Council votes down admin recommendation to handle cost overruns on 100 St. and trail projects

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by Colin Smith

Morinville administration says staffing changes made last January will better manage capital projects and eliminate cost overruns on future projects.

Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne outlined the changes at Tuesday’s regular town council meeting during a discussion of financing for $309,410 in outstanding costs for the 100 Street improvements and leisure trail construction. These costs were in addition to $355,000 approved for the same projects by the previous Council in May of this year.

“As a result of this issue and a few others there have been some staffing changes that we announced in January,” Labonne said.

“Also, the last Council approved hiring of a capital projects coordinator who has the responsibility of ensuring all of our capital projects are delivered within scope, on time and on budget to ensure that we don’t have to address this ever again.”

Labonne assured Council that circumstances outside their control had led to the issue and those had been addressed.

“I am confident in the team we have assembled now, and that this won’t happen again,” he said.

Labonne made the remarks after Council’s rejection of an administration recommendation that extra Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds be allocated to address the “unanticipated” cost overruns for roadway improvements to 100 Street completed in 2020.

Initial financial issues related to these projects included additional costs due to the need to put an additional stormwater connection beneath 100 Street, and the construction of a retaining wall along the East Boundary Road Trail to provide bank stabilization and improve operational efficiency.

A reallocation of MSI funds by Council in May 2021 covered most of these overruns, but a further $309,410 in outstanding costs has surfaced, the result mainly of incorrect allocation of the statutory 10% construction holdback, plus land acquisition, landscaping and engineering.

To settle these balances, the administration recommended that the town reallocate  $289,000 in available MSI funding originally designated for a project that Council had decided to cancel, but which the MSI program staff had not done.

Funding from the cancelled project and a small amount of additional MSI available due to projects that came under budget would be enough to cover the whole of the remaining balance.

After the administration’s recommendation was voted down, Council approved a motion by Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe to instead draw the required funds from the General Capital Reserve.

“I think if we have spare MSI money it would be better allocated to roads rather than asking for a nearly 1% special tax,” Dafoe said.

This reserve is currently in a deficit so the necessary amount will need to be transferred from the Utilities Reserve.

Council also passed a further motion by Dafoe directing the administration to bring forward a report on how the $289,000 in MSI funds could be used in the 2022 budget.

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