Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/3/2015 (736 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Questions are being raised about accountability after a senior city official confirmed an innovative recycling program will go over budget even though details were never presented to council.
Diane Sacher, director of water and waste, said the program had an original budget of $14.4 million, which will increase to $16.87 million as a result of the addition of explosive-proof storage facilities for household hazardous waste, including paints and oils.
However, the original approved budget for the project was $6.8 million in 2013 for two depots.
But Sacher said a construction schedule was never approved by council and plans for opening all four depots were changed after discussions with then-mayor Sam Katz.
Three subsequent reports prepared by the water and waste department never requested additional funds to cover over-expenditures. Furthermore, there were no details on a schedule of openings and no explanations for later changes to the original plans.
None of the depots has been built to date.
Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) said the water and waste department has dramatically altered a plan approved by council by changing the scope and budget and is attempting to get retroactive approval through the budget process.
"We continue to have municipal officials making changes to projects without council authorization," Wyatt said.
"It's only a matter of time before we have to conduct another external audit to identify the problems we've already identified."
The Free Press reported last week the recycling-depot project was 20 per cent over budget, 25 per cent smaller than authorized and two years late.
Sacher said a report was never prepared for council outlining the most recent budget increases and the reasons for the increases because the issues were included in a project summary for the 2015 capital budget.
But the 2015 budget summary makes no mention that the project will go over budget or why.
"Instead of a report, it's in the (2015 preliminary) budget," Sacher said of the changes to the recycling depots. "You don't always have to do a report -- you can get approval from council either in a report or through budget process."
The recycling depots were announced by Katz on Dec. 10, 2012, as an innovative project to divert waste from the landfill.
The failure by water and waste to document the changes to the recycling program is consistent with the findings of three recent real estate audits, which found other civic departments had repeatedly failed to provide necessary documentation for plan changes or authorizations on several projects.
Wyatt said the public service told council it was implementing the recommendations from the three audits but he said the actions of water and waste show the public service has not learned its lesson.
"How many audits do we have to do?" Wyatt asked.
Katz announced in December 2012 two depots would be built in 2013 (one at the Brady landfill and the other on Pacific Avenue on the civic campus west of McPhillips) and two others in 2014 in yet-to-be-determined areas in the east and west areas of Winnipeg.
Katz said the depots would accept materials "that can be resold, recycled, composted or reused, such as bulky waste, household hazardous waste, construction materials, wood, metals, electronic waste and yard waste."
But funding for only two depots was approved in the 2013 capital budget, a total of $6.8 million, to be built in 2014 and 2015.
Between Jan. 29, 2013, when the 2013 capital budget was approved by council, and this week, the budget for the recycling depots project rose to $16.87 million from $6.8 million.
There were no requests for budget increases or over-expenditures for the recycling depot project from water and waste since the project's approval in January 2013 to this week.
The 2014 capital budget increased the project budget for the first two depots to $7.2 million, with construction to be phased in over a three-year period from 2014 to 2016.
There was no other provision in the 2014 budget for funds in later years for the other two depots.
There were no reports to council or a committee in 2013 updating the status of the recycling depots, nothing noting a timetable for their construction or any changes in the project.
The budget summaries describing the recycling depots were essentially identical in the 2013 and 2014 adopted capital budgets, with the only difference a name change for the project, from Community Resource Recovery Centres to 4R Winnipeg Depots.
The preliminary budget for 2015, tabled two weeks ago, increases the total cost to $16.87 million, with the first depot constructed this summer and two other depots to be constructed in 2016 and 2017, without explaining any changes to the program since it was first approved by council.
The 2015 budget makes no provision for funds to be spent after 2017.
Sacher said the construction schedule isn't dependent on the allocation of funds in any given year.
Sacher said the $16.87 million will cover construction of all four depots, and if a fourth isn't built, the whole budget will not be spent.