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City doubles down on rebudgeting

The city should be taking a harder line with contractors who don't get their jobs done on time, said Coun. Ranj Pillai. "I can tell you, if it was us doing something like this, they'd be coming after us."

The city should be taking a harder line with contractors who don’t get their jobs done on time, said Coun. Ranj Pillai.

“I can tell you, if it was us doing something like this, they’d be coming after us,” he told city council on Monday.

Pillai, who attended the meeting over the phone, took issue with two landscaping contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that weren’t finished last year, and so are being pushed over to this year’s budget.

“There’s almost half a million that we’re leaving sitting on the table of landscaping contracts,” he said. “From my perspective, if someone bids on a six-figure-plus contract, and then they come back and tell you that they had a staffing shortage, I’d like to see us in a situation where those groups are penalized and they don’t even have a chance to compete the next year.”

The city is rebudgeting more than $11 million for capital projects that weren’t completed last year.

There are 59 projects that are being rebudgeted for 2012, which is a little larger than previous years, said Robert Fendrick, the city’s director of administrative services.

In fact, it’s almost double what the city rebudgeted last year.

However, for some of the projects, like the Selkirk pump house and reservoir, it’s simply a necessary procedural measure, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

“Selkirk was budgeted for in its entirety in 2011,” he said.

“We knew full well that we’d be doing the design in 2011 and the construction in 2012 and likely some completion work in 2013.

“A project of that size typically does go over two or three seasons.”

But for other contracts, like road works and landscaping, there are other reasons for delays.

“A lot of times, when we get relatively deep into the fall, the landscaping components, the final elements of the project, aren’t completed because of the time of the year,”

said Shewfelt. “We tend to err on the side of caution to complete those in the spring, so the landscaping components have a better chance of surviving through the summer as opposed to planning them in October and hoping for the best.”

For the contractor Pillai referenced, staffing shortages, irrigation blowouts and other problems hampered their landscaping contracts last year, said Richard Vanderkley. He’s operations manager for Adorna Landscaping.

Some of the delays were his company’s responsibility, he said.

“Staffing was a big issue,” said Vanderkley. Late in the season they lost a number of workers to the hunting season. But there were other factors beyond their control.

A blowout of the irrigation system that ties into the new public safety building took the city a long time to fix, and then there was an issue with topsoil, said Vanderkley.

“Normally we always just buy topsoil from our supplier, but the city decided to supply topsoil from the dump and it was just ridiculously slow in coming,” he said.

“We’d get a couple loads and then just have to wait a week or two ... We’d get five when we’d need a hundred.

“Because I was slowed down at the public safety building all summer we just didn’t get to the Shipyard Park’s job,” he said.

The city may be stretching itself too thin, Coun. Dave Stockdale.

“Over the last few years, we’ve received a lot of federal funding through gas tax money and Building Canada funds,” he said. “I was just wondering if we’re extending ourselves too far and we’ve taken on too much because the money’s available.”

He also worried that the operations and maintenance costs of new infrastructure might leave the city holding the bag.

But, because most of the Building Canada Fund and the gas tax money are usually used to replace aging infrastructure, it’s likely that the city will save money in operating and maintenance costs in the long run, said Shewfelt.

The way those funds are doled out does create some difficulties for smaller municipalities, like Whitehorse, that have relatively limited capacities, he added.

“The gas tax agreement also includes a clause that essentially requires a municipality to maintain their average level of capital expenditures that they would have carried on if there was no gas tax dollars,” said Shewfelt. “What that means, essentially, is that we can’t just replace what you would have done with gas tax money and not spend any of your own.”

And with a building boom going on it’s been even worse for the city.

“We’re also in a jurisdiction where we have, until the last couple of years, had a capacity issue in the counteracting sector as well,” said Shewfelt. “So that has complicated things a little bit as well.”

Council is set to vote on the issue next week.

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