Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Township Council Votes NO To Prevent Future Cost Overruns!

Rest of Langley Township Council Votes Against Richter/Bateman Motion to in Future Prevent More Grandstand “Fast Ferry” Type Projects!

All of Council last night except for Councillors Richter & Bateman voted against the motion “that Council take action to prevent similar significant budget escalations on future major capital projects...”

Sources who were at the 7 PM Council meeting clarified the following information and forwarded to us the attached documents herein. We thank them for that. Apparently the Motion (actual motion viewed here) that Councillor Kim Richter submitted and that Councillor Jordan Bateman agreed to second was discussed at last night’s Township meeting and failed by a vote of 7 to 2. Apparently only Mayor Alberts and Councillor Mel Kosistky spoke up to say they did not support the motion because they thought that the preamble to the motion had things in it that were not true or correct. Looking at the motion you will see that the preamble only discusses the dollars going up at the Nov 29, 2004 Council meeting from the originally planned $3 million to $4 million when the Federal and Provincial funding was confirmed. The remaining preamble then refers to bumping it up to $5.2 million at the Dec 21, 2005 Council meeting.

In rebuttal to Alberts and Kositsky’s accusations, Richter referenced her motion and specifically asked staff to confirm or deny 2 key questions. They were: 1. In November 2004, was a new $4 million total for the project and a $1.58 million cap on Township's contribution to the project approved in accordance with staff's recommendation?; and 2. Was 80% of an additional $1.2 Million (over and above the $4 Million) approved on December 21, 2005? Their answer was yes to both questions with some vague waffling. The waffles were not elaborated on, discussed or understood at all. Nor did Mayor Alberts or Councillor Kositsky ever once explain what they thought were untruths in Richter’s motion preamble. Why? Is it because her preamble is accurate and very well documented?

The attached documents (slide presentation viewed here- large 12mb file) shows the entire slide presentation made by Staff to Council on November 29, 2004. As you will see, staff clearly recommends which cost action to proceed with (i.e. Option 2 - $4.0 Million). The covering letter (dated January 17, 2006) on the first page of the slide presentation states that it does not include any “actual” Council resolutions that may have resulted from the presentation. However, the Council as you can see from the actual minutes of the very same Nov 29, 2004 meeting (Minutes Nov 29/04 viewed here) went along with the November 2004 staff recommendations almost word for word and except for Councillors Arnason and Richter chose to increase the project dollars by $1 million to the Option 2 – Medium Scope of $4 million. In fact the motion clearly stated that not a penny more should be spent on the Grandstand! They chose this one over both Option 1 – Smallest Scope of $3.1 million or Option 3 – Original Scope of $5.7 million.

View these options yourself in the attached slide presentation. Yes, the Council decided in Nov 2004 not to stick with the $3 million amount as initialed planned for the Grandstand which they could have hopefully done by going with Option 1 (although much smaller in scope than initially desired and the presentation suggested it had an upside risk amount of extra unknown $).

As a footnote comment, in our opinion, Council should ideally have refused all options and sent the whole project back for redesign to get it back to closer to a firm $3 million design. It seems that staff clearly submitted the $3 million Option 1 in case the Council decided to stick more closely with the previous very first $3.06 million estimated amount that Council approved on August 25, 2003 and submitted to the federal and provincial governments for joint funding. On April 5, 2004, this was again endorsed by Council. However, by November 2004, Council changed its cost position and went with staff's recommendation for the $4 million Option 2. Most recently on December 21, 2005 once again with Councillor Richter opposed, Council again increased the project's dollar funding to $5 million at taxpayers expense. This project clearly started at $3 m went to $4 m and now is at $5 million!

The decision of all of Council, except for Richter and Bateman, to vote against the motion is a travesty because they do not at all clarify or even attempt to clarify why or what they think is untrue. Staff FAQ’s also confirm Richter’s chronology and facts. Council minutes and the slide presentation also confirm the motions and more importantly show that this Grandstand project has undisputedly gone from $3 to $4 to $5 million with the Township’s cost portion rising from the first contemplated $800,000 to over $3 million. Those are the facts. Attached is the documenting proof.

Answers to the real questions arising out of last night’s Council meeting should be demanded. Specifically, why was this motion defeated? What items in Richter’s motion preamble are not deemed true? Why weren't these disagreements discussed in last night's meeting? Is this simply an attempt to hide the truth from the taxpayers in Langley? Is it an attempt to punish the messenger? Is this a cover up? Or, is it just very bad business sense coupled with an out-of-control "Tax , Spend & Borrow" Council that cares more about getting themselves top of the line Blackberry cell phones than keeping tax dollars low? Or is there another answer? What is the real answer?

This Council has rejected Richter’s motion that would have at least put some new measures in place to help prevent this Grandstand fiasco from occurring again. But a $5 million Grandstand project cost, initially planned at $3 million, is a very big deal especially when we end up probably paying $3 million instead of our initially planned $800, 000 portion of it compared to our 3 partners. But $3 million when Township only brings in about $80 million annually represents about 4% of our annual budget and is a big deal. Not only should we be trying to prevent this from happening again but we should try to hire a Sheila Fraser type of auditor to investigate this to find out why this gross overrun happened in the first place and why the apparent attempt to stifle Councilor Richter and cover this up.

Unfortunately, we were told that only the Times were in attendance at last night's Council meeting. It will be interesting to see what their take is on the attempt to rewrite history on the Grandstand cost overruns. Stay tuned.

For more information on the Grandstand fiasco see the initial columns by Councillor Richter who broke the story here first in Langley Free Press. The links to view are here, here and here.

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