Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fighting Over Budgets and Climate Change

Budget fight begins

With all the deep cuts potentially on the table in regards to the 2010 city budget, it came as no surprise that council’s first look at the document would come with some apprehension. The major areas that got air last Monday night were transit and downtown parking, but considering the variety of cuts proposed, there isn’t a single area under city management that isn’t saved from belt-tightening. The debate should get much more interesting in the next week as public debate is opened up on the matter. It was expected that as many as 26 delegations had requested time to speak to council at the meeting this past Tuesday. But public forums are seeing their share of debates as well.

The Guelph Arts Council was quick to react to potential cuts, sending out a mass e-mail last week asking all its members to speak out in defense of arts funding in the City of Guelph. “We are not at the top of the list but we are on the list – in other word, we are threatened, and we do need to make our case,” said the e-mail. The GAC further asked its members to send letters and e-mails to Guelph city councillors and local media as part of a co-ordinated effort to make it known that the arts matter in the Royal City.

Meanwhile, University of Guelph students are rallying to save the universal bus pass, after it was suggested in the budget proposal that it be eliminated and replaced with a cost per month plan like the one high school students have to pay for. Comparatively, the U of G universal bus pass costs roughly the same per semester what it costs for a high school student to get one student pass for a month. The city feels that that there’s a pretty big gap there where a few extra dollars can be made. “It’s sad that a program that Guelph Transit has won awards for, for innovative ways of getting people out of cars and into buses, is being dismissed without any discussion,” said Brenda Whiteside, the university’s associate vice-president (students affairs) to the Guelph Tribune. The universal bus pass has been part of the student experience at the U of G since 1994, and it won’t go quietly. As of Sunday, the “Save the Bus Pass” Facebook group has over 6,400 members.

For up-to-date blow-by-blows go to my blog at

McKitrick feels “vindicated”

The recent “Climategate” mess where thousands of e-mails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England were hacked and then leaked has cultivated a Guelph connection. No, no one from Guelph was involved in either being hacked or doing the hacking, but a University of Guelph professor has gotten a shot of renewed notoriety out of the fallout. “My phone’s been absolutely ringing off the hook,” economics prof Ross McKitrick told the Guelph Mercury last week. McKitrick has for a long time been a climate change skeptic (or denier depending upon your slant), believing that all the talk about end of the world consequences from global warming was much ado about nothing. “There’s a sense of vindication there,” he added in response to the allegations that the e-mails prove climate change scientists were cooking the books to make the problem seem much worse than it is. But perhaps the real conspiracy here is that all this came out just days before the UN Climate Change conference began in Copenhagen.

Another hurdle for HCBP quietly leapt

Posted quietly on the City of Guelph website Friday was news that funding assistance from Industry Canada for the watermain and utility highway crossing construction for the Hanlon Creek Business Park project had been approved. The city submitted an Environmental Assessment to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and from that report and the “implementation of appropriate mitigation measures,” the Feds decided to grant the request for funding. According to the city press release, appropriate implementations of mitigation measures included in the Environmental Assessment include: fauna at risk; human health and safety; structure, site or thing of historic, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance; air quality; noise levels; soil quality; vegetation; and water quality. "We are pleased that this project has cleared this level of environmental review with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency," said Peter Cartwright, General Manager for Economic Development and Tourism.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Budget Details Released and Reaction Will be Mixed

Last Wednesday, officials from the City of Guelph including Mayor Karen Farbridge, Chief Administrative Officer Hans Loewig and Treasurer Margaret Neubauer, outlined to the media budget proposals that were being brought to council this past Monday. The good news first: the City did not send our banking information to the lawyer holding $100 million in trust for the Nubian prince that needs access to foreign banking institutions in order to get his inheritance. The band news is that the 2010 is looking at quite a substantial shortfall of available funds, and its going to take some serious cuts to make up the difference.

Planning for this year’s budget actually started in May with city managers looking towards the fact this was probably going to be a year for cuts rather than spending. Mayor Farbridge said that in a time when families and employers are having to make some tough decisions in regard to their own finances, then the municipality should do its part. She added that although their have been signs of some recovery from the current economic downturn, it will still take about two to three years for Guelph to feel the effects of any recovery. So with a mind on lean times ahead, city staff is presenting a number of options for city council to consider for the 2010 budget.

To begin with the city is trying to mitigate a loss of $8.1 million in revenues as much as possible. What this means is that even without any new spending, and using the numbers from the 2009 budget, there's already a 5.2 per cent increase in the 2010 budget that needs to be covered. Contractual obligations, collective agreements and compensation account for another 4 per cent increase. So when it's all said and done, the City of Guelph basically needs to find another $14.4 million for 2010. So where is much of that money going to come from? Cuts mostly, hope city officials, and their proposed cuts are divided into two categories: Department Reduction Proposals" and "Other Considerations." With the options presented in the "Department Reduction Proposals" the city can save 4.48 per cent or $7.4 million. If all the items under "Other Considerations" are enacted then a further $2.5 million can be shaved off the deficit, bringing the increase down to a more manageable 3 per cent.

If those sound like serious numbers, they are, and the impact will be felt by just about everyone in the city. Biggest of all considerations is the delay of capital projects previously discussed. Basically, anything that hasn’t had started being built is on the back-burner until 2011 at least. As for projects in various phase of completion, their openings will be pushed back by months in order to save money. For example, the east end branch of the library will not open until June 2010. Also, City staff might be asked to take up to 5 unpaid days off and 29 full-time positions could be eliminated, hopefully through attrition such as retirements and resignations. Transit may be hit worst of all with the proposed elimination of stat holidays schedules, a reduced service summer schedule and a 7 per cent fare increase. There could also be a general increase on fees for rentals of city facilities.

Things get worse under the “Other Considerations” category. If councillors decide to accept these further measures to tighten up the deficit then it could mean the closing of the Centennial and Lyon's pools, the closing Centennial rink, eliminating John Galt Day activities, ending two hour free parking downtown, no longer having any special waste collection (like for Christmas trees), shuttering the household hazardous waste facility and adjusting the Industrial and Perimeter transit routes (Note: this does not mean cancelling them). Contingencies if these options should be adopted are being worked out, but it was stressed repeatedly in the briefing that these are merely options and don’t necessarily represent the shape of things to come.

Don’t like what you just read, well you can let your voice be heard by council starting with the meeting on Tuesday December 8 at 6 pm in the council chamber. For more information, check out the meeting schedule on the City’s website here: or pay a visit to my blog at