Senior city politicians confirmed cost overruns at Winnipeg's new police headquarters could reach $17 million -- but they don't know how much money was spent, why and who authorized it.
Mayor Sam Katz and Couns. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) expressed their disappointment with the exploding budget for the new police headquarters, but said senior administrators and the police executive will appear at Wednesday's executive police committee meeting to provide them with answers.
"I'm beyond mad about this," said protection chairman Fielding as he, finance chairman Wyatt and the mayor met with reporters Thursday. "We told them to fix the problem, come back, and get us all the information."
Fielding said he learned of the possible cost overruns from the Free Press at the end of September and members of the police executive and senior administrators were given a month to provide the answers for EPC.
Winnipeg's police headquarters project started after the city abandoned a plan to fix the Tyndall-stone facade of the Public Safety Building. The $19-million original budget for that project ballooned to $65 million before it was cancelled in 2007.
The cost of buying and renovating the former Canada Post building on Graham Avenue had an original budget of $135 million but soon rose to $168 million and eventually to $194 million. The latter figure, announced in 2011 when a shooting range was scrapped from the project, was supposed to be a guaranteed maximum price.
Wyatt said the project is on budget now and no additional funds have been spent. He said there's only been an indication changes could push the project far over budget.
"The CFO (Mike Ruta) said we are within budget in terms of existing work thus far. If they need to make changes beyond that, that's where they would need to get political approval," Wyatt said.
Wyatt said the cost overruns are attributed to changes requested by Winnipeg Police Service executives. Regardless of the reasons why the changes are sought, he said, the WPS should be responsible for finding those funds -- either in the operating budget or the capital budget.
"We've already adjusted that (police headquarters) budget once," Wyatt said. "I can't support another dime over the budget that's there now."
Wyatt said over the past 10 years, taxpayers have opened their wallets for police, providing them with a new downtown headquarters, new stations in the east and southwest, a helicopter, and increasing the number of officers from 1,100 to 1,400.
St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, however, said he attended the same briefing as other EPC members and does not believe the responsibility for cost overruns lies with police.
Katz said someone authorized spending more than the budget without getting political approval, but he wouldn't identify the individual.
"I'll let it all come out on Wednesday when we get totally briefed," the mayor said.
Katz said former CAO Phil Sheegl, who was a member of the administrative steering committee that oversees the building project, did not authorize the cost overruns. Sheegl was not head of the project steering committee and someone else was responsible for making that decision.
As deputy CAO, Sheegl convinced Ottawa to sole-source the sale of the former Canada Post building to the City of Winnipeg and listed the project as one of his achievements in a farewell letter to council.
Multiple sources at city hall say the projected cost overruns served as the final straw for Sheegl's time as CAO -- something Katz denied.
Winnipeg Police Association president Mike Sutherland said he took offence to Wyatt's suggestion the police service was responsible for cost overruns at the headquarters.
"Wyatt well knows police had very little to do with the acquisition and procurement, in fact probably far less to do with it than the fire chief had to do with the fire halls," said Sutherland, referring to the fire-paramedic station replacement program.
"He certainly is well-aware that the same players in the civic bureaucracy played a key role in the police HQ deal."