Some Main Street landscaping improvements planned for this year will have to wait.
At their July 9 meeting council voted 5-2 in favour of a motion to cancel scheduled improvements to Main Street at Alfred avenue.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach and Coun. Gladys Atrill were opposed to deferring the improvements.
The decision was made after the lowest quote for the project — just over $28,000 — turned out to be nearly twice the town’s $15,000 budget.
Trees that were purchased by the town for the renovations will be stored and maintained at the Town’s Works Yard this year.
It is expected they will survive in the interim.
Coun. Frank Wray said his main reason for supporting the deferment of the improvements was that it sends a message to contractors that council will not just blindly approve quotes on projects that are grossly over budget, noting the town has already sunk additional money into the project purchasing the trees and garbage receptacles.
“We keep having things come in over budget and we generally meet them … if we just keep paying and keep paying the signal we’re sending is we’re going to keep paying,” Wray said. “Maybe this year we can just put it on hold because it came in too high [and] maybe next year that might send the signal that you need to sharpen your pencils and do a little better job on the bidding.
“[If] we set a budget and then every time the budget we just roll out another $15,000 or whatever to get things done … it adds up over the year.”
Coun. Casda Thomas also supported the motion, despite acknowledging it wasn’t an ideal situation
“I certainly appreciate the comments about wanting to get it done this year and that would be my preference but I think just hearing that there might be other contractors that would bid … I’d prefer to have that opportunity to have other contractors bid and then also gain that experience so that they can carry the project forward in future years,” she said.
In response to a question from council, director of Development Services Mark Allen said that part of the reason for the higher costs of the bids might have been that the offer was tendered in May, suggesting putting the call out in January or February might yield lower bids.
Bachrach noted he didn’t see many ways to get the cost down for the project aside from changing the design to a more basic one or trying to do improvements to a larger portion or all of Main Street at once.
But the Smithers mayor noted this went against the general spirit of doing the landscaping gradually so as not to drastically change the look of downtown.
“We had hoped to not bite off huge chunks of Main Street because it involves cutting down mature trees and significantly changing the aesthetic of the street, so by doing one intersection or different corners over time, hopefully we can soften the blow of the impact.”
Coun. Atrill noted she was strongly against any redesigns as the current designs were already the result of extensive consultations between past councils and the public.
She added that, based on the growth of the construction sector, she doesn’t actually think tendering the bid earlier or doing a larger portion of the street will lower costs.
“I don’t think it’s going to be cheaper next year, I think it [will] be more expensive,” she said, adding she would like to see staff increase the budget for the project next year.
“I think we need to give some direction to staff because if they come back and we’re in the throes of budget and we let that $15,000 slide we won’t get anywhere with it and we will actually delay by one more year.”
Atrill also added the current design for Main Street has lasted forty years despite being only projected to last 20, noting the urgency behind updating the downtown infrastructure.
“It has done really well but we are well past [the expected lifespan].”