As a taxpayer I appreciate a local politician who is concerned about overspending and looking after our tax dollars.
“First of all in my opinion it does not conform at all to the best practices and standards that have been used in the past. The decision could undermine council’s credibility. It really defies logic. In my opinion it is really questionable in terms of a responsible decision.”
Who said this at a June 10, 2019, council meeting? Does anyone know? These quotes come from the Meaford Independent and were the words of Mayor Clumpus.
She was upset that a majority of councillors wanted to upgrade the surface of a small road project in Sydenham with asphalt vs tar and chip. The extra cost would be about $80,000-90,000. She really came across as a financially responsible and cost conscious protector of the taxpayer $. She portrayed the councillors who did not agree with her as illogical and irresponsible(not following past practices). Also council’s credibility was put in question. Yes she came across as the taxpayer’s best friend as she wanted to save $80-$90,000. Does she always display these traits as a protector of our taxpayer $?
Let us look at the journey of the new library .
In September of 2017 our Mayor is quoted in the Meaford Express that our new library will be located in downtown Meaford at 11 Sykes St., the former Foodland building. She did not mention any costs just that this was to be the new location. On October 16, 2017, at the regular council meeting staff presented a long report indicating that the Foodland site was the most economical alternative as compared to a myriad of other sites. Surprise surprise! The projected cost presented at the meeting was that it would be about $4,591,000. A new build, one of the alternatives, was quoted at about $6,200,000. Based on reserves, the sale of the OPP building, the project would be done with about $3,000,000 in debt. The council at the time accepted this proposal as they deemed that our old library was insufficient for the 4,000 card holders. In the interest of best practices staff were told to obtain an appraisal on the land so that a deal could be possibly struck with the vendor.
Two weeks later on October 30, 2017, we learn the following: The land had been purchased at $1,525,000 without an independent appraisal or any due diligence on the old building with regards to soil suitability, environmental concerns, etc. Apparently the staff and council used an appraisal provided by the vendor. Some of us asked to see this appraisal but it was never produced because we were told that the vendor would not agree to release it. Does this sound like best practices? At the same meeting staff indicated that the cost would now be closer to $5,500,000 as the original $4,591,000 did not have any soft costs or contingencies in it. So where is our cost conscious responsible mayor? Did she get her hackles up over a $900,000 increase? No. No outrage that the land was bought without any due diligence. No speech about the logic of supporting a project with such a large increase in expenditure. The staff were sent away with the task of presenting a plan on how the municipality would finance the new cost.
On November 13, 2018, a new plan to finance the library was presented and staff came up with some other buried reserves (parkland and other), more development charge money, and a plan by the Friends of the Library to collect donations for about $750K. With this proposed money our debt on the library would go down from almost $3,000,000 as originally proposed to $2,300,000. This seemed like a good compromise, after all the local library supporters were now covering almost 85% of the $900,000 increase and our council at the time approved going ahead. All was quiet through the election with most candidates including the mayor supportive of the new library as presented. Any candidate that uttered that the new library was too expensive and should be shelved was defeated.
Nothing was reported over the next few months about the library project aside from the progress of the donation campaign and sessions reviewing plans and allowing the public input on what should be included were held. In February staff came to council and reported some additional costs due to the tariff situation on steel and aluminum and the fact that the soil near the river was “too squishy” so pilings would be needed to shore up the building. No overrun was reported as staff said the $300-400K increase would be offset by the contingency fund in the $5,500,000 estimate. Council was concerned and some said that they were worried about the final cost and some privately and publicly said that $5,500,000 was to be the tipping point on whether this project would have their support. Did our mayor the protector of our tax $ rant about potential overruns and climbing costs? Did she express concern that the contingency fund was almost used up by these latest developments and bids had not yet been finalized? No.
All was quiet for a few months and then on July 15 staff presented the results of the construction bids for the new library. The recommendation was to take the lowest bid but the cost of the project with extravagant fireplace, a parkette, etc. has now ballooned to about $7,100,000. This project was now $2,609,000 over the estimate provided on October 16,2017, (about 58%) and $1,600,000 over the revised budget of October 30, 2017. Furthermore we still do not know if this is the final number. When you renovate old buildings there are many unforeseen expenses. Remember our Meaford Hall experience! This project has been a runaway train since first proposed. The costs have escalated greatly and our mayor, the main backer of this project, has never publicly questioned the costs. More importantly the public donation campaign has been recognized at $500K. This is quite disturbing as the campaign has really only collected about $350K of the proposed $750K. For some reason a grant from the Trillium Foundation of $150K has been included in their funding. This money was granted to the Municipality of Meaford not the Friends of the Library. The people pushing for this new library have not delivered and now we the taxpayer are back on the hook for a mortgage of $3,000,000 if not more, with the potential of further overruns once construction is underway. Also the proposed financing of this inflated project now assumes we are going to get a further government grant of $366,000. Supposedly we have been trying for almost two years to get grant money and we have been unsuccessful except for the Trillium grant. Our debt will probably end up higher by the time this is all over.
Her scolding and outrage over a $90K extra expense for a road in Sydenham back in June vividly contrasts to her silence on a project in the Town proper that has spiralled out of control with the latest extra cost of $1,600,000. In fact she was the first recorded vote for Yes - accept the contract. Let’s look back at her rebuke of our councillors in June. Were Best Practices followed on this project? No. Has council’s credibility been undermined? Absolutely.
Is this a responsible and a logical decision? No. Remember, a new build with minimum risk of overruns was suggested at $6,200,000 in the report to council on October 16,2017.
By her actions our Mayor is not a consistent protector of our tax payer money. As far back as September 2017 she stated publically that the Foodland site was to be the home of Meaford’s new library. Based on what we now know minimizing costs was never a priority and this project was going to be built regardless of the cost to taxpayers.
Barry Vallier, Annan