County councillors were asked for clarification on its policies when working with contractors during a regular meeting Aug. 28. The questions came from Reg Perry, owner of Onsite Group Incorporated, who was accompanied by his lawyer Craig Paterson.
“I’ve been in the construction business in the local area since 1975, and because we haven’t really pursued a lot of our construction endeavors in this area for the last number of years, there’s a possibility that some of the people here don’t even realize that we are in the area and we are available,” explained Perry.
He understood the county works with companies who have experience with some of the public works they need.
“I understand the county has a certain working policy, maybe not a bylaw, but a policy whereby they give local suppliers or service personnel an opportunity to work for the county,” he said. “I was wondering if this policy is still in effect and how does it affect local people?”
He did add he was not there to take work from other contractors, but wanted to know his son and grandson would be able to sustain the business should he step down.
CAO Charlie Cutforth confirmed the county works with local contractors as much as possible, and they do that by taking local bids for hourly work as municipal government is required to conduct a Canada wide tender for any project usually more than $100,000.
“Keep in mind that if we have to publicly tender you have to be totally bondable, you have to carry the proper insurance and WCB (Workers’ Compensation Board) coverage, and everything else, which is highly expensive,” explained Cutforth.
Companies from Nova Scotia have built roads in municipalities in Alberta, partly because municipalities are also obligated to take the lowest bid, said Cutforth. “In our case we have hired local business by the hour. Owner/operators for the most part, so that we can avoid that Canada wide search, if you want to call it that, and it’s a day-to-day working arrangement and we are selective in who we choose.”
About 10 years ago a smaller two-mile road project could cost the county $300,000 if they put it out to bid, but their own public works crew could complete it for $120,000.
“We would hire individuals as necessary to get the job done and we were happy to do that,” he stated.
The county also worked with a local company called Shippy Bros. who would deal with small construction jobs for 20 to 25 years.
“That’s carried on for many years. It’s worked great, we’ve never had any issues to my knowledge,” said Cutforth.
When the economy took a downturn Ponoka County began to have requests from contractors who wanted to work with the county and they had an unwritten policy to support the companies who supported them over the years, explained Cutforth. “We trust the work they do.”
A public tender may or may not guarantee a job for a local company either.
“We cannot discriminate between a Saskatchewan firm and a local Ponoka County firm,” said Cutforth.
Another restriction for the county is the available budget, which Cutforth said he has explained to Perry before at another meeting.
“It’s purely directed by council’s budget. We’re not saying we don’t want use Reg Perry’s firm because we don’t like Reg Perry, absolutely not, that’s nothing to do with anything. We know he’s a taxpayer and always has been and that he’s got equipment. Our problem is we already have budget set and only so many miles we can afford to build each year,” he stated.
He added the county takes into consideration all bids that come in as well as its public works crew, which is their priority.
Last year was Perry’s first year his company has done some work hauling gravel for the county, but he was restricted to one truck. He feels he has equipment, which can handle most jobs.
His lawyer had a question on behalf of Perry.
“There’s some uncertainty, at least in Reg’s mind, in terms of the number of gravel trucks that the county has per company,” said Paterson.
The county tries to restrict the number of operators’ trucks they allow onto a job as the goal is to give everyone a chance to work. The challenge the county faces is if an operator leaves a job then they will hire a second truck from another company, explained Cutforth.
“We try to restrict one truck per company, unless we need more trucks and then we have no choice,” stated Cutforth.
Much of the time they are given short notice, and a second truck is called at the last moment. There is no set policy for who the county calls first to bring in a second truck.
Paterson clarified that Perry’s purpose was not to circumvent administration by talking to council, but only to let them know he is ready for work.
Despite not seeing a bid from Onsite Group Incorporated in earlier years, Cutforth said they will ensure Perry’s company is given a chance to bid on projects that are available, but they have always encouraged local companies to bid.