EMBRUN – A staff member’s requested change to the township of Russell’s purchasing policy was deferred until later this month.

The decision to defer was made during the municipality’s Oct. 4 council meeting following a lengthy discussion on staff’s proposed amendment, which included increasing the chief administrative officer (CAO)’s approval power on Request for Proposal (RFP)s from $85,000 to $150,000. Prepared by executive director of infrastructure services Jonathan Bourgon and submitted by director of finances and treasurer Richard Godin, a staff report indicated that three changes were being proposed based on legal advice, two of which were simply wording changes.

“Based on the recent experiences with RFPs, the limit to be approved by the CAO should be increased to $150,000 if included in the budget,” Bourgon said in his report. “The proposed higher threshold could alleviate the issues of timing to obtain the approval and to be able to start the project immediately after the closing of the RFP. In the last few years, because we noticed an increase of costs in the construction industry and since we are now seeing an increase in consulting fees, some projects exceeded the existing threshold and had to be presented to council while normally they would have been approved by the CAO which have consequently caused some delays in starting projects.”

Councillor Mike Tarnowski expressed concern for the new wording, noting that it sounded like the CAO would have permission to start an RFP, not just approve one. Godin clarified the issue, assuring council that the decision to go to RFP still lies with council, while the amendment is merely increasing the threshold for which the CAO can approve an offer without additional council consultation.

Tarnowski asked if the new limit falls in line with other municipalities’ purchasing policies. He said knowing they’d soon be having a new CAO, he wanted to be sure this was a standard across municipalities. Mayor Pierre Leroux said he doesn’t believe there is a standard. He said it could be different for every municipality, as the number is based on the size of the municipality.

“Tonight, council may be approving an RFP for the level of service review, while it’s really time sensitive because of our grant,” Bourgon said, offering an example of why the change would be beneficial. “If we don’t need to come up in front of council, if it’s included in the budget, it just makes our project or the timeline a bit faster.”

Godin assured council that transparency is not being eliminated. He said all contracts over $25,000 are reported to council. Leroux said council has already approved an RFP to happen, coming back for a second approval once a company and an amount have been attained could be seen as redundant.

Councillor Jamie Laurin questioned the timing issue. He noted that council meets bi-weekly, and a special meeting can be called when necessary.

“I guess, for the small amount there, relatively speaking, to go from 85 to 150 based on the increased cost of construction these days, I guess I can understand that a bit. I’m a little hesitant though. I’ll have to be honest with you, it’s a lot of delegation of authority and we’ve done that a lot over the last few years, so this one’s going to be tough,” Laurin said, adding that council may want to see the different bids that come in, possibly choosing differently than staff.

Godin said staff currently has a practice of returning to council if they’re recommending a bid contrary to the township’s point system, regardless of the level of authority. Bourgon said the RFP process is based on scoring more than pricing, usually making the decision clear. He also pointed out that the CAO currently has authority to approve a construction project up to $275,000.

“So, it’s really for the portion that we’ll see more for consultant or engineering firms or those types of works that we’re asking to adjust according to what we’ve seen, the increase we’ve seen in the last year and a half or almost two years.”

The issue was pulled from the list of consent items for further discussion later in the meeting. 

“Given our current situation, I’d propose to either lower that amount to a smaller amount or have some sort of review with similar size townships, to see what the policy is in similar size townships,” Tarnowski said.

Leroux then asked Godin if it was Russell’s standard practice to consult with similar-sized townships before making policy decisions. Godin said it is done for some policies, but it depends on the circumstances. He said gathering the numbers could be easily done if it makes council more comfortable in their decision making.

Tarnowski moved to defer the decision, and Coun. André Brisson seconded the motion. Council voted in favour of the deferral, moving the decision to Russell’s next October’s council meeting. It was noted that Godin should have the requested comparisons available for council to consider by then.

The purchasing policy amendment request was brought back to council with the additional requested information during the Oct. 18 regular meeting. With the new data in hand, council voted in favour of the amendments.

“I just wanted to clarify that I’m okay with the amendments, including the increased ceiling to $150,000,” Tarnowski said. “I appreciated the added insight with that information on the other municipalities. Thank you very much for doing that extra work.”