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Councillors livid over ‘intentional deceit’ of council on parkade project

Brian Skakun is seeking his sixth term on city council.
Coun. Brian Skakun

The question had to be asked five times.

It was a simple enough question but interim deputy city manager Ian Wells originally danced around providing the answer.

“Did administration go ahead and commit to the $20 million dollar parkade before they got the OK from council, in any fashion?” asked Coun. Brian Skakun as city council received a report as to why the George St. parkade project went from $12 million when it was originally approved 2017 to an estimated $22 million today.

Skakun asked the question several times before Wells finally said:

“Council was not aware that we had an updated price and we committed to go ahead with the project,” Wells said.

Council approved spending $12.6 million in March, 2019, apparently when staff already knew the project would be $20 million.

“Administration, knowing that they had already committed $20 million, or more, to a parkade came to council and said we need $12.6 million because that’s all it’s going to cost,” said Skakun. “… My concern is we had changed no delegation of authority to do this and no delegation of authority bylaw anywhere in this country would have given administration a $20 million blank cheque to say go ahead and build a parkade without council knowing about that cost.”

In November of 2019, the finance committee was informed the project would be $17 million.

Wells reported to council that “factors affecting the cost increase in the George Street Parkade included the US tariffs, an extremely busy and volatile construction market with a shortage of skilled labour, and an increase in construction costs that amounted to an overrun of $2,947,334.97.”

In addition, improvements to municipal infrastructure were required to facilitate the construction of multi-family housing, provide capacity for future development and redevelopment projects in the downtown, and address issues associated with aging infrastructure

That didn’t fly with Coun. Kyle Sampson.

“I get the steel tariffs being a cause,” said Sampson. “Some of the other costs, I think we’re going need to continue to be better at our estimating … This was an unfortunate result of the way we were doing things at the time.”

He said he was concerned that it appears the city didn’t account for how the project would impact the city’s own infrastructure such as sewer and watermain upgrades. Those costs will now push the overall cost closer to $34 million.

He was also very upset with the fact staff knew the budget would increase but didn’t inform council for 18 months.

“That’s just disgusting,” Sampson said. “It’s completely unacceptable … I think the intentional withholding of information to council is really messed up … I think it would be wrong of council not to be disappointed in the fact we had something like this go by us that was an intentional deceit on council.”

Last year council changed amount the city manager can authorize on a project without seeking approval from council. Coun. Frizzell asked what would have happened had the new process been in place.

“There would have been additional process,” said Wells. “We would have come back to seek council’s approval to spend more than five per cent allocated on the project up to $100,000.”

Cori Ramsay asked for a delegated use report to be prepared for council on a quarterly basis.

Coun. Terri McConnachie said called the situation “egregious” and a “travesty.”

Skakun, however, summer it all up.

“The people of this community are outraged and I’m outraged,” said Skakun. “The more I look into this project, it just stinks, in my opinion. There’s no way anyone had the authority to spend that money without council’s approval.”

Sampson said council needs to discuss the matter further in a closed meeting because it may need a legal opinion.

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