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Councillors continue to press for answers on police HQ decisions

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Accusations flew across the floor of Winnipeg city council Wednesday over the ‘how-and-why’ the new downtown police headquarters project zoomed $75 million over budget.

While a majority of council ultimately approved $15.2 million in additional borrowing to cover the latest cost overruns, the questions and accusations raised at the meeting reveal council remains bitterly divided over the need for an audit to determine how the project escalated so much in price.

Mayor Sam Katz and members of his executive policy committee (EPC) denounced the critics as grandstanding, insisting all the questions had been answered and it was time to put the issue behind them.

But other councillors insisted too many questions remained unanswered and some said council was misled by a 2011 administrative report that masked the real possibility of cost escalations.

"I’m going to continue to call for an audit on this police headquarters," Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) told reporters during the lunch break. "Something went really wrong here. Who knew what and when and that’s imperative."

The city bought the former Canada Post mail-sorting facility on Graham Avenue as a replacement for the Public Safety building. Concerns developed when the total cost of the project soared to $210 million from $135 million.

Council was told in a July 2011 report the guaranteed maximum price for the construction component was $137 million but in reality the report had buried warning signs and omitted information that would have indicated the final price would be much higher — designs were only 30 per cent complete and subject to change.

The core construction component has since risen to $172 million. Finance charges and the original purchase price pushed the final cost to $210 million.

The complex, which will house 14 police divisions and 1,250 officers and staff, is scheduled to open at the end of June.

A recent detailed administrative report revealed the latest cost increases were necessary; some were the result of code changes while others were linked to a decision to omit the need for furniture and equipment for the new building.

Tempers flared today over two votes that were passed: An EPC motion to disregard a request from Havixbeck to have administration release the minutes of the steering committee, the group of senior administrators who oversaw the police headquarters project.

Later, the motion to authorize the borrowing of $15.2 million to cover the latest cost overruns was also hotly debated.

Katz said cost overruns happen on big projects and it shouldn’t overshadow the benefits of a new police headquarters. He insisted there were no unanswered questions.

"This was not a good story," Katz said. "We went over budget. There were mistakes made. Questions have been asked. Answers have been gotten. I think it’s time to close the book now that we’ve got the answers and move forward."

Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said council was misled by the July 2011 report.

"Is there anybody here who would have approved the July 2011 report had we known the design was only 30 per cent complete," Vandal said. "I still don’t know how that stayed out of the report."

Finance chairman Russ Wyatt (Transcona) questioned the motives of the critics, calling it grandstanding, and said an audit would cost millions of dollars.

"I really genuinely believe I’m speaking on behalf of the residents I represent," said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry). The audit, "is something the public deserves."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 5:54 PM CST: updates and adds sidebar

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