At Kimberley City Council on Monday evening, Council received a report from City CAO Scott Sommerville entitled Learnings from Phase I of the Mark Creek Flume Project.
“In response to council’s request that the Auditor General for Local Government conduct a performance audit on the first phase of the flume project, and the AGLG politely declining the City’s invitation, I have taken the initiative to review the project and provide some recommendations to guide future projects,”Sommerville wrote.
He then went on to make nine recommendations around procurement policy, records keeping, how projects should be brought to the public etc.
“Looking at the nine recommendations, there isn’t anything that’s a silver bullet,” said Mayor Don McCormick. “There’s nothing we can point to exactly and say that was it. If people were expecting an epiphany, they may be disappointed.”
Rather, the recommendations are a reflection of policies and procedures that had become outdated and had not been updated in some time, the Mayor says.
“With small projects you don’t see the consequences,” he said. “You can outrun them, but when it comes to the big ones, you can’t.
“If you look back over time, there has been criticism of major projects. I’m thinking of the conference centre and the aquatic centre.”
McCormick said that Sommerville had concerns in terms of people being embarrassed by a hard look at phase one.
“At the end of the day there should be embarrassment,” McCormick said. “I am embarrassed. But the key is to understand what happened. That’s at the root of the recommendations and the decision last week to defer the flume project.”
McCormick says that city has published all the numbers that say where costs overran.
“We’ve said the rock in phase one ended up costing four to five hundred thousand more. We know there are some areas we went over, but that doesn’t explain why the budget went so wrong. These new policies and procedures speak to not getting the budget so far out of line with reality.”
McCormick said that many of the recommendations are part of the AGLG’s general recommendations.
“We went through those last year and that was the beginning. Many of these are well underway. We are well on our way to rectifying short comings. For example, the recommendation on records management. We’ve known quite a while that we are way behind on electronic record storage. We lack storage space, we’ve known this.
“The recommendation for an asset management plan, a process has begun to develop that.”
Another recommendation was that the City bring large projects to the voters through referendum whenever possible rather than using the Alternate Approval Process.
McCormick admits timing is an issue for referenda as there is a cost unless they are associated with municipal elections, but for large projects they are preferable.
“We went to a referendum for the Sun Mine for $2 million yet the AAP for $4.25 million for the flume? The AAP has its place but for a large project like the flume?”
The city is going to go ahead with the recommendations, McCormick said but the key really was discipline.
“At the end of the day it requires that a discipline be applied to projects. We need to avoid being influenced by emotion. When emotion gets involved, it trumps logic. We need to avoid that.”
1. Capital Planning and Procurement Policy should be developed and adopted by council to replace outdated purchasing policies.
2. The long-term and capital priorities should be further developed and an asset management plan created. Both should be communicated to the public.
3. Use of the Alternate Approval Process and counter-petition process for long-term borrowing should be limited to smaller projects or those requiring immediate financing. Borrowing for larger projects should be done by referendum in advance of the project commencement, in conjunction with extensive public consultation.
4. Whenever legally possible, council business should be conducted in meetings that are open to the public and not in staff meetings that council is invited to or in committee meetings with only a portion of council in attendance. Agendas and staff reports must be published well in advance of meetings and include specific staff recommendations. Minutes must be taken of these meetings recording attendance, resolutions and votes. Records management and retention must improve.
5. If a grant forms part of a project budget, confirmation of grant approval should be received before commencement of project whenever possible. There are no retroactive grants. If an expected grant is not forthcoming, the public should be informed.
6. Cost estimates for design, construction, contingency and full life cycle costs of ongoing maintenance must be realistic and scrutinized by the Finance Department and senior staff.
7. Engineered designs should be finalized well in advance of budgeting, borrowing, grant applications and tendering. Shelf-ready preliminary designs should be initiated for projects to assist with long term budgeting and to improve grant success. Tenders should be put out well in advance to maximize competitive participation and pricing.
8. Regular monthly updates on construction progress and budget to actual should be provided to council and to the public. Any exceptions to the approved budget or timelines must be brought to council and the public’s attention.
9. Upon completion of the project, a final review of the budget, schedule and technical aspects of construction should be presented to council and the public.