Prince George councillors took a look at 13 capital projects that are currently underway in the city during last night’s (June 15) meeting.
While some of the 13 projects are on or under budget, the Fire Hall #1 replacement was an outlier as its projected to go $2 million over budget.
The city had originally budgeted $15 million for the Fire Hall, set to replace the current main station at Dominion Street and Seventh Avenue, but the projected expenditure is now $17 million.
“There’s a few reasons for this,” says the city’s director of engineering Adam Holmes.
“The building itself did get bigger. When we brought our design team together and started again re-engaging the stakeholders, the fire department and the Regional District, we found the program space was too small.”
He said they needed more room for fire dispatch, mechanical rooms and space on the first floor for the working fire department.
The building went from 21,000 sq. ft. to 26,000 sq. ft.
“It’s also feeling the effects of COVID-19,” added Holmes, noting there are a number of delays with materials but the project is still scheduled to be completed and fully operational later this year.
All of these capital projects are funded through the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA).
“I am concerned it is an extra two million,” said Coun. Brian Skakun after Holmes’ presentation. “Maybe there wasn’t enough homework done at the beginning of what the actual costs are going to be COVID aside.”
Skakun added that going over budget was frustrating and unacceptable.
Currently, as per the city’s Sustainable Finance Guidelines, cumulative budget amendments in a calendar year of up to five per cent of the total operating budget may be approved by the city manager Kathleen Soltis.
If the cumulative budget amendments in a calendar year total five per cent of the total operating budget, subsequent budget amendments must be approved by council and any required amendments would be funded from reserves.
Coun. Cori Ramsay introduced a motion to change this process as before the guidelines were updated council had to approve any amendments over $1 million.
“Making an amendment to that will allow those reports to come back to council so we can really keep an eye on those,” said Ramsay.
She moved that any budget amendments greater than $2 million require council approval, explaining that she suggested that figure because the $1-million benchmark was changed as it was identified as being too restrictive.
“I have no objection that it might be changed, and $2 million could be a perfectly appropriate number, but I think its best that it’s referred back to the finance and audit committee,” said Soltis suggesting director of finance Kris Dalio research the impact of the change.
“I think referring it back to finance and audit is a great way to have more information on this,” said Ramsay.
Another project that has felt the effects of COVID-19 is the downtown pool which is still in the procurement phase.
“The design is fully completed on this project and we are very anxious to get started,” said Holmes during his presentation.
He says the city is currently waiting on the official word for a grant it applied to through the federal and provincial government, but was unsuccessful in obtaining a $500,000 grant for the project through Canadian Tire.
“That program was cancelled because of COVID-19,” said Holmes. “But there’s a good chance we can reapply next year if that program opens up.”
Other notable projects underway in the city include traffic light installation at Domano Boulevard and St. Lawrence Avenue and the Ron Brent Park Development.
Coun. Ramsay also suggested the next capital project update, which is scheduled to take place in November, be brought to the full council meeting for discussion rather than just the finance and audit committee.