West Nipissing Council awarded the contract to refurbish and expand the public works garage in Verner to Capital Construction, though soaring construction costs meant their quoted price was well above what had been budgeted.
The project had been approved in years past and budgeted for around $355,000. But after putting off the work due to COVID-19, and with the pandemic resulting in increased costs of supplies, Capital Construction won the deal with a low bid of $618,536 plus HST.
As both staff and council acknowledged at the special meeting held on the afternoon of Aug. 30, despite the increased costs, the state of the Public Works building was such that the improvements couldn’t be put off any longer.
“The building itself, I had visited a couple of times and it is in dire need of repairs, there’s no question about it. The roof is leaking, the walls are deteriorating at the bottom… it provides an entry for any rodents that want to come into the building… it’s a bothersome issue for the workers that are there to have to deal with these rodents, and it’s something that we have to address fairly quickly,” said Coun. Yvon Duhaime.
Public works manager Shawn Remillard said that the price could have been even higher: the steel building supplier told the municipality there could be an additional 8% added to the cost if their order wasn’t placed by Aug. 27. However, they were able to get that deadline extended to after the council meeting.
During discussions, Coun. Lise Sénécal questioned why they were unable to see the rise in costs coming. Remillard said that budgeting is ultimately a guessing game and those were the numbers that engineering consultant Granville Vickerman provided. “Historically a building of this type would cost X amount and he bumps it up by 10-15%… We are in a pandemic, we have to understand that. Had we predicted this, then absolutely, I probably wouldn’t be working here if I was able to predict this. It’s an unfortunate part, but to be honest, should it happen again, I don’t think there’s anything we could do differently.”
Administration noted the cost could be covered using whatever the municipality has left over in surplus at the end of the year, or barring that, they can dip into the town’s reserve funds.
Coun. Rolly Larabie said they should back the project as an acknowledgement that council supports the community of Verner, which has been without representation since Jeremy Seguin resigned last summer.
The vote passed 7 to 1, with Coun. Denis Sénécal the lone vote against. Following the successful vote, Coun. Duhaime reminded the rest of council that the Sturgeon Falls garage will soon need similar repairs and that they should get a move on to avoid the same situation.
Playground upgrades coming across West Nipissing
Council awarded the contract for new playground construction in Lavigne and upgrades at parks in Sturgeon Falls, Verner and Field, meaning the improved structures should be ready to go for next spring.
The lone bidder for the contract was CRCS Recreation, whose $243,311 bid came in slightly over the budgeted amount of $235,000. The additional $8,311 can be covered from the Community Services capital reserve.
Lavigne will get a brand new playground installed at the outdoor rink, along Caron Road. The parks in Sturgeon Falls on LeBlanc St. and Janen St. will have the existing equipment, deemed unsafe, removed and replaced, as will the park on Piette St. in Verner. Field will see its existing playground equipment moved to the municipal lot on Grand Allée.
Because it will take up to 12 weeks for the equipment to arrive, work will likely be completed in Spring 2022.
Municipal naming by-law
At next meeting, council will discuss whether to rename the Sturgeon Falls Arena after a former councillor, after passing the Municipal Asset Naming by-law at the Aug. 30 special meeting.
The request to rename the arena in honour of Marcel Labbé, who served as a Sturgeon Falls councillor for 31 years, was submitted earlier this year. Labbé passed away Nov. 11, 2020. His daughter Dianne wrote to council in February requesting the arena be named after him, but council wanted to put off the decision until they had the naming by-law in place.
Council was presented with a proposed by-law at their July 13 meeting but then sought to amend that draft and remove sections regarding public consultation and notice. The bylaw that returned this week basically gives council full power in the naming process, although they will accept submissions from the public at any time.
The discussion regarding renaming the arena after Mr. Labbé should be on the agenda for their Sept. 7 meeting.
The reason council needed to hold a special meeting was that they once again ran out of time to address every item on their Aug. 17 agenda, following an incredibly inefficient discussion about, ironically, how to spend the municipality’s efficiency study funds.
Council was presented with a list of six studies that municipal staff thought could feasibly be covered by the remainder of the Municipal Efficiency and Service Delivery Fund that the province provided in 2019. About $150,000 of those funds had been committed to a Strategic Community Plan and the hiring of a Special Projects coordinator, but staff believed the remaining $575,00 could cover a Fire Master Plan, water rate study, waste transfer station study, housing development strategy, the Weyerhaeuser land use feasibility study and municipal asset mapping.
Initially during roundtable discussions, councillors were receptive to all the studies, but Coun. Denis Sénécal expressed fear that the Fire Master Plan would somehow lead to smaller communities losing their fire stations. “I just think if we’re going to deal with this issue, it should be dealt with on its own as a separate matter, because this really scares me and I would vote against everything just for that. That’s my opinion.”
Staff and fellow councillors pointed out that they don’t have to accept all recommendations of the fire plan and can even include, in their request for proposal, that station relocation not be part of the study. Still, the fire plan quickly became a hot button issue.
Mayor Joanne Savage argued that the budget for fire services was smaller than other services and that they should look to get “more bang for their buck” by examining other studies that hadn’t been suggested by staff. Some of council wanted to trust the Director of Corporate Services’ recommendation.
“Again, here we are spinning the wheels on something that was presented to us by staff saying that these are recommendations,” said Coun. Dan Roveda. “I think we should be respecting what the staff has presented to us as being legit, they feel that these are the things that meet the requirements of the funds… I would think that we should move forward on these things. We have the money to spend, it’s been recommended by staff, they’re the professionals, they know what they’re talking about and we should move forward.”
Once it became clear that the recommendation wouldn’t pass as a whole, Coun. Chris Fisher noted he wouldn’t support the water rate study, because it would have little impact on Field. Ultimately, council had to vote on each study separately, with both the water rate plan and master fire plan getting defeated, and the other four getting passed.
The entire discussion ate up 50 minutes of the three-hour meeting.
Wedding license rates going up
It’s going to be more costly to tie the knot in West Nipissing, after council voted unanimously to increase the price of wedding licences to catch up to surrounding municipalities.
The local fee for happy couples had been set at $100 since 2001, despite it costing the municipality more than that in staff hours to produce. As a memo to council noted, “there had recently been a significant increase by non-local individuals seeking to purchase their marriage licences in West Nipissing due to significantly lower cost.”
North Bay, Sudbury and other surrounding municipalities all charge over $150 for licences.
During the vote, Coun. Fisher suggested that they raise the price to $160, since they likely wouldn’t be revisiting the item for some time and it would still be in line with those nearby municipalities. In response, Coun. Denis Sénécal couldn’t resist flipping the narrative from the previous efficiency study discussion.
“If the staff has recommended with $150, then we go with $150. You’ve been telling us all along that we should go with staff recommendation, so what’s the issue?” The new rate was set at $150.