Councillor Gord McKeever wants to set the record straight about the almost-completed $11 million public library — a project that has had three successive million-dollar-plus budget increases since it was first approved.
“Being on council can be a pretty abusive environment,” said the two-term councillor. “It’s one thing to get criticized for decisions you were involved in, it’s quite another to cop it for decisions that you played no part in.”
McKeever is sticking out his neck and coming to the defense of his current council colleagues who he says are taking a hit from some members of the public for a decision they played no part in.
Mayor Ken Melamed was the only other member of the previous council, along with McKeever, who voted to move ahead with the $7 million library project. Even before they left office at the end of 2005, that council approved the first million-dollar increase, bringing the budget to more than $8 million.
McKeever’s comments come on the heels of recent public criticism about capital spending at municipal hall in light of the potential property tax increase above the rate of inflation for the first time in years.
“It’s just not reasonable for these guys to suffer a lot of abuse over this project,” said McKeever of his colleagues.
While he recognizes that the current council has approved two sizable budget increases for the library totaling almost $3 million, it was backed into a corner of sorts in making those decisions — it was simply too far down the road to turn back; the library building had to be finished.
But it was moving forward in what some would call the eye of the “perfect storm” — rising construction costs, an excess of projects around the province, and a shrinking labour pool.
“The library was one of the first capital projects where this new phenomenon was becoming apparent,” recalled McKeever. “It took months of wrestling with it to finally be convinced that it was real because construction cost escalations for a decade or longer had been noodling along (at) cost of living increases.”
If he regrets anything about the process it’s that the previous council was swayed by strong lobbying from the local building community to pursue a construction management model which would allow local trades to participate. That decision was contrary to the recommendation from municipal staff, which called for a fixed price contract.
“That lobbying convinced enough of us to reject the staff recommendation and to go forward with the project management model,” said McKeever.