Norfolk County did not follow its own procurement procedures on upcoming engineering contracts worth $4.2 million.
That is the conclusion of a report that came to Norfolk council on April 28.
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The contracts have yet to be awarded but are earmarked with specific firms in mind.
The contracts involve the design and oversight of pending improvements to sewage treatment plants in Simcoe and Port Dover. Together, the work is worth more than $50 million and will take three years to complete.
“Based on preliminary review, it does not appear as these contract expansions followed corporate procedures,” Shelley Darlington, general manager of corporate services, said in a report to council.
“The process of these projects creates increased business and reputational risk to the county.”
Darlington’s report, and remarks from council members and staff, emphasize there is no allegation or insinuation of wrongdoing on the part of the engineering firms involved.
In the case of the Port Dover plant, that firm is R.V. Anderson of Toronto. In the case of the Simcoe project, which could cost as much as $34 million, the firm is Hatch Ltd. of Mississauga.
Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess brought the issue to the fore, in part, because R.V. Anderson’s association with Norfolk began in 2010 when it was awarded a $90,000 contract to advise on water and sewer work.
As the scope of the work increased since then, R.V. Anderson has collected more than $1 million from Norfolk in engineering and consulting fees. If Norfolk council gives the go-ahead, R.V. Anderson will collect another $1.3 million for designing the Port Dover upgrade, supervising construction, and conducting the final inspection.
For their part, Hatch Ltd. stands to collect an additional $1.5 million for providing the same services on the Simcoe project. The total cost, Darlington reports, of engineering, contract administration and inspection of the Simcoe upgrade will be in the range of $2.9 million.
Because these projects are so expensive and so critical to the future success of Simcoe and Port Dover, Norfolk council agreed to spend another $50,000 on a peer review of the engineering performed to date.
CAO Burgess likened the expenditure to buying “insurance.” Not only will an independent review of the plans ensure they comply with Ministry of the Environment standards, the consultant will look for cost savings. A reduction in cost of one or two per cent, Burgess said, would produce significant savings for the municipality.
“There are policies in place to ensure this shouldn’t have happened, to be frank,” Burgess said. “This doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have ended up in the same position. But there would’ve been more transparency around it. There should’ve been greater transparency surrounding this to council and the community.”
Some council members were startled that the county has routinely spent huge sums on sole-source contracts independent of established procurement policies and procedures.
“This is entirely unacceptable,” said Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin. “Taking four to eight weeks to put a fresh set of eyes on this makes sense. I would support a peer review.”