Letter to the editor
Re: P3 Council Meeting
I attended the Sept. 12th City Council meeting where Council voted to spend “up to $258,200,000” on a wastewater plant upgrade. That’s not a typing error, that’s $258.2 million. While Council can now say they held their public hearing, a number of things took place which should be of concern.
The public were encouraged by Council to attend. Yet the meeting was held in the Council chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall. Anyone in a wheelchair or with issues climbing stairs could not attend. This is a sad situation, given that they just held their ‘Accessibility Plan Public Open House And Survey’ meeting at the PCU Centre on Sept. 7th. All seats were filled. Staff brought out a few chairs for some of the overflow, but some people were left to stand in the hallway beyond the door. This meeting should have been moved off-site to a larger, accessible room.
This example of their openness to the citizens of Portage set the tone for the rest of the meeting. A number of citizens provided good questions raising concerns about the P3. Keep in mind that until the agenda was posted on the morning of the meeting, no one had seen the total amount of money that was going to be passed by Council. Council is ‘hoping’ that federal and provincial contributions will reduce their share of the expense, but it is still all tax dollars coming from your pockets.
The Mayor said that they were keeping track of the questions, and that Councillor Wall would address these when he made his motion to approve the P3. However instead of addressing the questions, Councillor Wall read the 14-page document that was posted on the web as part of the Council agenda. The motion gave the City Manager the power to negotiate the Request For Proposals (RFP), to identify possible private companies who wish to bid and to issue an RFP to identify the successful applicant, and sign a P3 Agreement with the successful bidder. The motion contained 11 points that allows the City Manager to proceed without going back to Council. There was a lot of information that was never presented for review at the August 8th Committee meeting. This is a project that will lock the City into an agreement with a private company for water treatment operations for the next 30 years, as the P3 contracts the design, building, operation and maintenance of the plant.
Citizens are being asked to trust Council to make wise decisions on their behalf to the tune of $258,200,000. This is the same Council that participated in dumping $500,000 into PRED over the past two years (and another $275,000 for 2016) with no audited financial statements, no measurable objectives and no annual report. This is the Council that says budgets are tight, so they must cut $17,000 from the Library budget.
Citizens came forward and asked Council to please move more cautiously and answer the concerns. Council did let everyone speak at the hearing but did not provide answers. Then Councillors took a unanimous vote without any discussion to proceed with the P3. This is how City Council demonstrates they are listening to the community. Council never provided citizens with an estimate of what this will mean on your taxes and utility bills next year and for the next 30 years. If they can commit to spending this amount of money, they should be able to advise what you as a citizen will pay.
Councillor Draycott, with support from the Mayor, spoke about how people had been disrespectful to her when expressing their opinion of the ‘bulb-outs’ on the Crescent. This is the same Mayor and Councillors that had no issue with PRED’s Executive Director Barill essentially calling me a liar in the media. Respect needs to run both ways.
At the end of the meeting, Councillor Driedger chastised a citizen for asking questions in question period that she didn’t think needed to be answered publicly. She told him that if he sent her an email, she would happily reply. She said she never would have voted to allow question period if she had known the types of questions that would be asked. This is the same Councillor Driedger that accidentally copied me on an email to other PRED Councillors saying “this is getting old and ignoring her (questions) no longer seems to be an option” when I persisted with wanting answers about PRED’s operating practices. Ignoring questions is harder to do when Councillors are asked in front of the media and public.
Why are City and RM Councils so reluctant to have citizens ask questions to try to understand how they operate and spend our tax dollars?