Three days ago I posted a story (Snow job, March 12/17) questioning this administration’s spending policies. One of my concerns was whether the town is getting its money’s worth from its snowclearing contractor, Transport André Leroux Inc.
As we dig out from under this latest 15-inch dump and navigate Hudson’s snow-choked streets, I’m sure I’m not the only curious resident.
According to comments made during one of last year’s council meetings, Leroux was the only bidder when the town made a call to tender. Rumour has it that Hudson’s longtime snowclearing contractor Gruenwald/SRS declined to tender a bid because it was getting out of the business. I can’t confirm that because SRS hasn’t returned my calls.
Something else bothers me about this story of Leroux being the sole bidder.
One of the results of the contracting scandal that ripped through this province was the creation of a new bid tendering procedure. All calls to tender of $100,000 and over must be posted on Quebec’s SEAO (systeme électronique d’appels d’offres) website. I’m accustomed to searching the SEAO site and I can find all of Hudson’s other calls to tender there, but I can’t find the call for snowclearing bids.
There could be a reason for this. The regulations governing this process allow contracts to be scindé, or sliced up to bring each tranche below that $100,000 barrier. It could be that the town tailored the terms of the contract so that nobody but Leroux was interested.
The record of disbursements tabled at the March council meeting tends to support that theory. We learned the town’s three-year contract (with a renewal option for two more) pays Leroux $399,500 a year plus taxes in four monthly instalments of $103,348.15. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but that equals four payments of $99,875 plus PST and GST. (Taxes are not included in SEAO bids.)
There could be an explanation that has nothing to do with bringing each payment below $100,000. It’s also possible that I’m not asking SEAO the right questions. So I’ve asked the town for details of the contract and I’ll be more than happy to report whatever I learn.
My other concern is that the contract with Leroux has Hudson taxpayers paying for salt and sand even though Leroux has control over their usage. So far this winter, I’ve seen the contractor attempting to use salt and sand to correct his failure to remove snow quickly enough to prevent it from turning to ice during one of those wild temperature plunges.
March’s disbursement printout shows taxpayers have paid Leroux $87,000 for sand so far this winter. That’s over and above the $103,348.15 instalment.
In February, salt supplier Cargill’s bill had topped $155,000. As of the end of February, we added another $46,000.
As I pointed out, those of us who attended the February meeting will recall councillor Rob Goldenberg and town manager Jean-Pierre Roy both vowing to more closely monitor Leroux with regard to its use of salt.
I’m asking for the average total cost of snow removal, salt and sand over the previous three winters. Once the cost of sand and salt are added, are residents paying more for snowclearing this winter than they have over the past three winters?
Meanwhile we’re stuck with two more years of Leroux. Today’s performance didn’t instil confidence. At 8:30 their little sidewalk-clearing plow got stuck outside Sauve’s and the operator was obliged to call his boss to send the only truck doing the main streets to pull him out. He told us his machine was too small for the job when the snow is this deep. A tracked Bombardier sidewalk plough like they have in Montreal could whip through town and do the job in no time, he added. Clearly, this contract doesn’t include requirements for the right equipment.
At one point this morning, the Hudson fire department’s pumper and ladder truck attempted to make their way through crawling Main Road traffic to get to a call. From the way they were blasting their horns, they were having a tough time breaking through. Shouldn’t safe passage of emergency vehicles at all times be the minimum we demand of a snowclearing contractor?
This can’t wait for next winter or the municipal election, folks. This needs to be dealt with now.
Correction: Since posting this I have learned the town’s public works department, not the town’s snowclearing contractor as has been the case in previous contracts. This leads to the following question: what services are covered in the current contract?