Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cop-shop queries dividing city hall

Havixbeck won't give up audit demand

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Accusations flew across the floor of Winnipeg city council Wednesday over the "how and why" of the over-budget new downtown police station.

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 a council bitterly divided over the issue of an audit to determine how the project rose $75 million above projections.

Council split on overruns

What some councillors said about the debates swirling around the police HQ project:

 

  • Ross Eadie: "The process for this particular project was quite flawed from the get-go."

 

  • John Orlikow: "If we move forward as blindly as we seem presently, I'm worried about the future... It's not the fact we have a nice police station or not; the fact is we had a budget and we blew it. We should, instead of putting our heads in the sand, be really trying to find out what went wrong and how do we prevent this from happening in the future."
  • Justin Swandel: "Those of us who understand the approval process know there was nothing untoward here and this poor dead horse has been beaten enough... Let's not be troubled. Let's get this city built."
  • Russ Wyatt: "The only reason Councillor Gerbasi is doing her best to whip up public sentiment against the public service is her own political agenda to say this mayor should be defeated and that's her goal, that's what it's really about."
  • Jeff Browaty: "I'm really frustrated, really angry... There could have been better warnings that made it a lot clearer and a lot more transparent to this council as to what was going on."
  • Jenny Gerbasi: "Maybe some councillors feel things are fine, but I don't think that's how the public feels."

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

But others 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) said. "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 from $135 million to $210 million.

Council was told in a July 2011 report the guaranteed maximum price for the construction component was $137 million, but 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 will house 14 police divisions, 1,250 officers and staff and 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, others linked to a decision to omit the need for furniture and equipment for the new building.

Tempers flared Wednesday over two motions that were passed. First there was an EPC motion to disregard a request from Havixbeck to have the administration release the minutes of the meetings of the steering committee -- the group of senior administrators who oversaw the police headquarters project.

Later, there was a motion to authorize borrowing $15.2 million to cover the latest cost overruns.

Katz said cost overruns happen on big projects and it shouldn't overshadow the benefits of a new police headquarters, insisting 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."

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, describing them as grandstanding, and said an audit would cost millions of dollars.

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

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2013 B2

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