COMMENT: How is the City going to pay for Columbia Avenue?
It appears the Columbia Avenue infrastructure project is going to cost a lot more than taxpayers were led to believe. How the project will be paid for is another example of pathetic financial mismanagement on the part of the City.
In late December 2010, an Alternative Approval Process (AAP) was initiated to get authority to borrow up to $6 million for the project. Council was told by former CAO Victor Kumar that design work could not start until the borrowing was approved. Of course this was nonsense because WSA Engineering had already done some preliminary design work to come up with the $6 million price tag.
The AAP was initiated over the Christmas holidays in 2010 with minimal advertising. It was no surprise that there was little opposition to the proposal because of the almost non-existent publicity coinciding with the holidays. Still, our obscenely overpaid Corporate Officer managed to botch the process by not allowing enough time for petitions to be submitted. The City was notified on April 1, 2011 that the AAP did not comply with legislative requirements because the deadline for receiving elector responses was set 4 days too early – not the one day claimed by the Corporate Officer.
City staff learned that the AAP was not valid only a few days after council agreed to give ISL Engineering the design and construction supervision contract for the project. Even though ISL Engineering had not had time to start any substantial design work, the Corporate Officer and, presumably the former CAO and the Mayor chose not to inform council that money would not be available to pay for the project. attempt to reduce the scope of the project, and thus the cost, was made. Design of the “Cadillac version” of the project, as Mr. Kumar referred to it, continued even though there was no approved source of funding.
On January 10, 2011, City Planner Mike Maturo asked council to approve a draft application to the Towns for Tomorrow program for partial funding for the Washington Street portion of the infrastructure project. It was obvious that the draft application did not comply with the program guidelines but council approved it anyways. The application was eventually denied. Surprise, surprise!
On January 24, 2011, Mr. Maturo asked council for authority to submit two applications under the Gas Tax Agreement for funding to pay for the Columbia Avenue project. This time, no draft applications were provided and council defeated an attempt to have staff prepare the applications before a decision was made. Council was told the application deadline was February 1, 2011 and there wasn’t enough time to prepare the applications.
The applications were not submitted to the province until April 29, 2011, the final deadline for submission. It was obvious at that time the applications were doomed to failure because of flaws in the applications.
In December 2011, the City learned that the doomed applications for grants to help pay for the project were denied. This revelation was accompanied by the requisite amount of hand-wringing and moaning by members of council who had an opportunity almost a year prior to ensure the applications complied with the guidelines but chose not to exercise their responsibilities.
At this point in time, staff and, presumably, the mayor knew there was no grant money or borrowing authority available to allow the project to proceed. Council was not informed of this situation and the project, with all the bells and whistles (“fluff” as Councillor Thatcher called it), went to tender but with a reduced scope – only the Columbia Avenue portion would be done.
In September 2012, when questioned by Councillor Kathy Moore about the cost of the project, Mayor Granstrom said the AAP would not be used but neglected or refused to explain why, even though he knew, or should have known, that the AAP had failed almost 18 months earlier. Council did not learn that the AAP was not valid until January 2013 almost two years after staff had been informed.
Our new, overpaid CAO and our obsolescent, secretive Mayor have not yet provided council with the costs of the Columbia Avenue project, but council doesn’t seem to care. The 2013 budget and financial plan have not yet been brought to council for discussion, but council doesn’t seem to care.
How much is the Columbia Avenue project going to cost? How is the City going to pay for it? What other extravagant projects will the CAO and mayor propose to council this year? How much will taxes go up? Tax bylaws have to be adopted by mid-May. Time is running short. Why isn’t council being given an opportunity to adequately discuss the upcoming budget? I’m sure council and the residents of Rossland would like to know but maybe the CAO and the mayor don’t want to tell them.
Laurie Charlton is a retired chemist who was a Rossland city councillor for 17 years between 1975 and 2011.