City council grills staff over $47M photo-radar overrun

City councillors pulled no punches today when it came to airing their concerns over the city’s photo-radar enforcement program.

Extra cost of the 2007 business decision was only reported to council last week

Mayor Don Iveson wasted no words in council on Monday, calling the city's 2007 business plan to take over photo-radar enforcement "deeply flawed." (CBC)

City councillors pulled no punches today when it came to airing their concerns over the city’s photo-radar enforcement program.

Last week, an audit showed the program cost $46.9 million more than expected when the city took over management from a private company.

On Monday, members of the city’s transportation committee told council the business model put in place seven years ago was deeply flawed, and that no backup plan was made.

The city first began taking control of photo radar in 2007, with officials at the time promising the decision would save both time and money.

However, that promise was based on the assumption the city could purchase off-the-shelf software to process tickets and fines but no such computer program was commercially available.

Instead of the $6.7-million price tag the city expected, the project ended up costing $53.6 million.

The transportation department said it knew about the problem in 2009, but admitted cost overrun was never discussed in council.

Council was told the city manager-level employees who made the original business plan were no longer with the city.

“I can’t speak to why it wasn’t flagged I know the process we have now we do come back before committee or council with updates in regards to projects on an individual basis as well as at budget time,” said Transportation manager Gord Cebryk.

Council members demand accountability

Although revenues from tickets will cover the cost of the project, letting taxpayers off the hook, several council members are outraged the problem went on so long without them being told about it.

“You can't let something get this far off track without letting council know,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “And the city manager agreed with that unequivocally.”

“I think the fact of the matter is that nobody's taken responsibility for this is very, very concerning to me and I think that goes to public perception as well,” said Ward 7 councillor Tony Caterina on Monday.

“This was a breakdown in the department somewhere.”

“Council confidence, public confidence in administrative proposals just has to nosedive when that happens,” agreed Ward 9 councillor Bryan Anderson.

Iveson made it clear that city council expected to informed more quickly about similar issues in future.

“That’s the clear expectation from every member of council,” he said.

Cebryk said new processes are already in place to prevent similar errors from happening in the future

“Over the course of this audit, we have been able to identify a number of lessons which will help us in the future not only with automated enforcement but with project delivery in general.”

It wasn’t all bad news, however. Despite the unexpected inflation of photo-radar costs, councillors said they are pleased with the results they’ve been getting since taking over enforcement, noting the number of injuries and fatal collisions has almost halved since 2006.