Protecting our Investments
Like many of you, I have been following the revelations coming out of the Charbonneau Commission with rapt attention and rising anger. I would like to share with you what Hampstead has been doing to protect ourselves from those who would try to cheat us.
Let me be clear. I cannot imagine any corrupt politicians in the Montreal island suburbs. Aside from the fact that I work with my fellow Mayors and believe that they are all honest and passionate about serving their residents, there are key differences between our small towns and Montreal, Laval and the provincial government. First, we generally do not have political parties. We work with independent councillors. In a party, the leader has a lot of control over the council but in towns without parties, a majority of councillors would have to be corrupted and that is virtually impossible. We also run our campaigns for election on tiny budgets so there is no need for large donations. Secondly, we are close to all decisions. In large organizations there are numerous levels of bureaucracy and a few corrupt individuals can always be found. Finally, most contracts that we award are relatively small compared to the big cities, so we are not so interesting for the major construction companies.
Hampstead's largest contract
The largest contract that Hampstead has ever awarded was this summer for road and sidewalk work. The first step was to do an inventory of all of our roads and sidewalk sections. Based on this inventory and with the expectation that we would sell the MacDonald fire station property, we had a tender document prepared by an engineering consulting firm (the firm was selected by tender) and our own in-house experts. Estimates of the cost were done by the consulting firm and our Director of Public Works, who himself is a civil engineer.
Our tender document went out as soon as we sold the fire station property in March and before we even had the cheque. As a result, companies were hungry and had no other jobs since our tender was probably the first of the season. Four companies bid and the lowest, at $4.5 million, was about $500,000 below our estimate. In fact, we spent closer to $4 million as the 10% contingency was not used.
Many times, companies bid low but hope to make it up with contingency work and extras. There is also the danger of a company using inferior materials. Neither happened in our case for the following reasons:
- We had several layers of checking and double checking. The consulting firm checked everything. We hired two engineering students who also checked and our Director of Public Works personally checked. Finally, we hired an independent lab to measure the degree of compaction of the road base and other quality variables.
- Many towns pay based on the estimated quantities of asphalt, gravel, etc used. We measured everything and paid only for what was actually used.
- Sometimes the contractor recommends extras which he claims are needed. Our Director of Public Works rejected most of these as unnecessary.
I salute our Director of Public Works, the engineering students, and our Public Works foremen for an exceptional job overseeing this major construction project.
If you have any questions or comments on this article or anything related to Hampstead, please e-mail me at email@example.com or call me 7 days a week until midnight at my home office at 514 483-6954.
Dr. Bill Steinberg