Thursday, November 27, 2008

Money for City Stuff News

The Gummer Bummer

It should please City Hall to know that they’re not the only ones that can’t open a building on time downtown. Skyline, the company behind the preservation and reconstruction of the Gummer Building site, has said that they will miss their February 2009 deadline for opening the new commercial/office building, which is being integrated into the surviving visage of the heritage site. The faltering economy and the coming winter were cited as two reasons why the building won’t be completed, but no final completion date was given by the contractors.

In with the new; what with the old?

While the city and its recently hired replacement contractors, Alberici Constructors Ltd., work with all due hast to open the new City Administration building sometime early in the New Year, there is a forgotten component to this sad affair: the old City Hall. The original plan was to turn the current building at 59 Carden St. into a new courthouse following the completion and move into the new building, but now those plans are in limbo as the final tab for constructing the new city HQ hasn’t come in yet. Currently Alberici is being paid by the hour, at least until the full extent of what needs to be done to finish the new Hall has been tabulated. There’s also the small matter of the liens against the city saying that Guelph owes $12 million to old contractor Urbacon Buildings Corp, and possibly another $9.6 million in back pay to subcontractors. Lois Payne, the director of corporate services, says that the city will open competitive bidding process for the contract to transform the current City Hall.

Provincial cash for city streets, et al

Provincial surpluses have yielded $1.1 billion in extra cash and the Ontario government is spreading that around, with $11 million being given to Guelph for various infrastructure projects. The biggest piece of that money, $4 million, is being directed towards four big road projects as well as road repairs deferred because of an increase in the price of asphalt. The next biggest earmark is $1.1 million for to install an optical sort unit at the recycling facility, which will sort plastics more efficiently. Nearly $1 million more will go to improvements to parking at the Guelph Youth Music Centre; $810,000 will be directed towards renovations for the new, permanent homeless youth shelter on Norfolk; and the rest will be dispersed to improvements in Sleeman Centre, parks and recreation facilities, and storm water management projects. “This funding is great news” for the city, Mayor Karen Farbridge said in a press release. “It allows us to make much-needed and, in many cases, long-awaited investments in infrastructure for our community.”

State of the City: good, could be better

Now halfway through her mandate, Mayor Karen Farbridge delivered a State of the City address at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted the City’s progress so far, as well as the priorities and plans for the next two years. The three main topics of the presentation were: municipal governance, including a principle-based governance framework that serves as a yardstick for the City’s progress; economic and financial performance indicators, which show how the City stacks up to other communities in areas such as taxation and jobs; and a new economic development strategy to respond to current economic challenges.

Farbridge pointed out that only 10 to 20 per cent of City resources available for strategic projects and emphasized the importance of Council’s rigorous priority-setting process. “Our principles inform our priorities,” she said, “And our priorities drive our progress.” Addressing the global economic crisis, Farbridge said that Guelph is in good shape to weather the storm with 59 jobs for every 100 people in the city. Farbridge also added that over the past year, the City has stabilized its debt and increased its reserves. The local tax burden for a residential bungalow is the lowest among a group of 10 comparable communities, while the tax burdens for the neighbourhood shopping, office, and industrial categories rank at about the middle of the group. 

The full speech is available on the City of Guelph website, but if you’d rather hear it in person, Farbridge will be delivering it at a free event put on by the Guelph Civic League in their new office at 10 Carden St. on December 13th at 10:30 am.

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