AMHERST – A request from the recent Amherst municipal candidates’ forum has led to a freedom of information request from both mayoralty candidate Wayne Bishop and council candidate Ed Childs.
The candidates filed the request on Monday with the Amherst CAO Greg Herrett seeking information on the cost of the new town hall.
During the candidates’ forum Mayor Robert Small was asked the costs associated with renovating the Dominion Public Building.
“We shouldn’t have to file a freedom of information request for information the current mayor has promised publicly to provide and is readily available at town hall,” Bishop said. “The mayor and council’s refusal to provide this information, even after being asked a second time, speaks volumes about the lack of openness and transparency being demonstrated by this mayor and council.”
The two candidates are seeking the complete costs of the project to date, including all regular pay, overtime and benefits being paid to town staff who are working on the project as of Oct. 15.
Childs said he’s disappointed the two candidates were forced to file a freedom of information request because the information should be readily available at town hall.
He said voters are likely going to find that the cost of converting the building into a new town hall is much higher than taxpayers have been told. He estimates the final price could be more than $1.1 million
“We just want to make sure that the full cost of the project, including the use of town staff, is fully accounted for and disclosed as such to the citizens. They have a right to know,” Childs said.
The mayor said the town has been upfront with the costs of the redevelopment of the building. He said the town purchased the building for $315,675 in the fiscal year ending March 2011, began renovation work last year and spent $25,960 in the fiscal year ending March 2012.
“Those amounts are a matter of public record and appear in and have been reported upon in our audited financial statements for those years,” the mayor said.
The bulk of the renovation work has been done this year, Small said. The current year costs are estimated to be $826,000, including $525,269 to date and another $300,000 that has yet to be billed.
“In terms of the cost of town employees working on the project, it is not the practice of the town to capitalize the cost of its own labour in calculating the cost of capital projects,” the mayor said. “For this reason we are not immediately able to provide the detailed labour costs requested by the other candidates.”
He said it’s important to note the employees working on the project are already on the town’s payroll, so there is no incremental cost to the town of using internal, local labour to work on the project.
Small pointed out it’s common to temporarily reassign employees to various duties. Early on in the project, he said, using town employees was identified as a way to avoid incremental renovations costs not only for the work to be done, but in terms of outside contractors’ profit and overhead as well.
“They have very likely incurred some overtime hours on this job, as often happens through the course of their duties as well. To be completely fair though, they also occasionally incur overtime when working on other duties.”