THE $803,000 LIST: Boondoggle?
posted August 12, 2004
When the city council met at the end of July 2004, a group of us tried (and failed) to interest city council in stopping a "facility-audit" for Parks and Recreation, that will cost over $800,000. To do an audit, the city gets inspectors to go from place to place checking roofs and walls and wiring and water lines, etc., and writing down what shape everything is in. The inspectors write down what needs repair now and what may need repair or replacement later, up to a period of 25 years, making a separate, detailed report for every facility owned by Parks and Recreation. The last such inventory was ordered by the Policy and Planning Division of the Economic Development and Parks Department in 2001. As an example of the level of detail in that audit, the Dufferin Rink report runs to ten pages. When we studied the 2001 audit a few months ago, we were amazed to find that (1) none of the audit's recommendations for our rink had been carried out and (2) not one of the things that did in fact go wrong with our rink was predicted by this audit. To be fair, there is a severe shortage of money in the budget to maintain existing city facilities, so if a repair is not an emergency, it often gets postponed year after year. As for not being able to anticipate the things that did go wrong, forecasting things accurately is tough. So we thought, live and learn. Audits don't work that well; now, let's just get on with fixing what's broken, piece by piece.
To our astonishment, we found out recently that the Policy and Development Division had asked for another $803,000 to do a repeat audit of exactly the same facilities, only three years after the first one. They said that they need some more details. But when we looked over their plans we discovered that the new details they want this time are not very different from the old details.
We tried pretty hard to interest the Economic Development and Parks Committee (elected city councillors) in taking another look at this scheme before they approved it. No luck at all. Then we tried to interest city council in delaying their final approval. No luck there either. Councillor Adam Giambrone decided not to raise the matter at the council meeting because he was sure no one would support him. And indeed, the $803,000 expenditure passed in an eyeblink.
Why does this concern us so much? Because at the same time as $803,000 is spent on making more lists, picnic tables will not be repaired when they break. Muddy park paths will not be paved. Summer staff will be short at city wading pools. (The $803,000 comes out of a capital fund, whereas summer staff come out of operating funds. But capital funds have often used borrowed money, and the interest on borrowed money comes out of operating funds. So eventually everything is affected by these big expenses.)
that's another thing to follow up on. Sigh. One of our research group said - you have to have stamina to track down what you want to know from the city. It's a modern kind of work-out - flexing your follow-up muscles, over and over, until you develop a well-toned tracking technique.