By Trevor Busch
Remedial work to improve the old rodeo grounds dry pond facility in Taber’s northwest will exceed the original estimate by more than $40,000.
At their July 20 meeting, town council voted 5-1 to award the rehabilitation of the old rodeo grounds water detention pond project to DirtWorld Contracting Inc. for $141,147.50, based on that company’s Request for Quotation submission, to be allocated from operating reserves.
Mayor Henk De Vlieger declared a pecuniary interest and left council chambers for the duration of the discussion and vote. Coun. Joe Strojwas opposed the motion.
Based on estimates received on June 22, council had only allocated $100,000 for the complete excavation and rehabilitation of the facility, plus a 10 per cent contingency, from capital reserves. Three companies (Pinnacle Sod, Bos Scapes, and Love’s Landscaping) had been contacted to provide their professional opinion of options for addressing the issue, and had submitted their recommendations.
“We’re getting really out of hand on the price on this all of a sudden,” said Coun. Jack Brewin, prior to the vote. “It’s gone up so much, it’s beyond what we budgeted.”
In general, the original recommendations made by the consultants included excavating the old soil, ensuring the existing clay liner is not damaged, installing new weeping tile and rock, replacing the irrigation system, adding topsoil, and enhancing drainage to the weeping tile, as well as replacement of sod.
The area in question slated for improvement includes a dry pond and a park, and has been a perennial problem for the Town of Taber with the pond, grass areas, shrub, flower and wood-chip plant beds and rock-flanking concrete paths posing difficulties for the town in terms of maintenance since 2012.
At their May 25 meeting, council had reviewed a petition from local residents in Taber’s northwest regarding their concerns about the old rodeo grounds detention pond, and directed administration to follow up with experts to identify possible corrective actions.
Three proposals were received during the tender process which closed on July 17 and were presented to council, including Ground Tech Enterprises ($139,975), Grumpy’s Landscaping Ltd. ($163,250), and DirtWorld Contracting Inc. ($141,147.50).
Strojwas took issue with discrepancies in the tender document which appeared to suggest that the bids submitted to council for consideration were non-compliant.
“I’m concerned, because it seems like we get so many of these bid documents, and there’s things missing on all of them all the time. How do we know whether they’re in compliance? When I look at it, basically it tells me nobody is in compliance. I’m sorry, but that’s the way I read it.”
Following an apology and explanation of erroneous information in the tender document by recreation supervisor Trent Smith, Strojwas continued to attack the inflexibility of the tender process.
“We’re so sticky on having all of our ducks in a row with all of these other bid documents. We’ve refused bids with a piece of paper missing that could have saved the town a couple of hundred thousand dollars. I know there’s not much here — they’re all very close — but I think there’s a process here that isn’t being followed all the time. I think if the town is going to stick to bid documents, or the way things are laid out, things needs to be in compliance, or we need to say to these companies — and this would be my recommendation — I think all three of these are non-compliant. I would call each of these three companies and give them 24 hours to get the rest of their paperwork in here to submit to be compliant, or not.”
Not as readily concerned about tender compliance, Coun. Andrew Prokop expressed disapproval about the project exceeding the budget set by town council.
“When we were going through our dressing room addition to the civic centre, one of the bids that came in was non-compliant, and two of the three bids were 40 to 45 per cent over — we tossed those out and went back to the drawing board. So here we are, we’re at the same scenario with a different project request, and we’re at that 40 per cent level again. That’s sky high — to me, us as council members, when we have a $100,000 budget, we’re looking to be somewhere within that. If you came in five, 10 per cent, maybe that’s reasonable. But 40 per cent? I have a big concern about that, and I don’t know we justify it to our taxpaying community.”
Displaying a measure of consensus with fellow councillors on the issue, Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux pressured administration to keep project estimates as accurate as possible in future.
“I just mentioned at the last council meeting that we need to do better than how we are budgeting for these tenders. We are undervaluing them — in this case by 40 per cent. I think administration needs to add some more questions — we have to be really specific. When you bring this to council, we only have ‘x’ amount of dollars, we can’t keep dipping into these reserves. This is happening time and time again. We can’t afford this. I think administration really needs to examine how they’re bringing these budget numbers forward. It’s getting out of hand now.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz appeared to agree.
“I don’t know what you guys put out for tender, but all the t’s need to be crossed and the i’s dotted, before we send it out to tender, and some of these things haven’t been addressed, and we need to do that when we tender things out, otherwise we go into the contingency.”
His tone of voice betraying irritation with the topic of discussion, Coun. Randy Sparks berated his fellow councillors for misconceptions about the nature of the project under consideration.
“We have to remember, councillors, that this $100,000 was not a budget item. It was not a budget item, it was an estimate given by somebody. So we shouldn’t be talking budget here, because it wasn’t a budgeted item. This is an item that has come because we need to help these people. So please don’t talk about it being in the budget, because it wasn’t. This was an estimate, given by a contractor, thinking that this was what it was going to cost the Town of Taber to fix this problem. All these contractors were sent out the exact measurements and everything that needed to be done. That’s why it’s more. It’s not a guessing game, these are the measurements, this is what we need done here, that’s the reason for the extra $41,000. There’s nothing else — that’s the deal.”
Ross-Giroux curtly refused to back down on the topic.
“I just think we need to be more careful when we’re throwing numbers around.”
Strojwas returned to the idea of allowing non-compliant bidding companies to get their “ducks in a row” instead of dismissing the bid outright.
“We’re given this document, an evaluation of the three companies, and we make decisions based on this document. You can say it’s in error, and I accept your apology, but still this is mandatory and there’s not one of these companies here that are compliant. Under that basis, I’m sorry, but I can’t approve something when these companies aren’t compliant. We throw all kinds of other bids out the door because they’re not compliant. This is a document that was presented to us that we’re supposed to make a decision on, we need to find a way to get around this.”
Sparks pointed out this would violate the spirit of the tender process and might represent a procedural violation.
“That’s not how it works, Joe. We have documents in front of us, that we have to vote on tonight. If this is voted down, this whole process starts over from scratch. It all has to be advertised again, it all has to be done again — over and over and over again. There’s lots more I could say about this, but I’m not, because we’re getting in a bad habit of doing this. Continuing to re-tender, re-tender. This mandatory thing? That means nothing.”