Finance committee wrestles over budget decisions

BARRY’S BAY – The Township of Madawaska Valley finance committee met for their regularly scheduled meeting on September 24, 2012. On the table, there were many issues discussed, including an upcoming donation to the caboose committee, a new procurement policy and the implementation of an ice rental fee.

Amidst the passing out of multiple budget documents, which were prepared by Treasurer Brenda Sabatine, there was a lot of talk at the committee table about comparing Madawaska Valley to other townships.
Councillor Shaun O’Reilly didn’t think that comparison was a fair model to use.
“It would be near impossible to compare this report with another municipality. So are we looking at ourselves in the mirror, here? Is that the goal? To look at ourselves in a mirror?” O’Reilly asked.
CAO Bryan Brown responded, nothing that certain comparisons are important from a provincial level.
“In general terms, the province suggests that municipal performance measures can be used to compare municipalities of similar size. I just have never seen it. I mean, you can come up with certain things that are somewhat relevant but in general, every municipality is different. The council makeup is different. The council philosophy is different. The services that we are trying to deliver at whatever levels are different,” Brown said.
Sabatine noted that the comparison of other municipal budgets can sometimes help from a yearly perspective.
“It gives you a good tool to work with, if you are looking at yourself from year to year. Except, you have to keep in mind that from year, you will be doing things differently,” Sabatine said.
According to a new procurement policy, many changes are going to be made in the municipal process of tendering.
In the past, every bid that came to the council table, whether the bid was incorrect or not, was looked at.
Brown noted that the new policy will provide steps to alleviate this issue.
“They’ll be monitored to make sure that everything is in that file. It will all be specified in the tender package,” Brown said.
O’Reilly noted that the sometimes confusing process of tendering needs to be streamlined, right across the board, so that everyone can understand it.
“What would the action be if we received a tender with a cover letter that somehow tried to explain intent? If the tender calls for one thing, and another thing is submitted, we shouldn’t be looking at it. We want it to be consistent to everybody. It needs to be clear and concise,” O’Reilly said.
Reinforcing the idea of streamlining the process, Brown noted that policy needs to have direct steps.
“When we are doing a tender, and we ask for the following criteria to be met, that’s what we are evaluating. If we take into account something other than that and award a contract, we will lose,” Brown noted.
Brown stated that the reason the policy wasn’t followed was due to an old policy, and past councillors who have quoted as saying, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
O’Reilly wanted a more concise understanding of the tendering issue.
“I think we need some clarification. I’m ready to let it go, right now, but what we’ve said is – here it is, that was in
the existing policy, we didn’t follow it, and now you’re telling me, with no changes at all, we’re going to change the way we do things. I don’t think that’s worth a fiddler’s damn, that comment. Because we don’t follow the policy.
Apparently, there is some direction needed, I think,” O’Reilly said.
Brown responded to the issue of improper tenders being considered.
“It shouldn’t have been presented. Even though it’s in the policy, it should not have come forward the way it did.That’s why it so important to do your homework when you put the tender package together, to make sure everything is compared apples to apples,” Brown said.

Using the current example of a tender for a culvert for the township, Brown talked about the confusion within the process.
“We were looking at a culvert that had a 22-foot span, there were three companies that bid on it, and two of them said ‘We’ll give you two 11-footers hooked together’. I said ‘Don’t even bring that forward for consideration. Those are non-qualifying bids, they’re both out.’ We’ve only got one bid to look at. But we’ve always brought every one of them forward. No. The policy says clearly not to do that. And that’s how councils in the past probably got confused. They thought they had three bids but they only had one bid,” Brown said.
Committee member Sylvie Yantha suggested the idea of opening submitted tenders the day before, so as to dispel any confusion during the process.
“I always argued with the previous group that they should be opened the day before, so we could see what we are getting,” Yantha noted.
Referring to the lengthy process of considering and approving tenders, Brown noted that rejected bids should be thrown out immediately.
“We’ll let staff go back to see who qualifies and who doesn’t. Because you don’t and should not spend any time or effort, council or staff, on unqualified bids – only bids that fit,” Brown said.
The new procurement policy was approved by the committee.
Story continues in the September 26, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.