Some Red Deer County councillors questioned a new purchasing policy. (Advocate file photo)

Some Red Deer County councillors questioned a new purchasing policy. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer County councillors question purchasing policy

Concern voiced new policy reduces council oversight role

Some Red Deer County councillors are voicing concern that they remain in the dark about the municipality’s purchasing practices while being asked to approve a new policy.

Coun. Dana Depalme questioned how council can approve a new policy when questions raised earlier this year about how the county goes about assessing and awarding tenders remain unanswered.

“We definitely need some information and understanding. And I think that was communicated some time ago,” said Depalme.

“I’m not interested in looking at tenders or opening tenders. I just want to know the process.”

The county’s purchasing and procurement policies came under scrutiny in January when council was considering tenders for underground services for the future site of new EQUS offices, shop and storage yard at Junction 42.

Tenders closed on Dec. 22 with eight compliant bidders. After review by county consultants Al-Terra Engineering Ltd., four bidders were shortlisted. They were chosen based on an evaluation system that looked at their experience, including work on similar projects, and ability to meet the Sept. 15 completion deadline among other factors. The dollar amount of the bid was not considered at that stage.

Of those shortlisted, Northside Construction Partnership had the low bid of just under $1.8 million, which increases with contingencies to a total budget of $1.9 million — about 10 per cent higher than the county’s initial budget estimate.

However, at least one of the unsuccessful bidders had reached out to members of council to say they could have done the work cheaper.

Coun. Christine Moore said as part of council’s oversight responsibilities its members should be able to see all of the tenders.

The issue prompted a review by administration and the county’s lawyer of the county’s procurement policy. Following that review, council was told a new procurement policy was coming.

Moore proposed a notice of motion at council’s June 27 meeting calling for a third-party review of the county’s procurement and purchasing policies. That motion was put on hold until the July 25 meeting to await the new policy.

During debate on that policy Tuesday, Moore was critical, arguing the new policy watered down council’s oversight responsibilities.

Under the new purchasing policy, council will no longer vote to approve tender awards as it did in the past. Instead, administration and its consultants will review and award tenders.

“If instead of having administration complete the evaluation based on the tender, the matter goes back to council, it creates risk for the municipality,” says a report to council from county manager Curtis Herzberg.

Council’s oversight will happen when it reviews and approves quarterly budget variance reports, which indicate how spending compares with the amount budgeted. Council will also have a role when projects come in over-budget and approval is required to tap into more funding.

Moore said if council does not have a full understanding of the policies and procedures related to projects and tenders how can it ensure that policies are followed.

“If we don’t see them, who is vetting the process?” she said.

Herzberg said administration is responsible for handling tenders in keeping with policies set by council, as is the practice in many municipalities. “There are all kinds of fail-safes involved.”

Mayor Jim Wood supports the proposed policy, adding it is similar to those used by many municipalities.

After much debate, council opted to discuss purchasing with administration in a council workshop and bring the policy back to a future meeting. Moore’s notice of motion is temporarily on hold until after the workshop is held.

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