Gibsons council authorized $25,000 for its staff to negotiate the completion of the Upper Gibsons neighbourhood plan with engineering consultants, to cover current and future cost overruns.
At Tuesday's meeting, council learned the consultants, Urban Systems, are reporting $15,000 in cost overruns for work done so far. Town planner Chris Marshall suggested the $25,000 figure to also cover costs of work yet to be done. Councillors were concerned about first hearing this week of the $15,000 overrun already spent, but Urban Systems says it alerted the town back in November it was going over budget.
The consultants have done additional work beyond the original plan but have not yet completed everything in the original proposal, Marshall noted. Included in the original $60,000 budget were two public open houses, which the consultants have not yet held. Therefore the open houses should be part of the original budget, not the overruns, an example of the need for the $25,000 figure. "I don't agree with that $15,000," Marshall told council.
Town administrator Bill Beamish said $25,000 is realistic for staff to negotiate and advised council it is not realistic to expect to get the project for much less.
Councillors expressed disappointment in not hearing of the overrun costs sooner. Beamish pointed out a Nov. 3 letter from Urban Systems to the town - discussing work it needed to add to the original plan -was a sign the project was going over budget.
"As always, our desire is to work with you to develop what you need," Urban Systems senior engineer Glen Shkurhan wrote in the letter.
"However, the items noted above are beyond our initial scope for this assignment, for which we do not currently have budget. As of today, [Nov. 3] in preparation for the third presentation [to the advisory committee], we have nearly expended the awarded $60,000 budget."
In an interview Wed-nesday, Shkurhan said the specific amount of cost overruns was not known in November, and that the letter communicated "an awareness" that the evolution of the project involved additional unforeseen costs"The anticipation of cost overruns was known back in early November," Shkurhan said.
Upon staff's advice, councillors unanimously recognized the money is needed to complete the project.
"I think we should go ahead with this but learn the lesson we have to be careful with contracts," Coun. Gerry Tretick said. "In future, we need to keep more rigid control over contractors."
Tretick asked if a $60,000 contract having a $15,000 overrun without the knowledge of the town is normal practice. Marshall responded it is not normal practice. "Yes, it is a surprise," Marshall said.
Marshall told council it has the choice to refuse to fund any more money to the consultants, but that Urban Systems has done a good job keeping to the time frame and already has the background knowledge for the project.
Mayor Barry Janyk echoed Tretick's concerns.
"A responsible consultant reports back," Janyk said. "I'm a little disappointed that our consulting engineer didn't contact Chris [Marshall] earlier."
However, he agreed to approve the money after hearing from staff.
"We want to be frugal but at the same time we have to be realistic," Janyk said.
In an interview Wednesday, Janyk clarified his position.
"The substantive amount the project was over caused us all to raise our eyebrows," he said. "We anticipated a bill, we just didn't anticipate it to be this big. It's unusual for a consultant to overspend the budget. But a certain level of responsibility needs to be taken by both parties."
The urgency in getting the project completed may have affected the process, he said.
"They were given a budget, it was exceeded and there was no authority for those funds," he said. "We can't spend tax dollars unless there is authorization given."
Janyk added he still has full confidence in Urban Systems.