Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lawsuits and Costs

Let’s Get Litigious… Again

Anyone else get the feeling that the reason they converted the Old City Hall to a Provincial Court House was to cut down on travel time? Coming soon, to a judge near you, is a suit brought by the City against the Board of Health to prevent them from constructing a new Health Unit headquarters and unilaterally saddling Guelph with the $10 million cheque.

"Guelph City Council has agreed it will urge the Counties of Dufferin and Wellington to not support the Board of Health in proceeding with direct ownership of property," said Mayor Karen Farbridge in a press release. "We will be requesting the counties participate, along with the City, in meetings with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to discuss alternatives that would not jeopardize Provincial participation in funding accommodation costs or add to the City's debt."

The Province is the key to all this. Basically, about $22 million is needed to build new facilities for the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit both here and in Orangeville. According to the current budget structure for the WDGHU, 75 per cent of the funding comes from the Government of Ontario and 25 per cent from the municipalities. But for some reason, the Province isn’t going to foot their share of the bill on this one, and is sticking the whole cheque with Guelph and Orangeville. Naturally, this was not received well on the local level.

“While the City of Guelph acknowledges a new location is needed, it hopes an injunction will afford the chance to determine its legal obligations to fund these types of projects,” said the formal statement in the press release. “The City is committed to exploring alternatives, and remains hopeful an alternative can be found.”

Museum for Sale?

Why do construction cost always overrun? No time to worry about that now, because costs for the construction of turning the Loretto Convent into the new Civic Museum have overrun and the City needs a way to pay for it. Last week, a potential solution presented itself: sell the current Civic Museum building. In a report, City Staff gave the okay to investigate what would be involved in selling the 160-year-old limestone building, which could fetch between $500,000 and $700,000 on the market. Members of the Community and Social Services Committee also asked to see options for leasing, but the fact of the matter is that the City needs money, or the new Museum might not be completed this year as planned. “It’s best to complete the Loretto project and get it done right rather than have two assets to pay for,” said Ann Pappert, executive director of community and social services.

The Tax Burden on Council

Two nights of debating till midnight, a string of confused or misunderstood numbers, a bunch of new hires, a revolt over transit funding, raiding reserves to keep taxes down, and still ending up with a 3.14 per cent increase, it seems that everyone agrees on one thing: the way the City of Guelph does its budget just isn’t working.

The Guelph Tribune reached out to all 13 members of Guelph City Council to get their opinion on improving the budget process for next year. Considering that nearly half of council voted against the 2011, opinions were not in short supply.

“I recall doing zero-based budgeting when I was first elected,” wrote Gloria Kovach. Zero-based budgeting requires city departments to account for every dollar spent by making them start their budget process at zero rather than basing it on spending from the year before. “Unfortunately, that opportunity, even modified, is not available for council or staff. At some point when the budget is only given to council at a high level, without detailed explanations, it is impossible for council to understand the details needed for responsible budgeting.”

Karl Wettstein was a little more pragmatic saying that this year was a unique case because the process got started so late this year due to the election and that the City was still suffering from the residual impact of the recession. “I expect we will have a budget debrief session to assess where we can make improvements, get back to earlier time lines and generally continue to improve our budget process,” Wettstein said.

You can read the full story for yourself here:

They Cost How Much?

Partisan back and forth is nothing new, especially with the possibility of an election (constantly) in the air, but last week Liberal MP Frank Valeriote and Federal Conservative candidate Marty Burke disagreed on the math. The math in question is the cost of Canada’s new fleet of 65 F-35 fighter, the government originally said the cheque for the planes would come in at $16 billion, but Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page estimated the entire package will cost taxpayers $22.6 billion over 20 years. If the planes are in service for 30 years, that price tag could jump to nearly $30 billion. Valeriote accused the Tories of hiding the true cost, but Burke says they were merely talking about two different timelines for the life of the planes. But there’s one thing both men agree on, and that is that Canada really does need new fighter planes. It’s ironic that it takes war planes to bring us together.

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