Courtesy | Guelph Mercury
November 13, 2015
By Joanne Shuttleworth

GUELPH — Ward 1 Coun. Dan Gibson has a history of questioning the justification for adding more staff at city hall.

But he’s considering adding some new staff to the 2016 operating budget from a list of expansions recommended by city staff as council contemplates the 2016 operating budget.

The draft base budget that was presented to council this week sees a 1.58 per cent increase to the operating budget. All of the recommended expansions, if approved, would add another 1.25 per cent to the budget.

“This is a sensitive and very important budget,” Gibson said Thursday. In his mind, reducing the infrastructure gap is the highest priority of the city.
Staff is recommending adding two positions to asset management to develop a plan to help prioritize infrastructure projects and figure out a way to fund them.

It would add $277,500 to the $213.2 million operating budget.
“I see this as quite critical to closing the gap,” Gibson said. “We need to get a handle on the timing of projects and on financing them.”

“That would help define the needs and priorities for infrastructure,” agreed Mayor Cam Guthrie.

Both Guthrie and Gibson share the view that a service rationalization review is also a worthwhile expenditure. Staff has recommended hiring an outside consultant to do the work at a cost of approximately $450,000.

“Tax increases should not be the first solution,” said Gibson. “We need to look for efficiencies inwardly and that’s what this is. If we can find $1 million a year in savings, that closes the infrastructure gap.”
Gibson noted that in producing the operating budget, staff already cut $1.3 million from its goods and services purchases.

“I give full praise to staff for doing that. Council asked them to sharpen their pencils and they did. It has to be acknowledged,” he said.
For Guthrie, a service rationalization is the Number 1 priority.
“It’s never been done before but it’s imperative for moving into the future,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie is also in favour of spending some money on Open Government, especially on the technology front. He said technology will help city employees do their jobs better, with more co-ordination between departments and more consistent messaging.

For Guelph citizens, technology can also enhance their experience of city hall and make it easier to find information about the city and city services, he said.

City staff is not recommending an expenditure to address waste pickup in multi-residential properties, but Gibson and Guthrie both think this should be added in.

It would add $149,300 in salaries and benefits, plus the one-time $660,000 cost of a vehicle, bringing the whole package to $790,000.
“If we ask the residents of Guelph to accept reductions in transit, we need to restore a front-door service as a counterpoint,” Gibson said. “It’s about tax fairness.”

Guthrie said, at the very least, those properties that received curbside waste pickup before the bin system was instituted should have the service restored or the amount they pay in taxes refunded.

“It’s blatantly unfair,” Guthrie said. “No wonder we’ve had delegations on this issue for the last three years. Hopefully, in this budget we can get it resolved.”

Council will hear a presentation about the expansions Nov. 18; and a presentation on proposed service reductions Nov. 19. Delegations can speak to council Nov. 30 and a final decision will be made Dec 10.