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EPC approves extra funding for fire-paramedic replacement program

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City council’s most powerful committee has approved additional spending on the city’s fire-paramedic replacement program despite serious concerns with the way the project has been handled.

Council’s executive policy committee voted Wednesday to approve a request for $2.5-million in extra cash to complete the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations in Winnipeg.

The bulk of the money will cover $2.3 million worth of cost increases at Station No. 11, under construction inside a cloverleaf at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Route 90. Last week, council’s protection committee declined to approve the additional spending because the report lacked sufficient financial detail.

On Wednesday, EPC members said they still have grave concerns about the report as well as the handling of the fire-paramedic station program, which resulted in a new Station No. 12 built on privately owned land and construction on Station No. 11 commencing without a contract for the entire project.

Couns. Russ Wyatt (Transcona), Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo), Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) and Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) all raised concerns about the program or expressed an eagerness to see the results of an external review of the program. Wyatt strongly hinted there must be consequences for senior city management, claiming it would set a precedent to allow cost increases to be authorized without council oversight.

Mayor Sam Katz, meanwhile, listed off a series of other city, provincial and Crown corporation construction projects that have gone over budget to a greater extent than the fire-paramedic station replacement program.

Pending council approval next week, the additional cash will come from the 2013 budget. Alex Forrest of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg appeared before EPC to urge them not to delay the construction of three other new fire-paramedic stations.

Earlier in the day, Katz gave his blessing to an entirely separate city plan to purchase the privately owned land below Winnipeg’s new fire-paramedic Station No. 12.

Katz told reporters he liked a property-committee decision to direct city staff to negotiate a purchase price for the Taylor Avenue property belonging to Shindico Realty, effectively killing a proposal to swap this property for two old fire halls and a parcel of vacant city land.

That decision, which does not require approval from council as a whole, would see the city and Shindico compare independent market-value appraisals for the land. The final sale price must be approved by council.

Katz said it’s clear there is no desire on council to proceed with a land swap that has angered elected officials, members of the public and Winnipeg’s real estate industry.

"Bringing closure to a scenario where the city has a building that they rightfully should own on someone else’s property, I believe moving that forward to bring closure to that is a very good thing," Katz said.

The property committee also voted to declare the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street and a vacant parcel of city land at Mulvey Avenue East surplus to the city needs. This does require council approval.

River Heights Coun. John Orlikow said he will vote against this plan because members of the community have another desired use for the old Station No. 12.

Katz said he does not know how Shindico feels about the plan. Officials with the company have declined to comment.

History

Updated on Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 5:03 PM CST: Adds additional information

5:28 PM: Makes slight edit (senior city management instead of city staff)

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