REGINA, SASK. – The city of Regina has come under fire once again from roadbuilders in the province who claim its shift to in-house work is putting companies out of business and isn’t proven to save taxpayers money.
Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association president Shantel Lipp explained that the city has increased its road working staff as well as how much asphalt it is producing at its asphalt plant. The city has operated the plant for more than 60 years.
The city’s plant produces crushed concrete, crushed concrete mixed with a sub-base, crushed asphalt concrete, cold plannings and coarse concrete. City officials say they never sell surplus asphalt, only recycled material that would otherwise go to landfill.
According to the city, from 2009 to 2018, the it made 20.6 per cent more asphalt (68,000 tons in 2009 and 82,000 tons in 2018).
During that time period, its road repaving team has expanded 50 per cent, from 12 to 18 positions.
The number of permanent positions on the city’s road repaving team has gone up by 50 per cent in the same time period, from 12 to 18 positions. Officials noted that the team mostly deals with repaving roads and patching potholes while road rebuilding is typically done by local contractors and public crews. The city crews do rebuild paved alleys but not roadways.
“You don’t need to produce any asphalt,” said Lipp. “Local contractors have the capacity to take that on, and the city hasn’t addressed other issues that the local industry is also seeing. They may have expanded paving crews by 50 per cent, how does that effect asphalt plant personnel? There’s a lot more layers we struggle to get answers from. They aren’t being transparent, and I don’t think we have a full accounting of what their costs are, but we are always told they are saving money.”
Lipp said the expansion is having dire consequences for the association’s members.
“This is something we have been questioning the city on for years now,” Lipp said. “Locally we are seeing contractors who are having to really compete for work and those not able to win jobs are seeing layoffs, selling equipment, downsizing, because the work isn’t there. The challenge is that should the city continue down this path, they are going to put quite a few more contractors out of business.”
In the past, Mayor Michael Fougere has said that while it is difficult and complex to compare public versus private costs, but he believes it is competitive if not lower.
Lipp noted that the city has all the same overhead a contractor does, including milling staff, traffic control, truck drivers, engineer and more.
“They have that type of overhead and they are paying them more,” said Lipp.
She also noted that in-house work can have issues with risk.
“In a public tender, quality control is built in,” said Lipp. “In a paving contract there are always penalties or warranty clauses to cover deficiencies. The government is risk averse. When a city crew goes out, there’s no way of knowing if the same level of diligence is being applied. If there are issues with city work, there is no recourse there except they pay the crew to go out and do the work again.”
Lipp explained that the impact on the roadbuilding companies also impacts the community.
“A lot of these businesses put money back into local fundraisers, sports teams, charities, hospitals and there is a huge impact on the community that I don’t think the taxpayer sees,” Lipp said.
She urged the city to examine the real financial costs of doing the work in-house as well as the impact it has on the community.