By George Brown
“See you in court.”
That might be the response from a group representing 38th Street residents fed up with what they see as stonewalling by the Town of Ponoka.
The group was advised to address their request for answers on the costs to install utilities and resurface 38th Street to town council and they would receive written answers.
But the answers they received at the Aug. 24 council meeting don’t satisfy them; they’re the same recycled, cut and paste responses they have seen all too often.
After presenting Nick Kohlman and Bill Kuncio with the responses, CAO Brad Watson recommended council close the books on the matter
“From an administrative and council aspect, the time that’s been involved on this that you might want to consider we’re saying that the file has been concluded, closed.”
He recommended council and administration have “no additional acknowledgement or correspondence or contact on this.”
Council may consider that recommendation at its Sept. 14 meeting.
“The only option is to go to court, according to the Municipal Government Board,” said Kuncio.
“This is a complex issue and the town has an unlimited amount of money,” added Kohlman. “They could break us.”
He said the RCMP have reviewed the file but do not see the makings of a criminal case. They recommended civil action.
Kohlman said the group may consider a private prosecution, whereby private citizens can initiate proceedings where they believe there has been an offense committed under the Criminal Code of Canada or other provincial or federal law.
“If they RCMP would take it, that would be wonderful but if they don take it we could lay a charge under a private prosecution, we then get it before a judge,” he said.
“If it is before a judge, he can look at it; he can deal with it or he can throw it out. I think it’s worth a shot.”
Mayor Larry Henkelman said the latest document the group received is the best they will get from the town. “There are some questions they asked that we can’t answer and that’s because of confidentiality.”
He said town council doesn’t micromanage civic affairs and didn’t need to see the line-by-line breakdown of the projects costs when awarding the tenders. Another engineer or another contractor might have done the job for less money but “when we tendered it, these are the prices that came in.”
“Have there been some errors made? It’s possible,” the mayor said. “Has there been fraud? I definitely do not think so.”
The claims made by 38th Street residents have been investigated by the police, provincial ombudsman and the premier’s office, Henkelman said. “This has been going on for 20 years. When does it go away?”
Residents on 38th Street say they received a notice in May 2007 that water and sewer mains would be installed at a cost of $195,070 but nothing was done that year. In January 2008 they were advised the cost of the project would be $521,707 and there would be no leave to appeal.
In 2009 they asked town hall for a detailed cost breakdown was denied. One resident wanted to appeal the levy but was advised Ponoka’s assessment appeal board nor the provincial Municipal Government Board had jurisdiction to hear her appeal.
Kuncio added the costs for consulting engineers on the project also seems out of whack.
Under the terms of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) documents at town hall can be withheld if their release is considered harmful to the business interests of a third party.
Representatives of the 38th Street residents were given redacted tender documents and censored bills submitted by the engineers. In total, consulting engineers were paid a total of $95,600 on a $521,214 project, well beyond an acceptable 10 per cent of the project cost, Kuncio said.
“If town councillors spent 10 per cent of the amount of time we have on this matter they would have some idea of the what’s going on, but they haven’t,” Kohlman said.