers to the proposed 2020 police budget as “outweighing the need.”
How would Dr. van Aker know the details of police operations to make such a statement?
He ignores the night and day risks that our police endure on a routine shift. He criticizes the Mayor that he “senses” that people want a professional and responsive police service, night or day. And Mayor Guthrie should know because he sits on the Police Services Board along with Coun. Christine Billings.
So the unsubstantiated complaints from Van Aker over the 2020 police budget rings hollow because he does not identify the needs of the police services.
The Ontario Sunshine List shows that three times in the past six years, Van Acker has received more than a 7 per cent salary increase. It was topped off in 2018 with an increase of 7.69 per cent earning a yearly salary of $235,000 plus benefits.
Dr. Van Aker should look beyond the police services budget and consider all the other services that citizens pay for, including the public safety personnel who are engaged around the clock.
The city administration must raise sufficient revenue to pay for the scores of public services plus the cost of primary and secondary boards of education. One can only imagine the operating costs of those institutions that function 10 months of the year.
The U of G pays $1,600,000 per year in lieu of property taxes. The payment is based on the number of registered students, currently estimated at 22,000. This was a deal granted in 1987 to public post-secondary institutions. The rate is still fixed at $75 and has not changed since.
Lets compare the impact of inflation that this deal has ignored for more than 32 years. All costs have increased. Are your property taxes fixed for 32 years? Has the university increased tuition and student fees and land leases in which it derives income?
Keep in mind that the chief revenue sources of the city are property taxes and user fees.
Our property taxes have more than doubled in the 16 years we have lived in Guelph. It is this property tax deal with the University and Conestoga Community College that remains fixed and only increases when additional students enroll.
About Guelph Transit
Students are required to pay $75 per semester for bus passes. It’s ironic that this mandatory contribution to access public transit is twice what the University of Guelph pays the city in lieu of property taxes.
This is particularly advantageous to the university because it is, we believe, to be the largest landowner in the city. The management over the years has leased its land to a variety of commercial and residential developments.
Seeing that these developments are on University lands, does this sweetheart deal extend to those leased properties as well?
In the 32 years of this arrangement, the city has grown, requiring citizens to pay for the need for increased city services. That is a subsidy that is unfair and needs revision.
Unfortunately, this would have to be a decision by the provincial government. It involves more than 600 post-secondary institutions in the province.
Our representative in the Ontario Legislature is Mike Schreiner, Ontario leader of the Green Party, a party of one.
This affects a number of municipalities and an independent committee of mayors and chief Financial Officers need to negotiate with the government to update the property tax arrangement.
It will be a daunting task and predictably the University of Guelph will oppose changes to any proposal that will increase their property tax commitment.