Toronto

Auditor says Toronto overpaid snow-clearing contractors by $7M as public complaints piled up

After a blizzard of complaints about snow-clearing in the city last winter, Toronto’s auditor says staff should be using GPS data to make sure contractors are getting the work done.

Report recommends city staff use GPS to hold contractors accountable

Toronto squandered millions when it comes to snow-clearing work it contracted out, the city's auditor general finds in a new report released Friday. Here, a line of plows clears snow from the Gardiner Expressway. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

After a blizzard of public complaints about snow-clearing in the city last winter, Toronto's auditor says staff should be using GPS data to make sure contractors are getting the work done.

The city's failure to do this has led to an estimated $7.1 million in overpayment to contractors over the last five years, Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler says in a new report released Friday. 

The auditor also questions some $24 million spent on standby payments over the same timeframe — suggesting the city has squandered a total of $31 million.

Romeo-Beehler makes 22 recommendations for improvement, including setting key performance indicators so city staff can actually determine if Toronto is getting its money's worth when it comes to snow-clearing, examining cases where routes aren't completed and developing clear guidelines for when contractors can stop and take breaks.

With winter coming, Romeo-Beehler says her recommendations could save the city money if staff acts quickly.

"With two years remaining in the current contract cycle, there is a potential saving of an estimated $9.6 million if the express terms of the standby provisions of the contract are applied and depending on legal advice," she states in the report.

Last winter, the city's snow-clearing work faced a tremendous amount of criticism. Toronto's ombudsman said those complaints stemmed from snowy sidewalks, roads, bike lanes and public paths alike. Mayor John Tory called for a full review of the situation in February, saying his office alone fielded more than 150 angry calls and emails.

Tory, pressed on Romeo-Beehler's report on Friday, told reporters the city will be looking into her findings.

Report finds 1 in 4 GPS units sampled not working

Romeo-Beehler's report doesn't give specific examples, but paints a broad picture of subpar performance by contractors who start shifts late, claim more hours than they worked, take excessive stops and work without GPS devices that might provide oversight (the report suggests more than a quarter of the 850 GPS units it inspected weren't working.)

The report also asks the general manager of the transportation department to do a cost-benefit analysis to see if outsourcing of winter road maintenance makes sense at this point compared to what a city-run team could do.

City councillors will have a chance to ask Romeo-Beehler more questions about her report at a committee meeting next week. The auditor won't comment publicly on her report until then. 

The city budgets about $90 million per year for winter maintenance work.

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