A resident’s perspective.
My name is BB and I have been a resident of Guelph for 25 years. During that period my taxes have increased by a gut wrenching 400% with compounding. Although I am currently retired my salary would have increased by 200% were I still working . As you see there is a huge gap between those numbers which represents how much municipal taxes have eroded my purchasing power(ie negatively impacted my standard of living).
The City of Guelph has a big spending problem and the majority of Councillors and staff appear to be oblivious or in denial about the situation . The Canadian Taxpayer Federation has released a report in July of 2013 which evaluated the 20 cities in Ontario, and has confirmed what I have independently , by long term observation and analysis, recognized. They have concluded that growth in spending for salaries is spiraling out of control Guelph, has one of the highest ratios of bureaucrats per capita, and has one of the highest levels of growth in government worker compensation among the 20 cities selected.
During the November 27th council meeting, executive staff confirmed that 80% of their costs were attributed to the salaries and benefits that are paid to their employees. Not only does this produce an ongoing burden to the average Guelph tax payer, businesses especially small ones who must survive in the reality of difficult competitive world find themselves squeezed by being unable to provide such lush compensation to their employees( and there some difficulty in attracting them) while at the same time being subject to these punitive tax increases which have been sustained well above inflation rates. Furthermore, pressing capital projects, the latest one being the need to expanding and renovation the existing outdated Police Headquarters as advocated by our police Chief, present a more difficult challenge for council and tax payers.
I am no rocket scientist, but the most politically acceptable solution to this growing problem is to control if not roll back the cost of wages and benefits. One cannot take the easy route of just blaming the Provincial Government for enacting laws that require the additional staff. They do not mandate how you spend dollars to meet the terms of the mandate. That would also be a bit like the teapot calling the kettle black. We the taxpayers know they also have mismanaged our taxes as with the squandering of about 3 billion precious unproductive tax dollars imposed upon us and most likely meet the voters in 2014 to make our judgement.
Case in point! Although I am not intending to single out Staff who has a very difficult portfolio to administer and is dedicated to that cause, he was advocating the hiring of yet another 2.5 FTE Forestry personnel at a cost of about $206,000. The personnel were prescribed in the Urban Forestry Plan approved by council and now available on the City website. I took the time to read thru this lengthy document as it is a matter that is also dear to my heart as a naturalist, ecologist, and environmentalist. By the way, one of the reason I settled in Guelph is because my alma mater is here, and I remember the rich flora and tree cover that existed here while studying. I forsook Brampton( where I worked) as the alternative which seemed to be a endless scape of trees, commercial plazas and roads. What I objected to as a disgruntled taxpayer was the upmanship principle embodied in the document, that is the objective of becoming the most green city in Ontario(ie not just average) by advancing our tree coverage from 20% ( which is average for southern Ontario cities and a number I regard as suspect) to 40%. Not only that was the cost of implementing the plan some 11 million dollars over 10 years which was largely absorbed once again by a large collection of expensive FTEs, some 14 of them. Money should be dedicated to the purchase and planting of trees, not salaries and benefits of personnel. Mr McCaughan reported that they had planted some 775 trees during 2013 while the cost of the Urban Forestry Plan for 2013 was some $990,000…do the math. I have planted some 20 plus native trees(as well as remove countless invasive species) for some $200 in and around my property which backs onto the Hadati Marsh. The plan should focus on harnessing the great wealth of willing volunteers so as to reduce the cost of the plan.Furthermore, one justification of hiring so many FTEs in the the Urban Forestry plan is to counteract the invasion of the emerald ash tree borer. That’s a lost cause as was the invasion of the beetle that eliminated much of our beautiful American elm population. Managing this invasion , other than removing dead ash trees (using contract employees as opposed to FTEs) which pose a hazard to citizens along city thoroughfares( as opposed to natural areas) within the city boundary should be the responsibility of the province or the GRCA. All the municipal tax dollars in the world will not stop this ecological disaster. As far as I know the only beetle invasive species that tax dollars were effectively and successfully used was the elimination of the Asian long horn…but its relatively low reproductive and migration rates make it quite different story.
My recommendation therefore is to not hire any more FTEs for forestry on the tax payer tab. We are already heavily committed in that area. Perhaps one should review the need for the “manager” of the forestry personnel now that the very expensive Urban Forestry has been hired. Use the money saved for meeting our legal responsibilities under provincial law, that is hiring a Transit Fleet mechanic if it is truly mandated.
Another multimillion budget that needs to be reviewed is the 13 million dollars allocated to trails and bicycle lanes. Many citizens enjoy the trails that exist to walk and cycle including myself. Like Ms. Laidlaw I regard cycling as an exceptional recreation for cardiovascular health. But we have amassed an extensive trail network at this time across the city(eg I can now relatively safely cross the city from east to west from Grange /Watson area by bicycle) , and it’s perhaps time to ease further financial commitments in this area until we get our fiscal health back in order.I know Ms Laidlaw probably will never agree to this compromise and this sadly is why we most likely will remain political adversaries in spite of many areas of common ground…but then that does not make me as she likes to label those who express opposition to her viewpoints…a right wing person anymore than she is for her inflexibility.
Returning to other alternatives to reduce the cost of personnel, I must ask why nobody in management is prepared to freeze the salaries of municipal employees (not subject to provincial arbitration) who have had generous contract settlements well beyond the CPI ( as inflation rates declined) for as long as I can remember. Provincial employees have often had their salaries fixed , recently for 2 years including my spouse. In my case under the Mike Harris government it was frozen for 10 years. Why do these generously compensated employees continue to be insulated from fiscal realities? BB
PS:To answer Ms. Laidlaw’s question for which she curtly and patiently cut my period of thought and consideration off regarding the imperfections of the CTP municipal report card, Guelph is a single tier administrative entity ..others are two tier(eg Kitchener). For the most part two tier Municipalities notwithstanding the sunshine list.are actually on average more expensive for tax payers because they involve two layers of bureaucracy…and therefore Guelph should score higher in terms of administrative employee costs than it did in the study especially since it is in a better position to control them as a one tier government. One way or the other the number of employees whether administrative or not crossing the hallowed sunshine list boundary is exploding in Guelph( just look at many of the FTE position proposed in the 2014 budget) across the board and many others far further down the feeding list are making a close run to it. In short this has far less to do with service to the tax payer than keeping up with your neighbour…and that is what is so destructive to the property owners and businesses of Guelph, apples / oranges or not.