Could City Have it's Own H20 Construction Unit


Robert Thomas

Is it more cost effective for the City to have its own Water and Sewer Construction Division? That's a question which might well be answered shortly.

On Monday night Councillor Chris Warren introduced a motion asking Administration to prepare a comprehensive report looking into the possibility of the City no longer contracting out cast iron water main replacement.

The motion asked Administration to do a cost benefit analysis of doing project engineering, design and supervision with City staff instead of hiring private engineering firms.

It also asked what equipment and labour requirements would be necessary and for a cost benefit analysis with a regular or a seasonal crew. Benefits and challenges of using a City crew were also asked for. And the review would also look at whether or not having a City Water and Sewer Construction Division would better serve in the response to water main breaks.

In speaking in favour of his motion Coun Warren said there was the possibility it might be cheaper to move to an "in house" sewer and water construction crew instead of contracting out the work.

"In house" means the work would be done by the City itself with public workers and not contracted out to the private sector.

"In 20 years we need to replace other pipes," he said, adding that there were learning curves involved using contractors which might make a City crew more cost effective.

The record number of water breaks the City is experiencing due to pipes well beyond their life cycle might be better served by a City crew which would have "an increased capacity to respond to water breaks," he said.

He pointed to a well trained and experienced City crew might actually lower costs and produce efficiencies.

"There is a potential for enhanced internal capabilities," Coun Warren stated.

Councillor Crystal Froese said that out of the three motions Coun Warren put forward on Monday night this was the "one that I have the greatest interest in because we have a 20 year plan to look at and will it be more efficient?"

"What's the best choice as we go forward here, as it is a 20 year plan," Coun Froese said.
Councillor Brian Swanson said he was "prepared to look at a city crew looking after cast iron replacement" but added that  it would mean "looking at increased funding for the cast iron program."

"Six million in funding a year should be 11 or 12 million a year but it doesn't mean taxing six million more but prioritizing," he said.

"If we can reduce the number of breaks in the system we can actually save money," he said.
Swanson did qualify his support that he would "not be in favour of purchasing equipment or making those employees year round employees."

City Manager Jim Puffalt said it was a "great opportunity to find ways to increase the work we do. Some things can be done in house in a more efficient manner."

Puffalt said that in house design of projects can have significant savings.

"Engineering costs in a project can get up to 10 to 12 percent, while if you are doing it "in house" it can be two to three percent."

In the end the vote was 5-1 in favour of the review and report, with Coun Swanson in opposition.

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