VOTE FOR CHANGE
- Better financial management
- Affordable infrastructure projects
- More open & transparent government communications
- Value for taxes with accountability
- 2 term limit for mayor & councillors
VOTE FOR CHANGE
There have been 2 recent opportunities for candidates running for council to provide answers to questions posed to them, state their platform, and to either defend their record or propose what they would do in the coming term.
The 1st venue was at the Guelph & District Home Builders Association Dinner & Election Discussion held Tuesday 30 Sep 14 at the Delta Hotel. While the incumbent mayor and councillors touted their self enumerated accomplishments in flowery prose, I took a more straight forward approach. I provided my platform as well as answering questions that directly concerned home builders and developers. I stated that a Value Stream Mapping of the development approval and building permit process was required to decrease the time required from the now reported 5 year long journey, often with doubling back to re-assess elements covered in previous years. This would help to counter the Guelph Factor that blocks timely and cost effective housing development. I further stated,I would put a stop to the social engineering of the current council whereby they are attempting to coerce residents to move into pricey downtown condos (rather than single family homes) under the guise of working, living, and walking in a high density urban setting as I have yet to see a factory, distribution centre, or the like work place built in a downtown setting.
The 2nd venue was the Chamber of Commerce and Rogers Cable sponsored debates at City Hall on 3 Oct 14. The articles reporting on the debate varied somewhat based on whether or not it was in the Guelph Mercury or Guelph Tribune which are known to support Farbridge and her like minded tax and spend cohorts. By the way, both papers are ultimately owned by the Toronto Star. I reiterated my position that Guelph’s “future has been affected by unsustainable tax increases ,,, and the use of taxpayers’ wallets as ATM’s by the city council cannot continue”, as quoted in the Tribune. Similarly I was quoted as stating that I have “serious reservations about the social engineering ” involved in trying to get people to live in downtown condos and walk most places.
The Guelph Mercury was slightly more objective in reporting my position, though it failed to quote my platform which I stated in my opening remarks. The Mercury said “On the fiscal responsibility side, Glen Tolhurst took the practical road. He referred often to the “social engineering” exercises that he believes the city has engaged in, attempting to put into reality concepts such as walkable neighbourhoods. Tolhurst clearly is not a fan of social engineering, seeing it as a focus on wants more than needs. Tolhurst said such plans are not always fiscally responsible, and often undercut the infrastructure work that is more urgently needed. He said citizens should not be subject to unreasonable tax increases, and that using “taxpayers wallets as an ATM” cannot continue. The next council will need a “fresh set of financials” before it can decide to address needs or wants, he said.
The Rogers debate was video taped and is to be broadcast several times in the future with times available on the Chamber web site. By viewing the video you will see how the incumbent councillors were defensive and failed to nail down any significant worthwhile accomplishments during their terms that did not drain the city financial resources. Remember, one of the incumbent ward 6 councillors has been in office for 11 years during which a majority of the unsustainable tax increase were implemented and he also sat on council during the Urbacon debacle which has now cost the city more than $8 million.
There has been considerable information and press releases relating to District Energy Networks in Guelph. One is being developed in the Hanlon Business Park with a second one in downtown Guelph. The essence of the concept is to utilize a central heat generating facility with natural gas fired steam/ hot water boilers to generate heat that is piped to local user buildings via an underground loop of insulated pipes A similar loop can exist for cooling. The mayor and administration would like you to believe that Guelph is at the leading edge of this concept in North America.
An article in the Guelph Tribune “New condo a landmark first for district energy initiative” (Trib P19 28 Aug 14) was all political fluff with no hard facts. The statement “..an important step in Guelph’s plans to build North America’s first city wide district energy network…” is a blatant ignoring of historical facts. Circa 1912 (yes, over 100 years ago) the University of Manitoba had a central heating plant that piped hot water/steam to campus buildings for heating via insulated pipes in pedestrian tunnels between the buildings. I walked through those tunnels in the Winnipeg winters as an undergrad mechanical engineering student in the mid to late 1960’s. Similarly, the city of Winnipeg had district heating networks dating from the 1920’s. Members of Guelph council and the administration didn’t have to take a trip to Europe to find out about district energy networks.
What is missing from the article and any public disclosures is: who pays for the energy losses, both thermodynamic and piping, as either heated or chilled water is circulated from the central facility to user buildings and back? Who pays the capital costs of the central facility and piping loops? Has the city managed to convince the condo developer /owners to pay for heat content at the central plant before it is piped to the user site and thus absorb heating and piping efficiency losses? Under typical energy contracts using natural gas or electricity etc. to provide heat to an individual building, the energy is metered at the user building. For some reason I suspect that Envida Community Energy Inc., a Guelph Hydro subsidiary, will be absorbing the energy losses between the central generating facility and the user building. Does anybody in the council or administration know if this is correct and what this potential multi-decade ongoing cost will be? Why should I, as a resident of ward 6, subsidize a downtown condo owner or commercial manufacturing plant etc. in the Hanlon Business Park with their heating and cooling bill through Envida and Guelph Hydro? Why do I not have a warm feeling from the mayor’s announcement that the system provides ” .. cost competitive heating and cooling..”.. to the city taxpayers? Do I sense a hand on my wallet, again?
Once again, the lack of business experience combined with numeric illiteracy amongst members of council and the administration led to the building of a recycling centre (known as Guelph Material Recovery Facility) with capacity far in excess of what Guelph will use in the next decades. It is touted that by adding 28,000 tonnes of Detroit material it will allow the facility to operate at 95% of its processing capacity and generate an annual surplus/profit of $304,000.
During the council meeting of 28 April 14, a presentation was made to council by Dean Wyman, the General Manager, Solid Waste Resources Department. The public presentation failed to provide information that would have permitted a Guelph citizen to reasonably evaluate the business plan for financial credibility.
Prior to the meeting I had e-mailed requests for the following information to the mayor and both ward 6 councillors ( Karl Wettstein & Todd Dennis). The elected members of council did not reply to my request which was passed by a city hall staffer to the GM. The final reply I received from the GM, Dean Wyman, to the questions I had posed were:
I was advised by the GM to file a Freedom of Information Request with the city. There seems to be a lack of openness and transparency that keeps Guelph citizens from having the ability to see if the processing of non-Guelph generated recyclables is a solid business venture. In spite of this lack of information provided to the public at the council meeting, mayor Farbridge and a number of councillors (Dennis, Findlay, Hofland, Piper, & Wettstein) voted in favour of the Contract to Process Recyclable Material. These are names to remember on election day.
From 2000 through to 2013, Guelph property taxes have increased at a rate that is much more than the increase in CPI (Consumer Price Index). If a citizen has an income increase that keeps pace with inflation, as measured by the CPI, that person is considered fortunate. However, when you consider that property taxes are paid out of your “take home” pay which is what you have left after the statutory deductions ( federal & provincial income tax, CPP, EI, healthcare tax, and any other source deductions) are made before you get your pay cheque, the impact of the property tax increases really become apparent. The graph above shows that while the CPI increased by 31%, the property tax increased by 83%.
Take a moment to think if as a citizen of Guelph are you better off as a result of these tax increases. If you are on a fixed income , for how much longer will you be able to afford to pay these outrageous tax increase and continue to live in your current residence. Similarly, if you are a young family either saving for or in your starter residence, how long can you sustain such property tax increases?
To further aggravate the already unsustainable tax burden, the projected rates of increase are 14% over the next 3 years with an increase of 6.2% in 2015.
What can you do to put a stop to these unsustainable tax increases? The first thing is to look back and see who were the mayor and councillors that with a “tax and spend” mentality repeatedly pushed through tax increases above the rate of inflation to pay for their pet “strategic visions” that did not enhance your life in Guelph and led to the number of Guelph civic employees growing faster than the population growth of Guelph. Then having identified these financially illiterate members of council, strike them off the list of people you would consider to represent you as members of the next council following the October 2014 civic elections. It is time to VOTE for CHANGE & for a BETTER GUELPH, that will respect you as a citizen paying taxes for your city.
Recently there has been much discussion over the need for major renovations to the existing police HQ or the construction of a new building. The need for renovations seem to be based on past neglect and failure to maintain a capital asset, the building.
The cost has escalated from an initial $13 million to $34 million. No such expenditure should go ahead until a detailed third party analysis of the cost savings to be realized by the combining of the “backroom” non-police support activities of the Guelph Police Services (GPS), Guelph Fire Department, and Guelph Ambulance services is carried out. The support activities to be merged and eventually farmed out to a private company should include but are not limited to accounting, payroll, IT (information technology), human resources, purchasing and material control, fleet maintenance, building and grounds maintenance.
Furthermore, the reported exiting from the recently built Clair Road facility by the GPS has to be reversed as not only does the growing south end needs the coverage, but all GPS units do not have to be co-located. Similarly, the cost saving to be realized by a centralized dispatch system for all 3 branches must be investigated given that police, fire, and ambulance seem to respond to all emergency calls irrespective of the nature. It is acknowledged that there is provincially mandated central region wide dispatch for EMS, that should not hobble consolidation consideration.
Given that crime rates are now at low levels not seen since the 1960’s, the manpower requirements of the GPS has to be re-assessed. There is no need for the basis of projected growth of the GPS both in manpower and facility size.
The business case report presented by a representative of KPMG at a council meeting made repeated references to cost offsetting “synergies” expected from spending on the facility. This sounds like another way of saying that they don’t know what is going to happen and bets on financial outcomes are being hedged. There were no “hard numbers” presented in the business case relating to cost savings based on merging or outsourcing the previously mentioned services. This is a major fault and should have brought the consideration of provision of the $34 Million to a grinding halt. However, given the apparent numeric and financial illiteracy of council and the administration, the funds were approved and city debt will increase.