Ward 4 News

Councillor - Christine Billings

Friday Nov 29th - 2013

NEWS RELEASE

Guelph, ON, November 27, 2013 –

City staff are now recommending a $193,265,418 tax-supported operating budget for 2014; a 2.37 per cent increase over last year. The updated figure is close to one per cent less than originally proposed in October, and is based on updated figures from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) and the County of Wellington.
“Since presenting the budget on November 5, we received updated information from MPAC and the County, and we further reviewed our own finances to ensure City Council and the community have the most recent and accurate information before voting on the City’s budget,” said Al Horsman, the City’s chief financial officer. “Now we’re looking at a 2.37 per cent increase over last year, rather than a 3.36 per cent increase, and that’s good news for Guelph taxpayers.”
During a City Council this evening, staff highlighted a $92,100 increase in the City’s payment to the County of Wellington, a $400,000 increase in expected fuel and energy costs next year, a $92,600 reduction in the fees paid to MPAC and a $2.2 million increase in assessment growth—the total change in property value assessments so far this year.
While preparing the City’s budget earlier this fall, staff estimated last year’s assessment growth would be $1.4 million. A more recent report from MPAC shows assessment growth at $3.6 million.
“The total dollar amount of the proposed 2014 budget increased by $399,500, but when we factor in the higher than expected assessment growth we experienced this year, the percentage change from this year to next year goes down, reducing the impact on taxpayers next year,” added Horsman.
View updates to the proposed 2014 budget and related tax increase.
About assessment growth
The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation determines all Ontario property values and reports them to the City. The City uses these assessments to calculate property taxes. In any given year, the total assessed value of all properties in Guelph will go up or down depending on construction of new homes and neighbourhoods, commercial developments and other community improvements and changes. MPAC reports on these changing values throughout the year, and the next MPAC assessment roll is expected on December 10, 2013.

For more information:
Al Horsman
Executive Director/Chief Financial Officer
Finance and Enterprise Services
519-822-1260 extension 5606
al.horsman@guelph.ca

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Friday Nov 29th - 2013

City and County agree; new child care centre will be built on Willowdale site
City sells land to Wellington County for redevelopment of new facility
Guelph, ON, November 28, 2013

The City of Guelph will sell 95 Willow Road—the existing City parcel of land where Willowdale Child Care and Learning Centre is located—to Wellington County for the redevelopment of a new child care and learning centre.
Wellington County will purchase the site for $150,000.
City Council directed the City and Wellington County to enter into an agreement of purchase and sale for 95 Willow Road and to attend to re-zoning so the property is correctly zoned for daycare at Monday’s City Council meeting.
“This has been a challenging situation. I’m pleased the County and City worked together to find solutions, so that child care service can be restored for Willowdale families as soon as possible,” said Mayor Farbridge.
“The County and the City have worked hard to get the child care program up and running in the Willowdale area as quickly as possible,” said Warden Chris White. “Both parties will continue to work together to restore this much needed service later next year.”
The County vacated the existing Willowdale Child Care and Learning Centre on May 3 of this year due to concerns with vermiculite insulation in the facility. Since then, the City and County investigated several other potential sites within the designated geographic area, all of which presented various challenges.
City Executive Director of Community and Social Services, Derrick Thomson, says “partnering with Wellington County to find the best outcomes for families has been rewarding. I think both parties feel we’ve landed on the right answer for all involved.”
“This service disruption has been challenging. I would like to thank the Willowdale families and staff for their patience during this transitional period,” commented Luisa Artuso, Director of Child Care Services for the County. “Everyone is looking forward to resuming this important child care program in a brand new building and in the same area.”

For more information:


Derrick Thomson
Executive Director, Community and Social Services
519-822-1360 extension 2665
derrick.thomson@guelph.ca
Luisa Artuso
Director of Child Care Services
519-837-2600 extension 3970
luisaa@wellington.ca

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Friday Nov 29th - 2013

Nov 28th, 2013:

Good Evening Madame Mayor and Members of Council,

In recent weeks there has been a fair bit of coverage about the Wyndham Bridge.  

Re: design and construction of the bridge:

When the City replaced the 100-year old CN Railway bridge, it followed all CN Rail requirements and specifications.  Our new, larger bridge meets all modern technical standards for current and future rail use.  It is structurally sound and was built correctly.

RE: the roadway:
When the City renewed the roadway beneath the bridge, added sidewalks and bike lanes, the bridge was designed to allow as much clearance as possible given location of upgraded underground water, wastewater and utility infrastructure.  This has been confirmed by an external consultant.

Trucks are permitted to use local streets for deliveries. The street was not a “permissive truck route” intended for regular, through truck traffic
To prevent large truck operators from using the route, the City updated its traffic by-law prohibiting large trucks from using the road.

RE: Communications

The City was aware that large vehicles may be impacted by the project.
While this issue was raised during public information sessions that took place before construction,  we could have done a better job communicating with stakeholders about the available in clearance beneath the new bridge – particularly trucking companies and local businesses receiving deliveries on large trucks.

Action:
Staff are implementing a much more comprehensive sign plan indicating a 3.8 metre clearance, and several notices have been distributed.

In the next days, further communications will be circulated through an increased awareness plan.

I hope this information is of assistance to you in your response to concerns.  
Please direct any further information requests to Janet Laird or feel free to contact my office.

Best regards,

Ann Pappert | Chief Administrative Officer
City of Guelph

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Friday Nov 29th - 2013

Thursday, November-28-13

Dear Members of Council for the City of Guelph,

It has come to my attention that tonight will be a discussion on the amount of tax increase that will be levied for the citizens of Guelph.  As a homeowner on Cork Street, I am currently paying about $3200 on a house that is 995 ft2.    I work three jobs – one full time job and two part time jobs.  I do not party, drink or smoke, buy new clothes or waste money on trivial things and I am still finding it difficult to pay for the land tax.  Please keep the tax increase below 2%.  I understand that costs are increasing but I hope you understand that people’s wages are not increasing.  I know so many people are voicing this same sentiment.   
Yours Sincerely,

EK

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Friday Nov 29th - 2013

From East side resident, sent to all of council and the mayor: Nov 29th, 2013

 

My name is Brent Beam and I have been a resident of Guelph for 25 years. During that period my taxes have increased by a gut wrenching 400% with compounding. Although I am currently retired my salary would have increased by 200% were I still working .  As you see there is a huge gap between those numbers which represents how much municipal taxes have eroded my purchasing power(ie negatively impacted my standard of living).
The City of Guelph has a big spending problem and the majority of Councillors and staff appear to be oblivious or in denial about the situation . The Canadian Taxpayer Federation has released a report in July of 2013 which evaluated the 20 cities in Ontario, and has confirmed what I have independently , by long term observation and analysis, recognized. They have concluded that growth in spending for salaries is spiraling out of control Guelph, has one of the highest ratios of bureaucrats per capita, and has one of the highest levels of growth in government worker compensation among the 20 cities selected.

During the November 27th council meeting, executive staff confirmed that 80% of their costs were attributed to the salaries and benefits that are paid to their employees. Not only does this produce an ongoing burden to the average Guelph tax payer,  businesses especially small ones who must survive in the reality of difficult competitive world find  themselves squeezed by being unable to provide such lush compensation to their employees( and there some difficulty in attracting them) while at the same time being subject to these punitive tax increases which have been sustained well above inflation rates. Furthermore, pressing capital projects, the latest one being the need to expanding and renovation the existing outdated Police Headquarters as advocated by our police Chief Brian Larkin, present a more difficult challenge for council and tax payers.

I am no rocket scientist, but the most politically acceptable  solution to this growing problem is to control if not roll back the cost of wages and benefits. One cannot take the easy route of just blaming the Provincial Government for enacting laws that require the additional staff. They do not mandate how you spend dollars to meet the terms of the mandate. That would also be a bit like the teapot calling the kettle black. We the taxpayers know they also have mismanaged our taxes as with the squandering of about 3 billion precious unproductive tax dollars imposed upon us and most likely meet the voters in 2014 to make our judgement.

Case in point! Although I am not intending to single out Mr McCaughan who has a very difficult portfolio to administer and is dedicated to that cause, he was advocating the hiring of yet another 2.5 FTE Forestry personnel at a cost of about $206,000. The personnel were prescribed in the Urban Forestry Plan approved by council and now available on the City website. I took the time to read thru this lengthy document as it is a matter that is also dear to my heart as a naturalist, ecologist, and environmentalist. By the way, one of the reason I settled in Guelph is because my alma mater is here, and I remember the rich flora and tree cover that existed here while studying. I forsook Brampton( where I worked) as the alternative which seemed to be a endless scape of trees, commercial plazas and roads. What I objected to as a disgruntled taxpayer was the upmanship principle embodied in the document, that is the objective of becoming the most green city in Ontario(ie not just average) by advancing our tree coverage from 20% ( which is average for southern Ontario cities and a number I regard as suspect) to 40%.  Not only that was the cost of implementing the plan some 11 million dollars over 10 years which was largely absorbed once again by a large collection of expensive FTEs, some 14 of them. Money should be dedicated to the purchase and planting of trees, not salaries and benefits of personnel. Mr McCaughan  reported that they had planted some 775 trees during 2013 while the cost of the Urban Forestry Plan for 2013 was some $990,000...do the math. I have planted some 20 plus native trees(as well as remove countless invasive species) for some $200 in and around my property which backs onto the Hadati Marsh. The plan should focus on harnessing the great wealth of willing volunteers so as to reduce the cost of the plan.Furthermore, one justification of hiring so many FTEs in the  the Urban Forestry plan is to counteract the invasion of the emerald ash tree borer. That's a lost cause as was the invasion of the beetle that eliminated much of our beautiful  American elm population. Managing this invasion , other than removing dead ash  trees (using contract employees as opposed to FTEs) which pose a hazard to citizens along city thoroughfares( as opposed to natural areas) within the city boundary  should be the responsibility of the province or the GRCA. All the municipal tax dollars in the world will not stop this ecological disaster. As far as I know the only beetle invasive species that tax dollars were effectively and successfully used was the elimination of the Asian long horn...but its relatively low reproductive and migration  rates make it quite  different story.

My recommendation therefore is to not hire any more FTEs for forestry on the tax payer tab. We are already heavily committed in that area. Perhaps one should review the need for the "manager" of the forestry personnel now that the very expensive Urban Forestry has been hired. Use the money saved  for meeting our legal responsibilities under provincial law, that is hiring a Transit Fleet mechanic if it is truly mandated.

Another multimillion budget that needs to be reviewed is the 13 million dollars allocated to trails and bicycle lanes. Many citizens enjoy the trails that exist to walk and cycle including myself. Like Ms. Laidlaw I regard cycling as an exceptional recreation for cardiovascular health.  But we have amassed an extensive trail network at this time across the city(eg  I can now relatively safely cross the city from east to west from Grange /Watson area by bicycle) , and it's perhaps time to ease further financial commitments in this area until we get our fiscal health back in order.I know Ms Laidlaw probably will never agree to this compromise and this sadly is why we most likely will remain political adversaries in spite of many areas of common ground...but then that does not make me as she likes to label those who express opposition to her viewpoints...a right wing person anymore than she is for her inflexibility.

Returning to other alternatives to reduce the cost of personnel, I must ask why nobody in management  is prepared to freeze the salaries of municipal employees (not subject to provincial arbitration) who have had generous contract settlements well beyond the CPI ( as inflation rates declined) for as long as I can remember. Provincial employees have often had their salaries fixed , recently for 2 years including my spouse. In my case under the Mike Harris government it was frozen for 10 years. Why do these generously compensated employees continue to be insulated from fiscal realities?

Yours truly

Brent Beam

PS:To answer Ms. Laidlaw's question   for which she curtly and patiently cut my period of thought and consideration off regarding the imperfections of the CTP municipal report card, Guelph is a single tier administrative entity ..others are two tier(eg Kitchener). For the most part two tier Municipalities notwithstanding the sunshine list.are actually on average more expensive for tax payers because they involve two layers of bureaucracy...and therefore Guelph should score higher in terms of administrative employee costs than it did in the study especially since it is in a better position to control them as a one tier government. One way or the other the number of employees whether administrative or not crossing the hallowed sunshine list boundary is exploding in Guelph( just look at many of the FTE position proposed in the 2014 budget) across the board and many others far further down the feeding list are making a close run to it.  In  short this has far less to do with service to the tax payer than keeping up with your neighbour...and that is what is so destructive to the property owners and businesses of Guelph, apples / oranges or not.

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Friday Nov 29th - 2013

Email recieved from Staff today, Nov 29th, 2013:

 

I just wanted to clarify the Chamber’s comments on overtime. The Recommended 2014 Tax Supported Operating Budget currently being deliberated by Council includes slightly less than $2 million for overtime. This represents 2% of wages and salaries, not 2.5%. To achieve the 2.5% comparator identified in the Internal Auditor’s OT Audit report would require a $380,000 or 0.3% tax rate increase and staff do not recommend this. In short, the currently recommended 2014 Budget does meet the Chamber’s recommended base line of 2%.

Al Horsman

CFO - City of Guelph

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Thursday Nov 28th - 2013

Nov 28th, 2013

Corporate Building Maintenance is responsible for the regular ongoing maintenance of City-owned facilities, including the Wilson Farmhouse.

Dear Mayor and Council,

Corporate Building Maintenance is responsible for the regular ongoing maintenance of City-owned facilities, including the Wilson Farmhouse. Given the focus on the farmhouse over the past few months, we want you to know that starting on Monday, December 2, contractors will be onsite at 80 Simmonds Drive to attend to some building maintenance needs that require immediate attention.

These include:

1.    Sealing the opening under hatch on west side of house
2.    Repairing roof leaks and reviewing loose and/or curled shingles on the west side of the house
3.    Sealing the hole in the bottom right corner of the south facing dormer
4.    Sealing the gap in the rubble foundation at southeast corner of building
5.    Repairing holes in front porch roof above previous fascia and sealing northeast corner of porch roof
6.    Sealing small opening below valley above porch roof and to the left of the metal chimney

This maintenance work needs to be done in order to comply with our property standards by-law as well as to preserve the facility until the ‘Request for Expression of Interest’ process for the reuse/redevelopment of this building has been completed. Maintenance costs are expected to be between $1,000 and $4,000, depending on how far we need to go with the roof repairs. Please note that we do have funding to cover these expenses in our ‘stranded assets’ account.

Please contact me at your convenience should you have any questions or concerns in this regard.

Derrick Thomson, Executive Director
Community and Social Services
City of Guelph
T 519-822-1260 x 2665
E derrick.thomson@guelph.ca

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Friday Nov 22nd - 2013

City Budget Discussion:  Guelph Chamber of Commerce

Guelph is a place of innovation. We can see it in the business community, and at the University. We can see in the Innovation Centre. And we’ve seen it with Guelph council, being a leader in strategic direction.

The City of Guelph has been cited by other Chambers of Commerce for best practices around City Strategic Planning, including the recommendations coming from the Prosperity 2020 10 year economic development and tourism plan.  


STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS: Prosperity 2020
1.1 Focus Investment and Growth: target sustainable competitive advantage in selected business sectors;
1.2 Re-position Guelph: as a premier business investment location;
1.3 Invest in People and Ideas: make Guelph a community of choice for talent of the future;
1.4 Invest in Hard and Green Infrastructure: support and maximize economic benefit;
1.5 Invest in Tourism: develop new tourism products and experiences and establish a destination marketing presence;
1.6 Invest in the Downtown: target icon status for a vibrant, transit connected, mixed use centre; and
1.7 Strengthen Governance, Profile and Reach: clarify responsibilities, collaborate with partners and reach out to more distant markets.


We now need city council to extend this innovative mindset to implementation.

Other cities are surpassing us in controlling costs and implementing technology solutions. Following the leaders isn’t consistent with what Guelph is all about. We need to be the leader in these fields.

You’ve shown your commitment to innovation by auditing yourself – now it’s just a matter of taking the actions called for in the audit.

There is further opportunity to work with Chambers of Commerce across Canada to look for best practices in the delivery of municipal services cost effectively with the greatest return on investment to the community.  The Guelph Chamber of Commerce continues to offer support by bringing expertise from our business community to the table, as well as work within our provincial and national network to mining for best practices.

Last year the Guelph Chamber recommended the City look at investment in technology as a key opportunity, and brought forward business that work on municipal asset management.  Information systems technology can build velocity into the enterprise.  We understand the City is working on its technology investment strategy, and that technology changes need to be coordinated.  Progress in this area has been slower than the business community was hoping for.  There are opportunities to better connect engineering and operations, and within operations to crowd source maintenance work that needs to be done.  We hope that Council and staff will put serious effort into efficiency targeting and the resulting cost savings coming from doing things differently.  Right now we are not seeing the sense of urgency we had hoped for.

The Chamber has also recommended looking at areas where the City can further collaborate with the business community and also leverage the work of community benefit organizations.  We have looked at tourism as an example, and understand further work is being done with an operations review at the City with an additional RFP closing in December.  Social and Cultural services also provide opportunities to work together, share the work load and avoid duplication.  Again, we had hoped to have made much further progress a year later.

From the auditor’s report we see that base salary and wages grew between 2010 and 2012 by $11.4m ($12.6m when overtime is included).  There was some recovery on this line item in 2013.  A separate audit is being done by the City auditor on the cost of consultants over this period, which will be available over the coming months.  We realize management is currently reviewing the findings from this audit both operationally, and from cost savings opportunity and risk management.  Base salary and FTE count cannot be looked at in isolation of delivery of services, reaching key performance indicators, or management by objective targets.  Still, this is a significant budget line item on a $425m total budget.  A recommendation management is looking at is to reduce overtime to 2.5% of the base salary total.  The graph below would indicate a better base line to shoot for would be 2%, to bring us within range of the upper half of the cities cited.

Productivity, or getting more results from less people, is a challenge business will continue to face.  Productivity improvement has also entered the discussions at the University of Guelph and other educational institutes that are facing budget pressures.  What core activities need to be delivered, which activities are not core, and how to do things differently to improve processes and reduce costs are being discussed around board tables everywhere.  At the end of the day attention ultimately ends up on this line item of the budget, which has been well established now thanks to the City’s commitment to auditing itself.  We know management is addressing this, and offer any support we can give from the business community.  Last year adding 23 FTE’s to get to 1441 and this year looking at an additional 10.5 is part of the equation.  Another is the number of unfilled positions, contractors being used, etc. The Guelph Chamber of Commerce feels business and education institutes are looking at managing salary costs and productivity, and feel this is not getting the attention needed at City Hall.

Some comments from within our membership included the number of staff in meetings, and the number of meetings staff have from a “billable hours” standpoint.  That is, time in meetings can be unproductive time if meetings go on, or too many people are around the table.  A best practice from business would be looking at Lean meeting format, or limiting review meetings to less than an hour as the rule with exceptions when unavoidable.  Meeting time and format is a common struggle as business reduces the number of staff, and looks to manage that critical cost of operations.  The Integrated Operational Review highlighted some cultural challenges, in which staff do not feel empowered to make decisions.  This could result in more people at meetings than need be, or multiple meetings being required to reach decisions.

Pressure on productivity comes from the additional workload which results when staff reports are rejected by Council, and have to go back for re-work.  Political decisions in the Council chamber have a direct impact on staff costs, with subsequent delays on projects as well.  This may be unavoidable in some cases, but still needs to be mentioned.

The Guelph Chamber of Commerce appreciated the presentation given by City management to our Advocacy Committee, in which the guidelines and methods that were used in formulating the budget were presented and discussed.  The formula, which included CPI growth, tax base growth, and investment, is clear and easy to understand.  There has been discussion last year and this year about the appropriateness of using the Consumer Price Index versus the Municipal Price Index, or other indices.  The Consumer Price Index relates to the balance of payments or revenue for individuals.  If revenues increase faster than the CPI, there is more money available to spend on the local economy or save for retirement.  If tax increases faster than the CPI, there is less money available for the local economy or saving for retirement.  In the past few years the CPI has been running between 1.2% and 1.4%.  It is the Guelph Chamber of Commerce’s position that total property tax increases on individuals should be less than the CPI to get most benefit to and from local businesses.  Communities such as Halton have been cited for best practices in controlling tax increases over the past several years.  As the population continues to age, a zero tax increase goal, or tax increases below the CPI, needs to be a long term goal.
 
Some realtors that are members of the Guelph Chamber have commented on the sticker shock that follows a search on MLS listings once taxes are added to the cost of the property.  Guelph is seen as paying more property taxes than our close neighbours, and even against Toronto and Milton.  Affordable housing for young adults is a key part of their decision-making process to stay in Guelph or to leave.  House prices and the price of property tax directly affect people deciding to move to Guelph as well as people choosing to stay here.  
 
Operating reserves as a % of revenue has been highlighted as a concern by City management, and will be something to be considered going forward.  We agree with the approach being taken on capital projects, keeping large projects off the forecast until financing programs have been identified leveraging external sources for revenue.  Debt and reserves need to turn from yellow or red to green.

The Guelph Chamber of Commerce remains committed to collaborating with the City of Guelph to provide whatever business support and expertise we can through our members.  We also can help to source best practices from our provincial and national networks, just as we share Guelph best practices with these same networks.  The Guelph Chamber of Commerce considers ourselves a partner with the City of Guelph, and has been since Guelph was formed.  We acknowledge the complexity of managing within the municipal act is much different than managing a business or a household, and commend the City on the job being done by Council and staff.
 
As a key stakeholder, we are providing 6 suggestions for actions that city council can take right now:
 
1)    Accelerate the implementation of technology improvements to integrate operations and engineering.
2)    Accelerate asset management systems to optimize maintenance and capital improvement planning.
3)    Together with Guelph’s business community and community benefit organizations clarify responsibilities, collaborate with partners and reach out to more distant markets
4)    Consider cost implications of rejecting staff reports, and implications on staff resource management.
5)    Implement Lean systems for meeting management, including the meeting leader asking each person, “if you were doing other work right now, could this meeting happen without you?” Anyone who isn’t essential to have in the meeting then goes to do other work.  Limit review meeting times to an hour or less unless there are special circumstances requiring more time.
6)    Empower staff to make decisions based on clear guidelines to accelerate the decision making processes, and free up management time by creating a “bias for action” culture.

Through these actions and other innovations, the Guelph Chamber has confidence that the City of Guelph can sustain city services and bring Guelph to a zero percent tax increase. Other cities are doing it, and they don’t have the innovative spirit that is so prevalent in Guelph.

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Wednesday Nov 20th - 2013

Nov 20th, 2013

 

This is some rough notes I made for yesterday's audit committee meeting that I thought I'd share with you:

 

There are two aspects to this report that I believe need to be acknowledged:

 

The first aspect,

This report is amazing. I want to thank on behalf of the committee, a huge thank you to our internal auditor Loretta. This audit, was a massive undertaking and it was one that when an issue became revealed, you dug deeper, you asked for more info, you pried the door open a bit more and you didn’t stop until you were satisfied with finding the answers you needed and that ultimately needed to be exposed for the organization, this council and the public to see. Your assistant throughout this project Ingrid Pregel from iPCi Consulting also deserves our appreciation.

 

And….further to that….

 

This is a good news story.

If, such an internal audit had never been asked for, city hall would continue down the road, year over year, not knowing the full impact of such an issue. I have been told that Loretta has had a line-up of other municipalities internal auditors breaking down her door begging her to help them to tackle the issue of overtime in their city. (We would just ask Loretta, that you don’t use any overtime yourself to help them out okay!) Again, if we were not sitting here today, we would have no idea of the overtime impact of $5,000,000 for 2013, or the total of $14,645,039 from 2009. To put that number in context, just think, $14,000,000 would have paid for our portion of the board of health building the rate-payers on the hook for at present.

 

Now the other aspect:

I want to express my disappointment in these past practices that have come to light, and have been allowed to go on for years. In fact, it’s sadness, or a "let-down" that I feel. Let me tell you why. When this report landed on my desk last week, I read the whole thing, and when I turned the last page I leaned back in my chair and said three words: I WAS WRONG. Now you’re probably asking what do I mean when I say “I WAS WRONG”? For this past year, as chair of audit, I have been publicly stating how great things are going. And rest assured we ARE doing great things. However, I've been quoted with comments like, “we’re righting the ship”, we’re placing good policies and procedures in place to head down the right path", or “The city is being run very very well”.  But this whole time, unknown to council we've have this going on?  That's why I felt let down.

 

As the report states, and I quote: We have “legacy issues” – “Tone at the top” issues, some perceived “culture of entitlement” and “transparency” issues. As our CAO stated, “it’s fair to say that managers have some work to do” and equally we know some union groups do as well. It took many to get us here, and we need many to get us out.

 

The report states we need a “reset”, let me state clearly that this report is the reset. And the button has been pushed. The reset started the second this report was released to the public.

 

There are 39 recommendations, plus others initiated through the CAO that will be accomplished.

 

This committee, and I, WILL hold people to account now. An in-turn, YOU, the taxpayer, need to hold me to account to make sure all the 39 plus recommendations are implemented - ASAP.

 

Thank you,

 

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Monday Nov 18th - 2013

Please see below many articles and reports on the released OVERTIME INTERNAL AUDIT that was conducted.

 

Read the Report: HERE

City looking to freeze overtime: HERE

Internal audit on Overtime reveals $5 Million in overtime: HERE

City Transit Union say audit is wrong: HERE

 

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Monday Nov 18th - 2013

Nov 18th, 2013

An open letter from the drivers of Guelph Transit.    

In response to the city’s auditor’s recent negative comments regarding employee overtime abuses at transit.  This document is critically lacking in providing you with the information you require to make informed decisions.  ATU 1189 members would like to correct this damaging oversight.

To start with, let us look at the late night service.  This was not a union sought initiative.   This service was proposed by the Guelph Police Service, Transit management and approved by council.  These runs are all over and above base service and are almost 100% covered by overtime.  

The Gordon corridor run, 13 extra, Metro grocery shuttles are generally overtime or extra board assignments.
In addition, the coverage required by both Saturday and Sunday break runs, is regularly scheduled as overtime.  

The service listed above is classed at transit as “open work”.  This means that they are not signed runs and do not run long enough to be able to create a full run out of them.  The result is that there is approximately 247 hours per week scheduled as overtime just to provide this extra service.  Management has the ability, as per our collective agreement to hire twenty extra board drivers. These drivers have no guarantee of hours and do not receive benefits until the completion of an extensive probation period.  Management certainly has the option available to them to eliminate a large portion of the overtime costs at transit.  This has never happened.

The cost of providing service on statutory holidays is immense.  These hours are all overtime and again was not a Union initiative.  This service requires 27 full runs plus 4 operators to fill break shifts and one spare operator.  There is also the supervisors and cleaning staff to consider.  This is 300 plus hours of overtime without the supervisors and cleaners added in.  Multiply this by the 10 days per year we provide this service and the total is 3000 hours of overtime paid out for operators wages. In addition, the hours a supervisor works would be banked and taken at a later date requiring possible coverage by a union member working as a supervisor and another overtime shift paid out to cover this operators assigned run.  A money funnel is the only way to describe this but council approved statutory holidays and the associated costs.  The drivers, cleaners and maintenance staff have no complicity in this drain on city coffers other than working the approved shifts.

It is also worth noting that the split shift runs and some base service runs have been designed with an overtime requirement built in.

Management’s extensive use of union members to perform supervisors duties is a large drain on the system.  Every time a union member works as a supervisor, another driver is required to fill his open shift.  Some members can work as much as 2 weeks supervising out of each month and for quite some time now a union member has covered the position of scheduler with the result that his run is requiring daily coverage up to 40 hours per week by another driver.  Eliminating the use of union members performing management duties would definitely shrink the overtime requirement and open a larger base of members to fill regular shifts.

The statement regarding some drivers taking 40 to 50 days off per year is misleading.  No employee would be allowed to be absent at any city facility for what would amount to four shifts per month without repercussions. This statement must be a result of either short term or long-term disability claims and does not belong in this report as all lengthy absences are covered by spare board operators and should not generate any overtime requirement.  
Human Resources have been aggressively pursuing attendance management practices for several years now.  Sick days are an unfortunate yet unavoidable part of working side by side with our customers.  Close contact with hundreds of customers daily cannot help but result in higher than normal illness.  Operators are in a confined space and exposed daily to any number of germs or illness. This unfortunate and unavoidable aspect is part of the job.  Our collective agreement allows for fifty non-cumulative sick hours per year.  


"Drivers receive sign in and sign out bonuses during split shifts”                                                                                         All runs have “sign in and sign out” attached to them.  This is not a bonus, it is a set period of time built into a run allowing a driver time to perform a circle check on their assigned vehicle and travel time to both start their run and then return to transit at the end of their shift.  We do not have the option of starting work at the facility we clock in at.  We are required to take a city vehicle to the starting point of our assigned run.  This allotted time is generally 15 minutes but can vary when a driver is required to travel farther than the terminal to start the run.  A large number of drivers are actually out doing circle checks and preparing for the day 15-20 minutes before they actually start being paid.  We do not see any complaints about the “free” time we willingly provide each day to ensure our customers satisfaction nor do we expect any extra thank you for doing this.  It is just who we are.

Shift trades do not cost the city anything.  It is simply what it says, a trade.  If anything, drivers should be encouraged to actively pursue shift trades to accommodate situations requiring their absence.

In conclusion, to claim that operators and maintenance personnel are responsible for an abuse of overtime is ludicrous.   The operators and maintenance staff at Guelph Transit are not and have never been responsible for either the run scheduling or a complete lack of foresight in hiring enough drivers, maintenance staff, cleaners and supervisors to effectively manage a growing service.  We have no control over “extra service decided upon by management and city council”.   We do agree that better management of our work environment could improve some employee absence, including undue stress and morale problems. We cannot concur that the employees are in any way responsible for the majority of overtime being distributed at the transit facility.  For many years the city has promoted “teamwork and employee engagement” This has not been the case at Transit.  Instead of the perceived “culture of entitlement”, it is more a culture of us versus them, and is in no way conducive to a successful management/employee relationship as upper managements complete acceptance of this flawed report clearly indicates.  
                                                                                                                                                                         It is also worth noting that given the city’s statement about improving employee relations and dealing with morale problems as were found in a recent employee survey, it is extremely disturbing and demoralizing to have our City Management and Councillors embrace this report. You have collectively and repeatedly, refused to hear our suggestions and opinions for improvement in the workplace and once again, when a problem arises you do not hesitate to place the blame directly on your employees.   You have labelled us as thieves in the eyes of the public we strive to serve and have thrown us out into our work environment to fend for ourselves.  These accusations and the unfortunate and undeserved way they have been presented to the public, is most definitely not in keeping with the city standards of wellbeing and your responsibility in providing a safe working environment.

Respectfully

Transit Operators

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christine.billings@guelph.ca | 519-826-0567

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