Parkade cost hits $34 million; council demands answers

City council wants more answers, and potentially a legal opinion, on how the cost overruns for the city's new underground parkade at Sixth Avenue and George Street were approved.

Coun. Brian Skakun said the timeline laid out in a report provided to city council on Monday doesn't add up.

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City administration was provided a detailed update from the developer in July 2018 with an updated cost estimate that put the cost at $20 million, instead of the initial estimate of $12.6 million, acting deputy city manager Ian Wells, said. The developer was given the go-ahead by city administration to proceed with the project at that time, Wells said.

The final cost of the project, including the replacement and relocation of aging water and sewer mains, came to more than $34 million, he said.

However, on March 11, 2019, city council was presented the preliminary budget of $12.6 million to approve, Wells wrote in his report.

On May 13, 2019, council approved changes to the city's Sustainable Finance Guidelines, which authorized the city manager to approve cumulative budget changes up to five per cent of the city's total operating budget, based on recommendations from city administration. That change allowed former city manager Kathleen Solits to authorize the budget for the parkade project.

Then on Nov. 18, 2019, the city's finance and audit committee was presented with an update that the cost of the project to that time was sitting at $16.37 million.

"Council was not aware we had an updated price and had committed to the project," Wells said.

The entire senior management team was aware of the situation with the project, Wells added.

"They didn't have the authority to OK with the developer $20 million when we didn't know it. There is no way anyone had the authority to spend that money without council's approval. That's the legal process," Skakun said. "The people in this community are outraged."

Coun. Terri McConnachie said that is looks like the city administration proposed the changes to the city manager's authority to allow Soltis to approve the project after the fact.

"This is a real travesty," McConnachie said. "It's egregious."

Council approved a motion by Skakun calling for a further report to a closed meeting of council, where more details can be presented.

In addition, council approved a motion by Coun. Cori Ramsay calling for a report on all the city manager's use of delegated authority to approve cost overruns in 2020, and on a quarterly basis moving forward.

"It's like a bad onion," Coun. Frank Everitt said. "As you unpeel each layer, it gets a stronger smell to it."

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