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Councillor fears Sidney will pay more for roundabout because of North Saanich

Coun. Scott Garnett made these comments in opposing new cost sharing agreement
North Saanich’s share of the new proposed roundabout near the Amazon facility drops to 17.2 per cent from 20 per cent, drawing criticism from Coun. Scott Garnett, who wants North Saanich to honour its commitment of 20 per cent toward the project. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Town of Sidney and the Victoria Airport Authority will equally share the extra costs of the future roundabout near the new Amazon facility under a new, final cost-sharing agreement, much to the chagrin of one Sidney councillor.

Coun. Scott Garnett said he is concerned the new agreement for $6.4 million revises the initial agreement to the benefit of North Saanich.

“I find that problematic,” he said.

North Saanich had initially agreed to pay 20 per cent of the project, with Sidney and VAA sharing 40 per cent each with the initial project cost at $5.5 million.

But the new agreement sees North Saanich’s share drop to 17.2 per cent after that city’s previous council agreed to cap its commitment in mid-August by a 4-2 vote to 20 per cent of the initial project cost of $5.5 million. The latest cost estimate pegs the project cost at $6.4 million with Sidney and the VAA equally sharing the additional cost of $900,000, according to a staff report. They also agreed to equally share any additional increases beyond $6.4 million.

The federal government is currently reviewing a grant application for $5 million toward the project with the grant to be allocated across the three partners according to their respective shares — if successful. (So North Saanich would receive 17.2 per cent — not 20 per cent — of the grant, with Sidney and the airport authority receiving 40 per cent). Staff said they expect an answer from the federal government in late February or early March 2023. But nobody can count on the grant, said Garnett.

RELATED: North Saanich puts limit on roundabout bill as cost estimates increase

“If those numbers of ($6.4 million) go up without grant, North Saanich’s share becomes even less, and I think they are getting a lot of value of this,” he said, adding that North Saanich will see additional development (and with it tax revenue) next to the existing Canadian Tire store.

“Quite frankly, they should be held to the 20 per cent,” he said. “I understand that they voted on a cap, but there is more to gain for them than what they are letting on.”

Garnett made those comments in voting against the revised cost-share agreement along Coun. Steve Duck.

While Garnett acknowledged the need for the improvements, he had previously questioned the lack of public input on the initial agreement.

He also raised concerns about the impact on Sidney’s finances in case of future cost increases. Duck also raised financial concerns.

“I’m a little concerned that we are betting the farm on getting this grant,” said Duck in pointing to the worsening economic climate and past mistakes in accurately predicting the costs of future projects. The project cost of $6.4 million stems from a Class A estimate, the highest possible grade.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Sara Duncan, Terri O’Keeffe, Richard Novek and Chad Rintoul in favour of the agreement with supporters citing the need for additional improvements that would benefit Sidney residents and businesses, the airport, as well as North Saanich residents and businesses.

McNeil-Smith said the idea for a roundabout at the location goes back some 20 years in pointing to the area’s infrastructure needs. He also addressed Garnett’s comments.

While council might have preferred a different outcome for the benefit of local residents, council should respect the decisions of another council, he said. Everybody is moving forward in the best possible way under the circumstances, he added.

Sidney’s director of corporate services and chief financial officer Andrew Hicik said the $6.4 million figure represents the “upper limit” of the project cost. He later added that even the initial figure was inflated based on current and anticipated construction costs.

“So we are starting with a base project cost that is generous,” he said.

The project also comes with a contingency of over $900,000 with all increases subject to council approval.

“While I hear many council members think this will be over budget, I do not share that opinion because of the contingencies built in.”

Political support for the project has always appeared lower in North Saanich than in Sidney with members of council especially but not just Coun. Jack McClintock having questioned its rationale. But residents of Sidney as well as its political leadership have also raised questions about the project with Coun. Sara Duncan once having compared it to Sidney’s version of the McKenzie Interchange.

Coun. O’Keeffe questioned that narrative Monday, saying that staff is doing the best possible job.

Black Press has reached out to Sidney as well as North Saanich for comment about Garnett’s comments and North Saanich’s reliability as a partner.

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