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Council gives staff ability to reprioritize, pause capital projects

Nearly unanimous vote comes in light of rising costs
20201005 South End Community Centre
Artistic rendering of the South End Community Centre.

In the face of significantly over-budget project bids and generally rising costs, council has given city staff the ability to reprioritize capital projects through the end of next year within the existing approved funding envelope, which may include putting some on hold.

That decision was approved 10-1, with councillors Mike Salisbury and Dominique O’Rourke absent from the Monday evening meeting.

“It is my opinion … that the mechanisms in place for council to have oversight are there for use to use when need be, the transparency provided by staff to us is in place, and the decisions already made by our staff have shown a great deal of trust and protection of taxpayers dollars,” argued Mayor Cam Guthrie ahead of the vote, in response to comments from Coun. Bob Bell.

Bell urged council to reject the idea, noting council used to award large tenders itself. He referred to the staff recommendation as “the last step in removing all control from city council.”

“City staff do not represent the wishes of the citizens of the city of Guelph, but we do,” he stated, prompting a request from Coun. Leanne Caron for an apology to city staff, which Bell didn’t give after clarifying his point was that council is accountable to voters while staff isn’t.

In explaining the “checks and balances” for council, staff stated council and the public will be updated quarterly on the capital projects, including outlining which projects are moving ahead with inflationary increases and which are not, at which time council members can pull items for discussion.

Any project reprioritization that occurs would be done within the overall funding envelope previously approved by council, with any delayed projects included in 2024 and beyond city budgets.

A staff report and delegated authority recommendation come after bids for the South End Community Centre (SECC) came in significantly over the council-approved budget of $80 million last month. The lowest of three bids was for $121 million.

A tender has not been awarded for that project. Rather, in response to the bids city staff put the project on hold until the issue of inflationary pressures could be addressed.

Including projects carried over from last year, there’s currently $576.9 million worth of capital projects on the books for 2022, notes the staff report. In approving its first multi-year budget last fall, council endorsed another $143.7 million in capital projects for 2023.

Of that, the report explains, $87.8 million is already committed through construction contracts.


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Richard Vivian

About the Author: Richard Vivian

Richard Vivian is an award-winning journalist and longtime Guelph resident. He joined the GuelphToday team as assistant editor in 2020, largely covering municipal matters and general assignment duties
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