I have some comments about the recent article on the Auditor General for Local Government’s (AGLG) report on Rossland, published March 26, 2015. Admittedly, there were huge flaws in the way the City of Rossland managed capital projects and the lack of information to Council was certainly a big part of it. The City had undertaken an Alternative Approval Process (AAP) well in advance of moving the project forward. It failed on a technical ground (wrong date for the notice period, as I recall) but the public did not object to the borrowing that was recommended. Of course, the process should have been redone immediately when the failure came to CAO Kumar’s attention. It was not, nor was Council informed that the AAP had failed until months later. The second AAP went through without any significant opposition, but by then the project was well underway. While the City made a mistake, it was not as grievous as this article made it sound. We had strong public support for the work and we were well within the boundary of what Rossland is allowed to borrow under Provincial regulations.
My comment in the article that our Infrastructure Renewal Plan wasn’t followed was misconstrued. The plan to complete various other important projects was put on hold because we did not receive any grant assistance and we had to fund the $6m Columbia Ave project from our own sources. There was no money remaining for the other projects. Yes, we failed to create a financial plan that would enable us to move forward on these projects without any reliance on grants. That was a mistake, but the reality is that we could not afford to do those projects without help. Over recent years Rossland has applied for a significant number of infrastructure grants and we have not been successful. Like most municipalities our infrastructure needs far outstrip our ability to pay for them. Rossland relies on residential taxpayers for nearly 90% of our operations. We do not have any large businesses or industries located within our boundaries to contribute to our tax base.
As for urgent repairs needed on the Miners Hall, those repairs were intentionally rolled into a larger renovation project that the Arts Council had proposed. Council had made the decision to defer the project pending the outcome of the Arts Council’s grant applications. The Arts Council recently announced it had received a CBT grant to cover a portion of its project. The City’s portion has been set aside and work will begin as soon as the balance of the funding is in place. It is unfortunate that there was no record of those decisions but the deferral was intentional so that we could do the project in conjunction with the Arts Council’s work.
While there have been some changes at City Hall, the people with the most authority responsible for the earlier issues of mismanagement of large infrastructure projects have not been City employees for several years. The AGLG’s audit focused on work done during 2010-2012. The timing of the AGLG’s report release and the recent changes made in City Hall is an unfortunate coincidence. While Ms Butler was a member of the management team she was not in the position of Acting Chief Administrative Officer during the audit period and did not have the ultimate responsibility for the issues examined by the AGLG.
Speaking of the changes in City Hall; Council has undertaken a robust search for an Interim Acting CAO. We have placed an add on CivicInfoBC, the most effective source of public sector employees. We have also gotten a list of experienced individuals from the Local Government Management Association (LGMA) and have gotten references and endorsements from trusted professionals. Many of the people on the LGMA list are retired from larger municipalities and, while highly skilled, are out of our price range. Council is committed to finding the best candidate for the job that we can afford.