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City spending … here we go again

No one asked the question.

When city council dealt with the issue of why the cost of upgrading the Second Avenue parkade went from $2,725,000 to $5,169,446, no one on council asked why the project hasn’t been completed yet.

City council approved borrowing the original $2.7 million in early 2016, almost three-and-a-half years ago.

No one asked why the work hasn’t been done.

Mayor Lyn Hall came close by stating: “When I put my hand up in 2016 and say yes (to a project) I think, perhaps naively, that the project will be done within a year or so.”

And yet, he didn’t ask why this project hasn’t been completed yet.

He did ask, however, whether there are any more projects “in the hopper.” A good question because if the cost of a project like the Second Avenue parkade doubled in three years, due to increased labour and materials costs, council should be entitled to know how many other surprises are about to jump out and bite them.

That led to the most mind-boggling aspect of the entire evening. City manager Kathleen Soltis told council that staff could have a list of “carry-through” projects to council in time for next year’s budget talks.

Six to eight months from now? Really?

Anyone with an open-source project management program can tell you it doesn’t take that long to compile a list of projects one has on the go. In fact, the whole idea of project management software, which I have a hard time believing the city isn’t using, is that you can view the progress of multiple projects at the same time, with the click of a mouse.

There is no doubt the city has dozens of projects on the go at the same time, all the time, but it is truly mind-boggling to think it will take six to eight months for staff to give council a report on those projects. One might think such a report should be given to council on regular basis, like every council meeting. But, apparently, it isn’t.

Even more mind-boggling is that not one councillor questioned Soltis on why it will take months to get such a report before council.

Hall did ask if staff can give an estimate of when projects will actually start when council approves the funding. Soltis didn’t really answer the question and instead said the city does its best to estimate project costs, but until the work actually starts costs, costs are just estimates.

Again, no one pressed her on whether they can deliver an estimated start date for a project when council approves the funding. Hello … project management software.

Later this week the public will find out the results of the alternative approval process petitions on 11 projects staff is seeking to borrow money for. The results will be unveiled to the public in a report to council, which will be posted late Wednesday. Why the city couldn’t issue a news release sooner (the deadline for to have the petitions in to the city was last Thursday) is beyond me.

The petitions are as much a referendum on how the city does business as they are about the projects themselves.

People are frustrated because it appears that not even city council can hold city staff in check. The Second Avenue parkade is just another example of that. At least one councillor is frustrated as well.

Coun. Brian Skakun questioned council’s very existence because of it.

“The scope (of a project) 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.”

In the end, council, with the exception of Skakun and Coun. Frank Everitt, voted to spend the extra money so … here we go again.

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