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Shiny new HQ it’s not

It’s sad that the city is planning to spend $34 million on a police headquarters upgrade that has generated little enthusiasm at city hall or in the community. “I’m biting my tongue as I vote for this,” Coun. Cam Guthrie said Monday as he voted with the majority in a 9-4 decision to proceed with the project. Mayor Karen Farbridge also voted in favour but had virtually nothing to say about this mutt of a project during Monday’s council meeting.
It’s one thing to bite the bullet and finally get on with building a new city hall, a west end recreation centre, a new downtown arena, a performing arts centre – all of which Guelph has done in the past couple of decades.
It’s another thing to face big bills for things that council has not really embraced, which has been happening recently. There’s the new regional public health facility in Guelph that city council fought against. Now there’s the costly police HQ project that has been approved with a sigh. And on the horizon is a potentially huge bill in the breach-of-contract lawsuit against the city won by the fired city hall contractor, Urbacon.
Meanwhile, financing hasn’t been lined up yet for a long-awaited new downtown library – which has again become a political football, with mayoral candidate Guthrie opposing it. And although council agreed recently to put a $59-million south end recreation centre back into the city’s 10-year capital forecast, there’s no guarantee city hall will be able to find the money to pay for it.
Since the last council was elected in 2010, a lot of good things have happened on the financial front. Early on, the new council adopted new, more responsible debt policies and made the capital budget forecast less of a wish list. It created the new position of internal auditor, partly to make sure the city is getting good value for its spending. The city’s credit rating went up.
That’s all good. But there’s still something dispiriting about what’s happening these days on the city’s capital-spending front.

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