Council owes voters explanation on green waste project
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.