Why I didn’t support the Ottawa Street Landscape Plan RFP

Jill McCubbin2by Jill McCubbin

Last week, the planning department submitted a report to Council, at the Committee of the Whole meeting, recommending we pay a consultant $7500 to prepare a detailed plan and cost estimate to landscape a section of Ottawa Street (the traffic circle entry to our Town and along Ottawa Street to Patterson Street). It had been agreed by Council and staff that the Ottawa Street Landscape Plan essentially involves creating paths and tree planting — necessary landscaping for Ottawa Street that I do support! The majority of Council voted to accept the fee and the recommendation passed. I voted against the recommendation.

Why?

My feeling is generally that the Town spends too much on consultants. Council sends out too many Request for Proposals (RFPs) to professional consultants on too many projects — big and small. I realize paying for some consulting is absolutely required — but I think the Town has a habit to “go to” consultants for projects that could be handled by staff and councillors with help / input form the greater Mississippi Mills community (whenever possible). The Ottawa Street Landscape Plan is a good example of “consulting excess”, in my opinion.

What I think might have happened in this case:

  • Staff spends a day reviewing a plan we already had – an Ottawa Street beautification concept design (prepared in 2006 by a working group when Ottawa Street was widened and the traffic circle was constructed) — to identify what parts of the design will work as a simplified plan that fits with 2015 landscaping needs on the street
  • Another day of staff time is spent on details / drawing a workable plan based on the above
  • Added to the above 2-4 hours of consulting time with a local arborist
  • Possibly another staff day modifying the plan after Council’s review and then finalizing the plan for Council’s approval
Possible cost estimate (at a $55 loaded staff rate) :
  • 24 hrs staff time x $55 = $1320
  • 4 hrs arborist / other x $80 = $320
  • Total: $1640

Passed by Council, this simple plan could then become a final, approved, “official” plan having the same “standing” as any consultant’s plan has. The Town does require a qualifiable and use-able landscape plan for good reasons – more than just because Ottawa Street needs greening! Three sites on Ottawa Street were approved and built a number of years ago, but are not yet landscaped adequately. The Town requires an approved and complete landscaping plan so that staff can go back to these properties to negotiate their landscaping responsibilities. Also some of the Town’s landscaping costs can be recouped through future development charges and in order to do so the Town needs an approved plan. All that said, how come the Town can’t stamp “final and approved” on a clear, workable plan developed in a less-costly fashion?

Yet, Council favoured the $7500 consultant route over a plan that would have freed up some money to buy and plant the trees.
I’m posting this article not to change the past and not to admonish our planning department, which I have much respect for, but as food for thought as the Town moves forward.