Mayor Sam Katz's inner circle held its nose and approved additional spending on Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station replacement program even as they complained no one has been able to explain the cost overrun.
Council's executive policy committee voted Wednesday to advance $2.5 million from next year's capital budget to complete the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations this year. The cost of the project increased to $17.8 million from $15.3 million. Senior managers offer various reasons for the increases.
The bulk of the cost increase -- $2.2 million -- involves Station No. 11, under construction inside a cloverleaf on Portage Avenue.
Last week, chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and chief operations officer Depak Joshi told council's protection committee design changes were to blame for the hike at Station No. 11. But Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Chief Reid Douglas blamed the overruns on construction delays and said the design has not changed since early 2011.
The protection committee refused to sign off on the extra funding. At the time, chairwoman Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) complained about the absence of detailed financial information in the request, especially since an earlier request for an additional $62,000 for Station No. 27 in Sage Creek included more details.
Havixbeck said Wednesday she has since been told of additional management, building permit and public works fees pertaining to the project. But she said she had no choice but to support the cost hike at executive policy committee.
"I voted for it because we have an incomplete fire hall standing there, looking ridiculous," she said, expressing hope a forthcoming external review of the fire-paramedic replacement program will answer outstanding questions. "The audit will clean this up. I think it's important this information is part of the investigation."
St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal said he, too, has unanswered questions about the program, while Couns. Scott Fielding (St. James) and Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said it was clear mistakes were made on the program.
Once the external review is complete, senior city managers should face the consequences, added Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who accused city administrators of "crossing the thick, bold, black line" laid out by authorizing work council did not approve. Wyatt has previously called on Sheegl to resign or face dismissal.
Mayor Sam Katz, however, downplayed the concerns of EPC colleagues. "The only thing that I saw when I called the question (was) they unanimously approved it," the mayor told reporters, adding the external review will answer council's questions.
An out-of-province firm was supposed to be selected by Nov. 7 to conduct that review.
EPC also voted Wednesday to declare surplus three city properties once touted as trade fodder for Winnipeg's new fire-paramedic Station No. 12, which was built on Taylor Avenue land owned by Shindico Realty.
Chief Douglas negotiated a deal to acquire this land in exchange for the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue, the old Station No. 11 on Berry Street and a parcel of vacant land on Mulvey Avenue East.
On Tuesday, council's property committee effectively killed the land swap by directing city staff to negotiate a purchase of the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue.
Katz said he fully supports that decision, as he believes the city should not have built a fire-paramedic station on someone else's land -- and the land swap was already dead in the political water.
No waffling on chicken
Other executive policy committee decisions made on Wednesday. All require council approval on Nov. 14:
Urban poultry: EPC approved Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith's motion to direct animal services to consider urban poultry farming as part of an upcoming review of pet bylaws. More than two-dozen people attended the meeting to express support for the move.
Transit fares: EPC signed off on a nickel increase for Winnipeg Transit fares in January 2013 as well as a package of electronic payment options that will be available when e-readers go online next fall.
Canada Post building: EPC approved Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt's motion to strip Shindico Realty of its contract to manage the tower portion of the Canada Post building and open up the work to other bidders.
Davis Cup cash: EPC approved a $50,000 grant toward the Davis Cup if Winnipeg is successful in its bid to land the tennis championship.
Wireless internet: EPC approved Shaw Cable's proposal to provide WiFi service to its customers at city libraries, pools and recreation centres.