What seemed like a rubber-stamp for a loan bylaw met with rigid opposition in Rossland city council last week to the point where one councillor made a notice of motion that the city administrator be fired.
The bylaw gave staff the go-ahead to borrow $6 million for improvements to infrastructure and since only 19 of the electorate signed a petition that required 247 names to send the proposal to a referendum, it seemed like a done deal.
Councillors Andy Stradling and Laurie Charlton objected to the lack of consultation during last year’s arena upgrades and were worried the same would be the case for the improvements to Columbia Avenue and Washington Street.
“I am not concerned whether the project gets done, I am concerned about the process,” said Stradling. “As councillor Charlton said, once we approve this bylaw, there is no need for staff necessarily to come back to us to spend the $6 million.”
Stradling and Charlton called to question the limits of administrator Victor Kumar’s authority in an effort to ensure staff consults council before making any decisions on the project. In addition, Charlton insisted on seeing the results of an infrastructure analysis begun last August, before proceeding with any work.
“Until we get that information, any design work will have to be based on that analysis; I think we are putting the cart before the horse.”
However, Kumar and Mayor Greg Granstrom maintained that the infrastructure analysis was only superficial and not the detailed study Charlton supposed. Rather, the proposed engineering and design study would determine exactly what work needed to be done and the projected costs.
“Councillor how do you propose we get that information without doing engineering?” said Granstrom.
Council then passed the bylaw with Charlton and Stradling opposing.
The engineering and design bylaw that would allow the city to spend up to $250,000 for a detailed engineering study on Columbia Avenue and Washington Street was presented immediately following the ratification of the borrowing bylaw.
Councillor Kathy Moore wondered why there had been no preliminary study circulated to council and the community to inform them of the necessary upgrades.
Charlton repeated his position that the project was ill-advised and undefined and borrowing such a substantial amount of money was unnecessary until council conducted a needs assessment.
The administrator once again informed council that a report was issued in 2008 before the current council was elected and included observations and recommendations regarding infrastructure.
“The report was simply designed to check what is out there,” said Kumar.
Councillor Andy Stradling wondered whether council needed to receive the WSA Engineering report and staff replied that the information in the report would be made available to the council and community in the next newsletter.
Despite the concession, councillors were still not satisfied.
“The original WSA report did not include several major components of the overall project, like repaving Washington Street,” said Charlton.
He suggested the analysis was speculative at best, based on a review of city maps, anecdotal information gleaned from repairs, the materials used and the age of the infrastructure.
“There has been no actual physical evaluation of the infrastructure and so the WSA simply said, ‘This is old pipe, it’s clay pipe it should be replaced,’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be replaced.”
Charlton also pointed out that in addition to the money requested, the motion also gave staff the authority to hire the engineering firm to complete the whole project as outlined in a request for qualifications appended to the motion.
“What project are we actually asking this engineering firm, whatever is selected, to do? Council has no idea,” said Charlton.
The chief administrator assured council that a request-for-qualification and hiring process will include council participation.
“I don’t issue any contracts. The tender goes out, and comes back to council,” said Kumar.
The bylaw passed but Charlton’s dissatisfaction with staff came to a head in the final minutes of the meeting when the councillor finished his report with a notice of motion to fire administrator Victor Kumar.
Charlton alleges that staff documents on the Ophir tax panel say that two councillors did not follow correct procedure in applying the community charter and tax assessment act. Although the councillors were not named, Charlton called the statements “libelous” and therefore a breach of council procedure.
“I will be seeking the dismissal of the CAO,” said Charlton.
The mayor received the notice and closed the meeting.