Monday, September 1, 2008

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Measure twice, cut once. It's an old carpenter's axiom, suggesting that it's best to be sure, before you take an action that can't be reversed. As a long-time home renovator, it's a phrase that Andrea says to me quite often. But it works well in life, too, telling you that it's best to have all pertinent information before moving forward on decisions that aren't easily corrected.

I thought of this when I received an update memo on Friday on the soccer centre construction. The first step in construction, putting in the pilings, is going to cost more than twice the amount that was in the estimates - $638,846.00 rather than $256,640.00. This is apparently due to the soil condition on the site, which lacks strong glaced till. To cover this shortfall, $382,206 of the $962,980 contingency fund will be used, leaving less than $600,000 in the contingency fund to cover any other discrepancies between budgeted items and the actual tenders that may be received for the rest of the construction. This decision was made by the City Manager - in July, council gave him sole authority for arranging tenders and contracts for the soccer centre when the awarding of such tenders would not fall within the normal cycle of council meetings. Since council hasn't met since August 11th, this decision would qualify, although emergency council meetings have been called for less costly items.

A number of questions come to mind. Was a soil survey done before the site was selected? What factors were considered when the decision on where to build the centre was made? Were other building budget decisions made on insufficient evidence that will require further dipping into the contingency fund? Considering the way that construction costs seem to be rising daily, is there anything that can be done to put more money into the contingency fund, so that taxpayers won't be expected to pay even more for this facility?

I have asked repeatedly to see minutes of soccer centre committee meetings. I would like to know what information the committee used to make the decision to locate the centre in a location that is on the edge of town, and on land that has to be purchased, rather than using existing city land that is more centrally located. So far I haven't received any response. Considering that last week I received answers to two inquiries, one made last December, the other in March, and have several more outstanding, I don't expect to get the answers to most of these questions anytime soon.

In July, council also decided to add additional features to the soccer centre, since more money was donated than originally anticipated. We did this, even though a poll in the local paper had 31% of respondents suggesting that putting the money into a contingency fund would be a good idea, with 43% supporting putting the money into future operating costs, and only 27% supporting a bigger, better centre. A poll that I ran on the same topic had 44% in favour of reducing the city's contribution, to give a break to taxpayers, 37% wanting the money set aside to help pay for operating costs, 10% thinking that adding the money to a contingency fund was the way to go, and 6% wanting more features added to the centre.

Is there anything that council can do, now that more than one-third of our contingency fund has been spent? We could reconsider the motion to add additional features to the centre, instead putting excess funds into a contingency fund. Should the entire fund not be used, then leftover funds could help to pay operating costs.

This item was not included in the agenda for Tuesday's Executive Committee meeting, but the report will be on our desks for the meeting. Because the decision has been made, it will be only an information item on next week's council agenda. But I will pursue the matter, to try to get some answers to questions that could have long-term financial implications for taxpayers. Doing this, although some might see it as being negative, is part of doing my job.

"Never be ashamed to admit you were wrong. You're only saying that you're wiser today than you were yesterday" - Dave Gilpin

1 comment:

Barb said...

As a professor in the College of Engineering said recently to his class: "There will always be silly people who want to build on clay ... and that is why engineers can afford to have big, beautiful cabins at northern Saskatchewan lakes." What soil testing was done before the site selection was made?