Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Torbay spends approx $79,000 to construct turnaround without following their own processes

Over the course of the past few council meetings there were motions presented and voted on to pay for the construction of a turnaround on Roblin Place off Torbay road. This project has cost the tax payers of Torbay around $79,000 dollars and was done without a public tender and with no regard to the tax payer.

Regardless of the reason that this turn around had to be constructed this abuse of public funds is just the type of thing that would drive you over the bend. Council screwed up on this and now it is costing us deep in the pocket. Councillor Smith and Deputy Mayor Gallant both voted against the motions to pay the bill but ironically they were the ones who introduced the motion that started this whole mess to begin with. In their defense from discussions I have had with them it seems the safety of the children in that area was their primary concern when putting the motion forward. Councillor Smith told me that she assumed that the proper procedures would be followed and the project would be managed and controlled, obviously they were not.

Here is the background, this is the discussion and motion from the September 4, 2012 council minutes.
Councillor Tapper
Councillor Tapper discussed the Roblin Place bus stop. This has been an ongoing matter for the past couple of years; and, the Town has been involved with the Eastern School District and area residents in discussions surround extending Roblin Place and putting in a bulb so busses can turn around there, instead of stopping at Torbay Road. Mayor Codner has been involved with this and in meetings, as it is a very serious matter, and he provided an update.
Mayor Codner advised that this matter started approximately late 2010 when Eastern School District and Residents were looking for a place for busses to get off Torbay Road. Eastern School District indicated that if they had a turnaround at Roblin Place, the bus could go in. There have been discussions and correspondences sent and received. Last year, the Town had struck an agreement to get land for the turn around on a dollar per year basis. Development can’t occur in that area until the business park starts. A meeting was held last Fall with Council Reps., MHA, Engineers, Eastern School District Officials, and representatives from the school bus company. The decision was to put a damper on the bus going in there as road was not adequate. Since then, there have been meetings held with residents and alternate arrangements were looked at, including Pulpit Rock Road. A developer was approached as well for land. Another meeting was held again last week -people from Eastern School District, MHA, Council, etc.
The concern is with children getting off the bus and having to cross five lanes of traffic. It’s been noted of speeding in this area and some traffic won’t stop for the school bus so the children can cross the road. Residents are looking for a solution and have asked Eastern School District for a decision. They contacted the Town and asked for bulb construction – gravel turnaround. They would then direct the bus to go in and pick up/drop off children. This is a major concern for residents, as well as the Town. We also need a turnaround for heavy equipment for snow clearing purposes. It would work out to be $1.00 per year lease on a year by year basis until the area gets developed; may tie into business park. Eastern School District are on side as key player. We can do work at own resources, at a minimal cost.
Councillor Smith questioned why the Town has to pay for cost of construction of the turnaround, as we are a municipality with limited funding. Eastern School District should provide the service or provide for compensation. Councillor Smith asked that the minutes reflect what her comments are – not to restrict the safety or endanger the children. Economic comment – town should not have to put in a turnaround for Eastern School District; and she strongly feels that Torbay should not be funding the turnaround for Eastern School District. 
CAO further advised that the first step to occur is we have to ascertain if the landowners are still willing to lease the land to the Town, then land surveyed and costing put together. 
414-12 Motion – Deputy Mayor / Councillor Smith
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay proceed with the turnaround at Roblin Place; and, as part of that, explore funding from other parties such as Eastern School District or the Provincial Government. 
Question called. Motion carried unanimously.  
So there you have it, when I read this motion this is what it says to me. Torbay Council has just given the go ahead to town staff to proceed with the work. And as part of this try and get some funding from the School Board or the Provincial Government. It does not say lets get some prices or send it to committee for a cost analysis and a tender call, which as I understand it would be normal procedure. I don't think there are any restrictions placed on it at least not that I can see. The only motions that came back to council regarding this project as far as I can tell were the motions to pay the bill.

One thing in particular here that catches my eye is the statement by the CAO regarding the first steps to be taken, get the land, surveys and COSTING! So if this was supposed to be the first step in the process but instead council ignored that directive and proceeded with a motion anyway to go ahead with the work. Why was a costing for this project never brought back to council to approve BEFORE the work was done? The answer to that is in the May 13, 2013 council minutes as follows.
Deputy Mayor indicated that when the Town spends this amount of money, it should be brought to Council. CAO advised that process was not followed properly - matter should have been deferred to the Finance Committee first, but Council agreed to move forward with the work through a motion.

Now here is the minutes from April 29, 2013 when a motion for payment was presented.
133-13 Motion – Councillor Tapper / Councillor Roche
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay approve payment to Fast Path, for Roblin Place Excavation, in the amount of $33,475.33.
Question called. Motion carried.
For Motion: Mayor Codner, Councillor Roche, Councillor Tapper, and Councillor Whitty.
Against Motion: Deputy Mayor Gallant and Councillor Smith. 
Councillor Smith asked that the above motion be deferred as there is a request through the Public Works Committee for breakdown of costs and agreement information with Eastern School District – she advised that costs should be shared between the Town and Eastern School District. Councillor Smith put forward a motion for an amendment to defer payment given concerns of  Public Works Committee, however, there was no seconder. CAO and Mayor Codner advised that the Town did receive confirmation by email that Eastern School District will pay portion of costs. Council Members discussed that as work is done, payment is due; and, if payment is delayed, possible interest charges could apply.
So here we have council agreeing to pay the entirety of the bill and relying on an email confirmation from Eastern School District that they will pay a portion of the costs. As I understand it there is no official agreement between Eastern School District on how much they are going to be willing to pay.

I know this looks bad but at the May 13, 2013 Council meeting the whole situation got worse when council put forward and voted on this motion.
150-13 Motion – Councillor Tapper / Deputy Mayor Gallant
RESOLVED THAT the Town of Torbay approve payment to Fast Path, for Excavation work on Roblin Place, in the amount of $42,787.69.
Question called. Motion carried.
For Motion: Mayor Codner, Councillor Tapper, and Councillor Whitty.
Against Motion: Deputy Mayor Gallant and Councillor Smith.
With regards to the above motion, Deputy Mayor Gallant called Point of Order, indicating that although he is on the Finance Committee, he is not supporting the above motion. Mayor Codner advised that he can second the motion, but doesn’t have to vote in favour of it. Deputy Mayor advised that at the last Council Meeting, there was some controversy regarding the work on Roblin Place and Councillor Smith had asked to have a motion for payment deferred. There’s now another motion for another payment, bringing the work to cost approximately $70,000.00 and the work is complete. 
 CAO advised that work was done based on a motion of Council from September 4, 2012
meeting. The Town is not in possession of an excavator required to clear land and existing equipment was winterized as it was snow clearing season. An email was sent out today with breakdown of all work. Mayor Codner advised that the contractor had to remove a lot of bog from the area, which had to be trucked away. CAO advised that Class A rock was then trucked in. She will confirm with Director of Public Works and Technical Services that this is the last invoice – then request for payment will be forwarded to Eastern School District for half the cost.
Deputy Mayor indicated that when the Town spends this amount of money, it should be
brought to Council. CAO advised that process was not followed properly - matter should
have been deferred to the Finance Committee first, but Council agreed to move forward
with the work through a motion. She further advised that the Town does have the money
within budget to cover expenditures. Mayor Codner further advised that this work was done for the safety of children walking across Torbay Road. It’s also the Town’s responsibility to ensure that roads are up to standards. It will cost a lot of money to upgrade the rest of our roads – from acquiring land, completing surveys, legal matters, etc. This can give us an idea of what we may run into - some work may be cheaper and some will be more expensive.
Mayor further advised that this matter was discussed at Council a number of times at a number of meetings, and this work was something that had to be completed. Councillor Smith advised that her concern is that costs to construct turn-around for pickup of children should not be the Town’s full responsibility. Eastern School District could have used a smaller bus to bus the children in the area or the busses could back up and turn
around. We will ask Eastern School District to pay half of this cost with no agreement in
place and the work is now complete. She indicated there were a few deficiencies in the project, which were known before April 29th’s Council Meeting at which time the motion
for first payment was passed. She noted that CAO forwarded an email to Council indicating that deficiencies were fixed, but none of this information came to the Public
Works Committee – requests for information on this matter was never responded to.
CAO corrected her advising that Roblin Place was discussed at a Public Works Committee meeting on March 27th.
Tendering process was questioned and Councillor Smith questioned if the Public
Tendering Act was breached. CAO confirmed that three quotes were provided and the
Director of Public Works & Technical Services has that documentation. Councillor Smith
and Councillor Whitty both indicated that this information did not come through Public
CAO clarified some of Council’s comments indicating that it’s illegal for school buses to
back up into driveways – this was confirmed several times from Eastern School District.
We have in excess of twenty roads in the community which the Town is liable in relation
to regulations and snow clearing, and the Town is going to have to start budgeting to
minimize liability issues regarding our roads.
Councillor Tapper advised that something did have to be done for the safety of the school children, as they were crossing multiple lanes of traffic. Town staff and Eastern School District looked at all options and the number one acceptable option was to create a turnaround there in the area. We’ll wait for Eastern School District’s response on payment.
I don't know about some people but when our council agrees to pay a bill for $78,263.02 without following their own spending guidelines I need to be asking questions. How can you look at tax payers with a straight face and tell them you are being good stewards of our public purse when you do stuff like this.

Someone made a big mistake here and steps need to be taken to ensure this type of thing doesn't happen again. It is too late for councillors to come out after the fact and be outraged by the cost when it was their actions that led to this whole mess in the first place. There is a reason that they have paid tens of thousands of dollars to consultants to come up with spending regulations and why there is a public tendering act. It is to avoid stuff like this happening and to protect the town and the tax payer. What kind of questions would be asked if this contractor happened to be related to a member of council or staff and the cost just kept ballooning. The Deputy Mayor told me that he thought at the time that the entire project would cost maybe $10,000 split between the town and Eastern School District and never figured it to cost so much.

Well that is why we offer tenders and get quotes for work so that we know how much it is going to cost before hand. I have no idea if that was done but it was stated by the CAO that the town received 3 quotes to do the work. I guess if the proper process had been followed these quotes would have been given to the Public Works Committee. They would have put forward a motion to award a contract to the preferred bidder and council would have had an idea of the cost prior to approving the work being done. Instead council rushed forward with the motion to do the work and now we are stuck with a bill for almost $79,000.

There is also supposedly a commitment from Eastern School District to pay a portion of this bill but from discussions I have had with people familiar with the ESD I wouldn't hold my breath on getting paid. The fact that the ESD was pretty much been dismantled in the last provincial budget and they are regulated by the Public Tendering Act, the chances of getting almost $35,000 dollars from them is scarce in my opinion.

So where does that leave us the tax payers of Torbay? Well I guess it leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths and a little lighter in the pocket book. I can think of a lot more important expenditures in this town than building turnarounds so that Eastern School District can swing their bus around. We should have had a legal commitment in writing from someone at the school board agreeing to pay half of this bill before we ever passed a motion to proceed with the work. Now we are stuck with the bill that we may well end up paying the entire amount, that money could have been used for another purpose which I am sure many people have an opinion on.

Avalon East Mens 35 and over Slo-Pitch League is accepting new players

The Avalon East men's 35 and over softball league in Torbay/Portugal Cove are accepting new players, please contact Ted Lacey at 690-0006.

Games are played in the Upper Three Corner on the Bauline Line as well as Voisey's Brook Park on Indian Meal Line. The League plays Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays. Each team generally plays twice a week.

For more info on the league, teams or schedule you can check the league website

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mixed reviews for Torbay's new online camp registration but a move in the right direction

This morning the online registration took place for the Torbay summer camps. I asked residents who used the system to get their impressions and the reaction has been mixed.

Here are some examples of what they said.
LMAO!! Not good for me...It took over an hour to figure everything out and the cart to pay never worked(for many people according to the council).....so some of us have to go over with our payments.
Same for me too!! Got through everything and couldnt pay. I am still not sure if we got registered or not.
Uncertain Craig also. The registration part went fine but the payment part I'm very uncertain about because once you click on your banking link and pay there is no confirmation what so ever, so I logged out and logged back in and when I checked the weeks that were listed my boys names were showing so I assume that they are registered but still I am very puzzled about the payment and whether or not they know that the payment has gone through or not.
Payment was a huge problem!!! I ended up going over to the council office but at least we got registered!!!
Craig, I used it this morning, found it very user friendly however...once I got the end and reviewed my shopping cart, It was basically stuck. Tried to go back and edit or do it again and it was closed.I did speak with Allison Power at the town office and she said this was a common problem this morning...I was reassured by Allison that once I paid online through my financial institution, the slots that I had initially booked would be honored. I did pay for the first 4 weeks so now the waiting game begins...Outside of this little episode, I think it is a great interactive way to keep track of registrations, events, etc...within the town.
I did it too Craig , was slow at times,got the sessions I wanted and a couple by mistake and too couldn't edit but paid for the first 4 weeks and paid online.Payment went ahead smooth. I was talking to staff and they said they would straighten it out. I know of someone whose computer froze trying to do this.
So it appears that over all the system is a good one but may have a few kinks to work out. The overriding complaint seemed to be with the payment system that gave users issues.

I followed up with the town to get their impression on the process and CAO Dawn Chaplin informed me that in her opinion the online registration went quite well. As of Sunday around 100 residents had set up their profiles for e-services as per the instructions that had been posted online. On Monday the Recreation portal was activated and parents could log on and create profiles for their children, step by step instructions were provided to walk people through this process which some residents confirmed to me was quite easy.

The highest amount of traffic on the system was in the first 20 minutes after registration opened. Staff were available to provide assistance and troubleshoot issues with residents this morning and have been doing so for the last 10 days or so.

It was confirmed that there were issues with the shopping cart but all payments were reconfirmed and residents will receive confirmation emails tomorrow.

There were also issues that originated on the user side of things as well such as firewalls at employers preventing residents from logging in, the speed of computers or internet connections. Any users who logged into the system prior to the 9:00am opening of registration would have been booted out and forced to lo gin again when registration opened.

The day camp was full within 1.5 hours and there are still some spaces available in the sports camp if you are still interested although I suspect they will go fast as well.

This is a new era for the town of Torbay and it is nice to see us taking more advantage of the technology available to us. I have to admit that I have not signed up yet for the e-services but I intend to do so soon so I can avail of the services being offered online by the town.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Torbay Waste Management - Have Your Say

Torbay is currently conducting a survey related to waste management and there are a couple of questions in it that I think are of particular interest. Question 6 asks about adding composting to the current waste disposal plan and questions 8 and 9 discuss the automated garbage pickup like they are using in the City of Mount Pearl. These are very important issues that deserve your input so take a minute to complete the survey.

I like the idea of diverting materials that can be composted from our landfill but I don't know if picking it up at the curbside is a good idea for Torbay. There are so many things to consider like the size of the compost bins which directly relates to how heavy they are and how the people on the garbage truck will be able to pick them up. Are we going to use these big roll out bins similar to the ones for the automated garbage pickup or smaller bins that we can fit under the counter? Who is going to pay for these bins, surely the Town of Torbay is not going to expect residents to purchase these bins so that we can participate in the program. In Mount Pearl the bins were purchased by the city and then given to the residents at no additional cost. This would be a pretty big expenditure that may be better spent in other areas.

Another factor that needs to be considered with a composting program is how many people are going to participate? It is difficult to force people to do something that they don't want to do and most people who already compost are likely going to continue to do so in their own backyard composters. I know that this is the type of information that the town must be hoping to garner from this survey so that is another reason to complete it and have your say. Maybe a better use of time and money would be to have a few public information sessions related to waste management and composting in particular to educate people on the proper use of composters and encourage them to do it at home. Many people have misconceptions about composting related to smells and rodents which could be explained in detail.

A big problem with this plan is how to implement it in a town where almost all of our roads have ditches. Where do we put the bins? I guess we could roll them out to the end of our drive way in the morning and then leave them there all day until we get home from work. What happens when we have wind which is almost all the time? Are these bins going to be rolling all over the roads and falling over and causing all kinds of problems? What about in the winter when we all put our bin at the end of the driveway and the snow plow comes by and either pushes it into the snow bank or lifts the plow and doesn't clear the road in front of your property? How about elderly people? How is a senior citizen or people with disabilities supposed to roll this big heavy bin to the side of the road every week?

Many people live in hilly areas and even have very long sloped driveways. There are a few driveways I have seen around in which it would literally be a safety issue to roll the bin down to the end. I can certainly see one of these bins getting away from someone and flying out into the road during morning traffic and causing an accident or damage to a vehicle. I can think of many of these scenarios on Indian Meal Line and Bauline Line in particular.

I am not saying that it is a bad idea to improve our waste management strategies and how we deal with solid waste in Torbay. I am saying that either of these programs is going to cost an awful lot of money and may be cost prohibitive for a town our size. It will be interesting to see if the town compiles some estimates and presents them to the public to get their opinion before implementing something like this.

There are other solutions that I believe should be considered so we can get the biggest bang for our tax dollars. First of all  I think we should be exploring a regional waste management plan with our neighboring towns. The duplication of services certainly has to be a tremendous waste of money for the residents of Torbay, Flatrock, Pouch Cove, Bauline and Logy Bay Middle Cove Outer Cove. Each town has their own waste management program which also includes recycling. Five towns all contracting out garbage and recycling pickup services when we should be working together.

I suggest a more sensible approach would be to get together with the towns and the provincial government to propose a regional waste management strategy. Buy a couple of trucks that can pick up both recycling and regular garbage at the same time. These trucks are being used in other places and it actually saves money because you only need to make a single trip with one truck to get the recycling and other solid waste.

The town of Torbay spends around 8% of our total budget on waste management which amounts to roughly $565,000. Over a half a million dollars to pick up garbage from about 3100 homes is a large amount of money. I checked the other municipalities and the only other one that had their budget posted online was Bauline and their cost for waste management is $28,000 or roughly 10% of their entire budget of $275,558. I would assume that is is safe to say that the other municipalities are paying in the same area of 8-10% of their budgets on waste management. If this is the case then it would make perfect sense to explore this type of arrangement to the benefit of all the towns. Buy the trucks, hire the workers and agree on a schedule that works for everyone. It is time that Torbay and the surrounding communities started pooling our resources and sharing services to get the best rate of return on the tax dollars paid by residents.

Don't forget to go and complete the survey