Coun­cil owes vot­ers ex­pla­na­tion on green waste project

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION -

It doesn’t take an ac­coun­tant — or even a grade schooler — to see that the num­bers on Peter­bor­ough’s lat­est at­tempt at a curb­side com­post­ing sys­tem don’t add up.

The $15-mil­lion project re­quires trucks and a sup­port sys­tem to pick up house­hold green waste and a pro­cess­ing plant to turn those kitchen scraps into com­post.

Less than two years ago, a city staff re­port rec­om­mended city coun­cil ap­prove a $9-mil­lion bud­get for a sim­i­lar project: $4 mil­lion for the trucks, green bins and col­lec­tion side, and $5 mil­lion for a pro­cess­ing plant.

Four months later, the bud­get had jumped to $15 mil­lion, where it stands now.

That shock­ing in­crease was en­tirely due to a change in the pro­cess­ing plant. It would cost $10.4 mil­lion, not $5 mil­lion.

We said at the time an ex­pla­na­tion was re­quired. Did the best equip­ment avail­able for the job at the best price some­how dou­ble in cost in such a short time? The an­swer was: no, a dif­fer­ent sys­tem would be used. Did that mean the $5-mil­lion ver­sion the city was ready to buy was ac­tu­ally not good enough? No ex­pla­na­tion was given.

Re­ac­tion from the mayor and city coun­cil­lors was a col­lec­tive shrug: green waste col­lec­tion is a good thing, Peter­bor­ough had tried and failed to get it go­ing for more than a decade and needed to move for­ward. If the com­post­ing plant was sud­denly twothirds more ex­pen­sive … oh, well.

As it turned out, that more ex­pen­sive ver­sion of the project didn’t go ahead. A $7.4-mil­lion pro­vin­cial grant dis­ap­peared when the for­mer Lib­eral gov­ern­ment was re­placed by the cur­rent Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive regime. “Green box” com­post­ing dis­ap­peared with it.

Now the project is back. This time it hinges on a $6-mil­lion fed­eral grant for which the city has ap­plied.

The to­tal cost has crept up to $15.3 mil­lion, not a big change.

Ex­cept that an­other, dif­fer­ent pro­cess­ing plant the city now plans to buy costs just $2.4 mil­lion.

That raises two blind­ingly bright red flags.

First, how could the price of the pro­cess­ing plant drop by $8 mil­lion but the over­all cost go up? Did that $8-mil­lion sav­ing just evap­o­rate?

Sec­ond, what is go­ing on with the city’s en­gi­neers, finance ex­perts and ad­min­is­tra­tors who re­search and de­velop projects — and the con­sul­tants who are paid for ad­di­tional pro­fes­sional ad­vice?

How could those ex­perts rec­om­mend spend­ing $10 mil­lion for com­post­ing equip­ment and later dis­cover that a “state-of-the-art” ver­sion ap­par­ently cost­ing $8 mil­lion less was avail­able all along? Nei­ther ques­tion is ad­dressed, much less an­swered, in the staff re­port that went to city coun­cil in Septem­ber.

The re­port skims over back­ground of the two ear­lier at­tempts at the project and men­tions the lost grant, but it ne­glects to pro­vide a re­view of the cost­ing his­tory. It is as if the yo-yoing from $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion never hap­pened.

That raises a third red flag: why are the mayor and coun­cil­lors not do­ing their jobs?

Politi­cians don’t have the ex­per­tise to pick one tech­nol­ogy over an­other. But like a board of di­rec­tors, they need to ask the big-pic­ture ques­tions.

An ex­pla­na­tion of those big cost swings — and why tax­pay­ers are still pay­ing $15 mil­lion for curb­side com­post­ing when a key el­e­ment costs $8 mil­lion less — is re­quired.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.