Local Initiatives Reporter
Renfrew -- In a recorded vote, Renfrew town council rejected a recommendation by the town’s Development and Works Committee not to award a tender and instead voted in favour of accepting the sole bid of $3.59 million for scheduled work in the area of O’Brien Road near Innovation Drive.
The bid was submitted by Bonnechere Excavating Inc. (BEI) of Renfrew.
BEI is the same company the town is currently in negotiations with for previous work on the downtown core and the same company council previously rejected a $2.69 million bid primarily because it was the only tender submitted.
BEI’s bid was for reconstruction work on the Highway 60 project involving Mask Road and Innovation Drive. With both roads maintained by town staff and with another town asset, O’Brien Road involved, the town qualifies for funding under the province’s Connecting Links program. Because Highway 60 links up to O’Brien Road, it qualifies for 89 percent provincial funding and allows the local municipality to pay only 11 cents on every dollar of a construction project.
With the province paying the other 89 cents, it is considered by many municipalities as the most generous and continual infrastructure program and one Renfrew has had incredible success with over the years.
BEI’s $3.59 million bid is about $600,000 more than the company’s original tender. The final number was based on factors such as scaled back enhancements and the unpredictability of the costs of diesel fuel and materials. The province will pay up to a maximum of $3 million for a project and the town would cover the remaining costs of approximately $600,000.
In his report to council, Director of Development and Works, Mike Asselin, listed some of the major projects the town has received in excess of $11 million over the years. They include downtown revitalization and the O’Brien Road upgrades. It was noted the town has a very high success rate at not only getting grants from the program but has been able to maximize the $3 million awarded on more than one occasion, something not seen very often.
Mr. Asselin told council in no uncertain terms that if they decide not to accept the $3 million allocation from the province, they may lose it.
“Due to the election (and writ), requests for extension will not be considered until the fall of 2022, which would be too late to complete the project in 2022 and is a high risk in waiting,” he said in his report. “If an extension into 2023 is not granted by the MTO, then the town would lose the $3M in MTO funding.”
Chair Livid With Council’s Choice
When Councillor Mike Coulas, Chair of the Development and Works Committee was called on by Mayor Don Eady for comments, he wasted no time letting his colleagues know how he felt about their decision to reject his committee’s recommendation.
“I still feel as a member of this committee … well, at least for a few more months anyway … but I still think approving this is a mistake,” he said. “Scaling back the project is wrong. We had this project engineered and we paid for the engineer. We are currently in negotiations with the same company going back four years to fix up the problems yet there was no consideration for that at all.
“Going back to the question, Councillor (Tom) Sydney just asked about contingency funds and we had contingency funds for Raglan Street and apparently that wasn’t enough back then either. We could very well ask for an extension and re-tender it back out in the fall.”
He said the project was not tendered out until April, which is about two months behind other construction projects, so it should not come as a surprise the final number is relatively high. According to Coun. Coulas, ministry officials say it is becoming much more frequent for bids to be on the high side and for some small centres like Renfrew, it becomes a financial burden.
He then inquired as to why the engineers they hire for the tendering process appear to be providing council with invalid information.
“Why are we getting nailed every time we request a tender? What is going on here? Are the engineers not pricing their jobs as per the current rates? Are we not adjusting to the new economy? We need to get answers for this.”
Mr. Asselin explained the engineers are fully qualified and specialize in municipal infrastructure. He said Renfrew and several other local governments utilize their services and they are respected within their field.
“What we have seen in other bids is the high cost of fuel driving up the costs. Maybe market saturation is small and there are not many around and I do understand your frustration with this process and we would have to apply again and even then we would not even hear until September,” he said.
Councillor Andrew Evans said it would be irresponsible to turn down a limited grant and be allocated the maximum amount of $3 million.
“I could not say no to an invitation to take up to $3million for funding this project,” he said. “Inflation is going up and the price of everything is going up so yes, I would jump on that opportunity for $3 million.”
Mayor Eady called for all those in favour of awarding the tender to raise their hands and the motion passed. However, Councillor Arlene Jamieson did not raise her hand. When Mayor Eady began to read the first of two readings of the by-law formally accepting the final bid submitted by BEI, Councillor Sandi Heins requested a recorded vote.
Reeve Emon and Councillors Evans and Heins voted in favour as Clerk Kim Bulmer read off their names. Then he called on Coun. Jamieson for her vote.
The old saying you could cut the tension with a knife was never truer than when she was literally squirming in her chair as council members stared at their computer monitors waiting for her answer.
After about 10 seconds of putting her head in her hands and fidgeting, she leaned forward and said: “Oh God, I guess since I don’t have a choice, then I will vote in favour.”
The by-law passed with the only vote against cast by Coun. Coulas.
Following the meeting he confirmed he sent out an email to his colleagues expressing his disappointment on overruling the committee’s recommendation. He suggested those actions should have the mayor consider a restructuring of the committee if council is making it a practice of ignoring committee recommendations and making decisions on their own.
He said he has not made up his mind whether or not to seek re-election this fall.
“I am going to wait until after the provincial election is over and maybe even then wait until September,” he told the Leader. “I have found there really isn’t any excitement about municipal elections until after Labour Day anyway. I remain undecided and you can never predict what may be coming up.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader