By Robert Frank
Near-record snowfall, soaring fuel costs and rising value-added taxes have pushed the cost of plowing snow way up in Baie d’Urfé, Mayor Maria Tutino told The Suburban.
Council voted to pay $143,402.57 to Landcare Independent during the coming winter, a nearly 35 per cent increase over the approximately $107,000 that Baie d’Urfé agreed to pay last year.
The amount is also more than 51 per cent higher than Baie d’Urfé paid in 2006, under contracts signed during the Montreal municipal merger.
“We’ve seen changes to GST and QST during that time,” Tutino pointed out, noting that the amounts in the town’s budget include those taxes. Today, the taxes add 14.975 per cent to the town’s tab, compared with 13.95 per cent, seven years ago.
Fuel prices have taken an even bigger bite out of the town’s budget, she added.
“A litre of gasoline cost 78¢ in December 2008,” Tutino recalled. “In 2013, it’s about $1.37. That’s an 85 per cent increase during that period.”
“The contractor in 2008 way underbid,” she added. “It was a real sweetheart deal. The winter of 2007-2008 saw 371 cm of snowfall, the highest accumulation in recent history. The average snowfall is 218 cm. Citizens saw the cost of snow removal for their homes increase 30-40 per cent that year – and the town had just a 14 per cent increase. The winter of 2012-2013 was another biggie.”
A recent study by the University of Montreal corroborated that Baie d’Urfé residents have paid some of the lowest rates for snow clearance of the demerged West End suburbs.
It cost just $2,623 per kilometre to plow Baie d’Urfé, reported the Centre for Productivity and Prosperity—part of U of M’s prestigious Haute Études Commerciales business school.
Only Beaconsfield ($1,911) and Senneville ($2,395) residents paid less per kilometre. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Westmount residents paid $20,745 per kilometre for their snow removal. On the West Island, the highest-cost suburb was Dollard des Ormeaux, at $12,065 per kilometre.
Baie d’Urfé’s snow clearance costs have nonetheless become acrimonious among Tutino’s opponents during last month’s municipal election.
They objected to the town awarding the contract to Landcare, which was owned by city councilor Wayne Belvedere, who lost his bid for re-election, Nov. 3.
Tutino acknowledged that Belvedere’s company has cleared Baie d’Urfé’s streets for decades.
“Mayor and council don’t get involved in the [public contract tendering] process for contracts over $100,000,” she underscored. “The law requires sealed bids. It’s a two-part system: first contractors have to show that they’re compliant with the requirements. If they are, then a second envelope is opened and the lowest bidder wins.”
“In 2008, Landcare’s bid was dramatically lower than Meloche—so much so that it was widely recognized that it was well underbid,” Tutino continued.
Quebec government documents confirmed that Belvedere was Landcare’s sole owner until Sept. 23, 2013, when ownership was transferred to Gregory Belvedere.
With the latest contract, Landcare has successfully garnered an unbroken string contracts from Baie d’Urfé worth more than $833,000 since 2003.
Mayor Tutino emphasized that the firm was the low bidder on each occasion and that Belvedere always declared his personal interest in the company whenever the contracts arose during town council meetings.
“We always complied with the law,” she stated. “He refrained from discussion and voting during public town council meetings. In addition, during private caucus meetings, Councilor Belvedere left the room [whenever the contracts were discussed] so the rest of the council could decide whether to proceed or not.”
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