$32M Cornwall public works yard rebuild to be audited

Cornwall Coun. Justin Towndale makes a point about the $32 million public works yard redevelopment project during a council meeting on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Council has sent the project to the audit committee, where Towndale is committee chairman. Towndale is concerned about wildly fluctuating numbers and cost overruns. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – With wildly fluctuating sets of numbers and blowing through a financial safety net in its first two years, the rebuilding project for Cornwall’s public works yard is being sent to the city’s audit committee.

With the chief critic of how the project is being handled financially also being the chairman of the audit committee, it’s very likely the $32 million, 10 year project will be audited.

Based on the latest staff report before council, Coun. Justin Towndale said Monday night that there were explanations for cost overruns but in other cases a reason was lacking.

“When you’re talking about changing numbers for budget, when there’s such a drastic change, that’s where my concern is. It’s one thing to make an estimate and you’re off by a couple thousand dollars…but in this case you’re talking about a lot of variation,” Towndale said.

The original redevelopment of the municipal works yard at Ontario Street and Lemay Street was budgeted at $26.3 million with a $5 million contingency fund. It was then $32 million with the contingency built in, based on a June estimate. This month, it’s $28 million with a $4 million contingency fund for a total of $32 million.

Towndale picked the rebuilding of the Ontario Street administration building as an example. The report shows four different estimates: $2.9 million, $2.9 million, $2.5 million and $1.8 million – sometimes with the contingency build in and sometimes it’s not. “It doesn’t make sense to me.” In other cases, contingencies have been added or removed over time.

“I’m not a rookie around this table…but I’ve seen a lot of budget items come forward. We’ve done some massive projects over the last number of years. (This report) doesn’t answer my questions entirely. I don’t think it justify these numbers. These new numbers are just out there in my opinion,” Towndale said.

Towndale, supported by Coun. Eric Bergeron, got the project referred to the audit committee.

“When we’re talking about a $30-some million project. We passed the budget and it’s not in the budget so it should come back to us,” Bergeron said. “I really want to find out what’s going on here.”

Towndale is a chairman of the audit committee. The rest of the committee members are Bergeron, Mayor Bernadette Clement and lay member John Lindsay. The committee plans with the auditor before an external audit begins.

Defending the project, Acting Municipal Works General Manager Bill de Wit says it’s “evolving” and “complicated” and that it’s hard to match the original estimates from the Aecom engineering firm.

A date for the audit committee to meet has not been set. A report to council would likely not be back to city council until sometime in October, according to CAO Maureen Adams.

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