BY BILL PHILLIPS
Coun. Brian Skakun is fed up with city projects coming in over-budget and council continually agreeing to spend more money.
The latest is the Second Avenue parkade upgrade project which was budgeted at $2,725,000 in 2016 and council is being asked to increase the budget to $5,169,446.
“The scope is changing, and it’s changing after council votes on an item and authorizes (staff) to spend this money or borrow this money,” Skakun said. “I’m not sure what our role is if we keep doing that. I’m really challenged with it and here we go again.”
Skakun said ‘scope’ has been changed on the last four city projects including work downtown, the Nechako River Park, which he said was $300,000 over budget, and the Willow Cale Road bridge, which more than doubled in price to an estimated $6.8 million.
City engineer Adam Holmes told council Monday the Second Avenue Parkade was built around 1975 and has basically had no upgrades since. He said a detailed design of the proposed work detected structural issues that needed to be addressed and that the city has budgeted a 15 per cent contingency for more issues that may surface once work begins.
“I know costs are going up, but I can’t just sit here and say ‘no problem,’ (cost of) steel’s gone, up construction costs have gone up, because that just doesn’t cut it anymore,” said Skakun.
Coun. Frank Everitt agreed with Skakun and pointed to the fact the project was originally approved in 2016.
“No doubt time has passed since we first looked at this,” he said. “I share some of the frustration that’s out in the community around changing what we’re doing or adding additional costs to it. Adding to the scope of that just complicates our problem.”
However, Coun. Terri McConnachie said she wasn’t willing to put the brakes on the project.
“I’m not shocked that the costs increase three or four years later,” she said. “It costs what it costs, in the last three years the costs have risen.”
She pointed to the fact the parkade hasn’t been upgraded in 40 years and with more housing projects downtown, the parkade will be necessary.
She pointed out the funds will be taken from the downtown off-street parking reserve rather than borrowing. The original $2.7 million, however, will be borrowed through the Municipal Finance Authority.
“It’s not going to get younger, it’s not going to fix itself, and it’s going to be needed,” she said.
Coun. Cori Ramsay questioned why a detailed breakdown of the 2016 budget, when council approved spending $2.7 million on the project, was not provided to council.
“How can we look at where we’re overspending if we don’t have access to what was originally proposed?” she asked. “It seems like this project was approved in 2016 before this council had the opportunity to see it and if we’re going to have these projects come out of left field. I want to know what I don’t know, perhaps evaluate whether they still fit with council’s priorities.”
City manager Kathleen Soltis said the original budget could be provided.
Mayor Lyn Hall, however, questioned why, if a project is delayed a number of years, council doesn’t discuss possible increased costs when the delay first occurs.
“When I put my hand up in 2016 and say yes (to a project) I think, perhaps naively, that project will be done within a year or so,” he said, asking staff if there are any other project “in the hopper.”
City manager Kathleen Soltis said staff is looking at its “carry-through” projects and anticipated a report back to council in time for next year’s budget deliberations. She added that a number of projects do come in under budget and will include those as well.
“We are seeing the increase because we didn’t start the project in 2016,” said Hall. “We voted in favour of this project in 2015, when we go through our budget process, I automatically think that 2016-2017 it will be done, and I’m sure there are many more like it … It shouldn’t be a surprise to us. If we authorize the project in 2016 and we’re not going to get to the project until 2019 why don’t we have the discussion in 2016 about the potential increases?”
Hall also asked if staff can give an estimate of when projects will actually start when they approve funding.
Soltis said the city does its best to estimate project costs, but until the work actually starts costs, they are just estimates.
“We’re hearing some frustration and our overall infrastructure projects, they are costing us some dough,” said Hall. “Here it is, it’s catch up time.”
Coun. Kyle Sampson questioned why the city owns parkades when other cities have privately run parkades.
Council did vote to increase the budget to $5.1 million, with councillors Skakun and Everitt voting against.