City councillors hope to avoid cutting jobs from budget

The article below appears in the November 30, 2009 Guelph Mercury.

My comments:  Trimming staff at any level is difficult.  Efficiencies in the delivery of municipal services come in many forms and neither front line staff, union or otherwise, or managers should be specifically targeted.   The only good reason for cutting staff should be if a service is no longer provided, or if efficiencies in the delivery of a service has resulted in the need to reduce the number of staff required.

For the record, the current management (directors, managers and supervisors) to non-management ratio at the City of Guelph is 1:13.    The municipal benchmark (HRBN 2008) is 1:10.  Guelph is BELOW the municipal benchmark.

City councilors hope to avoid cutting jobs from budget

November 30, 2009

Rob O’Flanagan

GUELPH — Guelph city councilors are plowing through budget documents, trying to find ways to save money and dig the city out of a massive monetary hole.

On Sunday, Ward 1 councilors Bob Bell and Kathleen Farrelly spent the afternoon engaged in the tough process. Both said they are not in favour of cutting jobs at the bottom of the city’s employment ladder.

Front-line staff should be spared, they said, while upper level management positions should be the first to be trimmed, if trimming is necessary, both said.

Bell is beginning to hear from his constituents about proposed cuts to spending and revenue generation plans aimed at addressing over $8 million in revenue reduction. Neighbourhood groups, he said, want to know their funding will continue. Others want to see a zero tax increase and more cost cutting, he added.

“Whenever you cut everything there is always somebody that says, ‘Ouch.’ That’s why they call it a cut,” said Bell. “But I think it’s important that we make the adjustments in the right place, and that we don’t cut at the bottom.

“My perception is that most of the cuts are at the bottom,” he continued, “and I don’t think that is appropriate. I think we have been adding positions at the top and we should be balancing the budget cuts throughout the structure of the city, not just at the bottom.”

Bell said there appears to be a mindset to protect salaried positions while reducing union positions. He and Farrelly want to see the mindset reversed.

“The people who are actually delivering the services are the union positions,” Bell said.

Farrelly agrees that cutting unionized positions is not a good approach for dealing with budget shortfalls. But finding a balance will be challenging, she conceded.

“What we want to do is not have people jumping out of their seats because we’ve gone haywire on the increase in the taxes,” she said.

Farrelly favours cutting positions from “upper management down, instead of having upper management top heavy.”

“The people who are working to give the good services that we hope for, they are the ones that should be considered very, very carefully before we would make cuts there,” she said.

In September, the city announced it was implementing strategies to “compensate for lower than average revenues in 2009,” city treasurer Margaret Neubauer stated in a media release.

Some projects will have to be postponed, others canceled. The elimination of 29 full-time city jobs is being contemplated.

Other proposals up for consideration are the closure of Centennial pool and the Household Hazardous Waste depot, and the elimination of yard-waste collection and sidewalk plowing in front of private properties. A delay in opening an east-end library branch is another option.

Historically low interest rates had a negative impact on the city’s investment income, Neubauer stated. Markets for recycled commodities were below average, as were sales of recycled paper, plastic and aluminum. Adding to the revenue reductions was the fact that fewer tickets and fines were issued and collected.

Postponing equipment replacements, reducing expenditures, deferring construction projects and improving purchasing efficiencies for vehicles, energy and employee benefit packages are other measures being explored.

Group Plans to Honour Royal City Park Trees December 4th

An Excerpt from an Information Release from Friends of Royal City Park Group:

“The Friends of Royal City Park have organized a 1 hour vigil on Friday, December 4, 2009 from 7 to 8 pm at Royal City Park. We will assemble at the entrance trail to the park located at Gordon and Water Street to honour and thank the trees for all the benefits they have provided over the last 99 years. The intention is to celebrate the life of the trees and the many memories the trees have provided for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren and past generations. Come and share your memories with us of what these trees and this park means to you and how their loss will affect you.  Bring your own mug for hot apple cider. NOTE: We are not affiliated with any other group. We are gathering to express our thanks and love for the trees in Royal City Park, especially the nearly 100-year-old silver maples.”

For more information, contact Laura Murr at 519-824-3606

SUBBOR to Pay City of Guelph $2.5 Million

The following media release was sent out this evening…


SUBBOR to pay City of Guelph $2.5 million
Settlement brings successful conclusion to court battle with SUBBOR, avoiding need for future court proceedings.

GUELPH, ON, November 23, 2009 – The City of Guelph will receive $2.5 million in legal costs from SUBBOR (Super Blue Box Recycling Corporation) and its parent company Eastern Power Limited. The award is part of a settlement between the City and the two companies that comes after the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal have already ruled in the City’s favour. Guelph City Council ratified the settlement at tonight’s meeting.

SUBBOR and Eastern Power Limited will pay the City of Guelph $2.5 million in instalments, with interest payable in the event of any default in payment.

Other aspects of the settlement include SUBBOR and Eastern Power Limited’s agreement to surrender all rights to the SUBBOR building — which is located on the site of Guelph’s Waste Resource Innovation Centre — and the land on which it resides.  The companies have 90 days to remove their equipment from the site, not far from where excavation is currently underway in preparation for Guelph’s new Organic Waste Processing Facility.

“We are extremely pleased the City has reached a settlement with SUBBOR and Eastern Power Limited, eliminating the need for further court proceedings,” Guelph’s mayor Karen Farbridge said on behalf of City Council.  “The settlement is a good one for the City, bringing successful finality to what has been a long ordeal.”

Both the Superior Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal found in favour of the City of Guelph after SUBBOR launched a lawsuit against the City in 2003, claiming $32 million in damages for an alleged breach of contract. In 2007 the Court dismissed SUBBOR’s claim and awarded full costs to the City. The Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court’s decision and the awarding of costs against SUBBOR and Eastern Power Limited.  SUBBOR’s appeal was dismissed on all counts on June 16. The City of Guelph has already been awarded and has been paid $100,000 for its costs related to the appeal.

Let’s Talk Trees…

Our urban forest is a major municipal asset. Cities spend a lot of time, money and resources maintaining “grey” infrastructure, but not enough on “green” infrastructure. Green infrastructure is linked to quality of life, recreation, air quality, urban cooling, carbon offsets, and so many other intangible benefits, such as aesthetic beauty.

Grey infrastructure is, let’s face it, boring. It’s underground, it’s invisible, and rarely appreciated. Green infrastructure is something we enjoy everyday.

It used to be that tree planting and naturalization were community efforts. Scouts, Rotary, OPIRG, Trees for Guelph etc. are still involved in such efforts and are making a difference.

We need to expand the community effort. Council is faced with a tough budget year in 2010. Tree replacements (1 for 1) will likely continue, but we will never make a dent in increasing our canopy at that rate. The saying goes “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is NOW.”

So let’s rally! Would you “adopt a tree” for your local park?

People buy far-away invisible stars as Christmas gifts. And service orgs adopt a km of roadside highway. Why not adopt a local tree you can see grow everyday and one that your grandchildren can enjoy a generation from now?

Royal City Park needs more trees. The park was originally funded by the IODE as a gift to the Royal City. Will our community continue this tradition? So many individuals and groups benefit from this park — Old University Neighbourhood Association, John McCrae School, the Boathouse, the Animal Hospital, just to name a few. How about adopting a tree?

Guelph Urban Forest Friends (GUFF), Sierra Club, Council of Canadians, LIMITS — would you adopt a tree?

I will.  On behalf of my family, I will purchase a tree for Royal City Park.

Anyone else?

Royal City Park

The Royal City Park Material Management Plan went to the Community Development and Environmental Services committee this past Monday. One of the key recommendations in the plan is to remove and replace 52 high-risk trees in 2010. A full copy of the plan can be viewed at:

The loss of 52 trees will have a significant impact on the look and feel of  the park.   As a regular user of the park, I can attest to the emotional attachment that the community feels for the trees and the impact it will have on the park experience.

I also recognize that the city should have been investing heavily in the last 25 years on regular species renewal planting, tree pruning and better park management practices (ie. cutting with whipper-snippers).   This is true for our entire parks system, not just RCP.

However, “could have” and “should haves” will do us no good today.  It’s 2009 and it’s time to plan for the future of the park — now — even if we won’t benefit, our children will.


The recommended plan is a balanced approach, basically:
1. Remove the trees that are at risk.
2. Plant new trees immediately, large calliper native species.
3. Schedule succession plantings to increase tree cover over the next 5-10 years.
4. Improve maintenance practices to increase survival rates.

I agree with this plan.  I know that this will mean the park will look very different next year, and the year after and for this, I am sad.  But our children will thank us.  Here’s a good example — the naturalization efforts in Silvercreek Park (between McCrae and the Hanlon) are now reaping the benefits of a plan that was implemented 20 years ago.  In another 20 years, Royal City Park will be in better shape than it ever was — diversity of species, increased canopy and healthier trees.

Would love to hear thoughts from park users and community residents….