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Midland eases buying constraints

In Midland
Oct 5th, 2009

By Travis Mealing Midland Mirror Oct 01, 2009
Midland councillors have removed the handcuffs that used to hinder the town from taking advantage of bargains in the purchase of goods and services.
However, the discussion on amending the town’s procurement bylaw on Sept. 28 revealed not everyone on council is comfortable altering municipal purchasing rules.
Coun. Gord McKay, for instance, described the town’s newly enshrined ability to waive some procurement regulations a “blunt instrument” that could be used to “ride roughshod over the bylaw.”
Coun. Pat File and Deputy Mayor Ruth Hackney also expressed concern about how and when council should exercise its newfound ability.
“The procurement bylaw is a special bylaw, and it is not to be treated lightly,” said Hackney, adding council must “act cautiously” before enacting the latest provisions.
Despite these misgivings, the amendments were easily adopted. CAO Ted Walker explained the rules now allow council to avoid red tape under certain circumstances.
“When deemed necessary by council, in the best interest of the municipality, they can waive any section of the bylaw,” he said.
The need to introduce the amendment arose when Maacon Construction, hired to do roadwork on Gloucester Street, offered to carry out the reconstruction of Bay Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, too.
Normally, the project would have had to go out to tender, meaning the evaluation of multiple bids and a delay until spring.
Waiving that requirement allows the town to have the work done before the snow flies, said Walker, adding it also secures cost certainty.
That was enough for Coun. Bob Jeffery to speak out in favour of the amendment.
“Let’s strike while the iron’s hot,” he said.
A procurement bylaw has been required since 2001, when revisions to the province’s Municipal Act were introduced.
The intention is to set out procedures and policies for buying goods and services, with the goal of protecting taxpayers from misspending or abuse of public funds.
Midland’s bylaw already had exemptions for certain circumstances, including emergencies, smaller purchases, necessary work discovered in the course of another approved project, or products/services available from only one source.
However, it did not allow council to waive certain requirements under the broad banner of public interest.
Walker acknowledged the potential for abuse of the provision, but noted decisions to waive a section of the bylaw must be agreed to by a majority of council.
“In the end, council has the ultimate decision-making, but we do have procedures in place that reduce the likelihood of (abuse) happening,” he said. “And councils are always very cognizant of their role and responsibilities and the best interest of the municipality.”
Jeffery discounted any notion that councillors would exploit their newfound power.
“I don’t think anyone’s trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” he said, agreeing with Walker’s assertion that councillors themselves will act as the “checks and balances” required to prevent misspending.
“(Councillors) would never do anything to put the town in jeopardy.”
Coun. Stephan Kramp added the provisions are likely to be hauled out only on rare occasions: “The only time council would use this is when there’s an obvious benefit to the town.”
Jeffery said the initial drafter of Midland’s bylaw eight years ago committed an oversight by not building in the flexibility that its neighbours have, but that error has been corrected.
Walker agreed such a provision is routine in Ontario: “It is not uncommon to have a section such as this in a procurement bylaw.”
Midland’s procurement bylaw stipulates it must be reviewed periodically, a process through which town staff is currently going.
A draft bylaw presented at the Sept. 14 general committee meeting contained a number of recommended changes, including the adoption of a waiver clause.
Penetang, Tiny, Tay have bylaws in place
(Staff) – According to officials in Penetanguishene, Tiny and Tay, the procurement bylaws in those municipalities already had the waiver provision adopted by Midland last week.
Tay Township clerk Alison Thomas said her council abides by the bylaw fairly closely, but has the flexibility to pass a motion to work around it.
“It doesn’t happen that often,” she noted.
Doug Luker is the clerk and CAO of Tiny Township. He said such bylaws are important to ensure a competitive bidding process keeps costs down.
However, he added, most councils are able to waive their procurement bylaws, though it can’t be done indiscriminately.
“There are clauses that outline what they can and cannot do,” Luker said. “For example, they are allowed to sole-source if it’s in the interest of the municipality.”
Jim Schaeffer, the Town of Penetanguishene’s treasurer, said staff can recommend waiving a requirement of the procurement bylaw, but it ultimately comes down to a political decision.
“The buck finally stops with the council,” he said, adding fairness to suppliers and taxpayers must be at the centre of their decision-making.


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