The City of Prince George has spent $34.16 million for a new parking garage downtown, nearly triple the original budget, according to a city report, which has led to calls for the mayor to step down.
The city project had an initial budget of $12.61 million, according to acting deputy city manager Ian Wells.
The underground parkade, located on Sixth Avenue near George Street, was built in partnership with A & T Projects Development Ltd. The parkade provides parking, and serves as the foundation for, the company's four-phase, 160-unit condo complex.
The Prince George Citizen, through Freedom of Information requests, has tracked email correspondence related to the parking garage, which ended up costing city taxpayers about $97,000 per parking stall.
During a press conference on January 25 this year, Mayor Lyn Hall said the significant cost overruns on the parkade project were as much a surprise to him as the rest of city council.
The total final cost came to $34.16 million – $22.46 million for the parkade, $597,138 to connect the parkade to the city's district energy system, and $11.1 million for water and sewer upgrades in the area, and other off-site works.
Mayor Hall acknowledged he was forwarded an email from A & T partner Frank Quinn on July 4, 2018, which warned of "very large overruns" on the project, but said he never received any follow-up on the issue. An hour after former city manager Kathleen Soltis forwarded the mayor that email, with a promise to keep him informed when she knew more, A & T president Jeff Arnold sent the city a detailed spreadsheet estimating the cost of the parkade project at $19.9 million.
"I have enclosed our detailed budget for our review on Friday and we are all about assisting in solutions on where we can," Arnold wrote in his Wednesday, July 4, 2018 email. "Lots to talk about."
On March 11, 2019, more than eight months after the city received the updated project budget from Arnold, city council approved the amended city financial plan by adding the parkade project. Council was asked to approve the initial, preliminary budget of $12.6 million.
On September 24, 2019, Arnold emailed Wells another updated budget, this time showing the project budget had grown to $22.64 million.
On November 19, 2019, the city's finance and audit committee, which includes Hall, received an update on the city's capital projects, including the parkade. The committee was told the total spending on the parkade project, as of November 5, 2019, was at $16.37 million.
Then on August 31, 2020, city council was asked to approve the city's annual report, which showed the total spending to date on the parkade at more than $17.96 million. It was that report, which prompted Coun. Brian Skakun to put forward a motion asking for a report on the budget status of the parkade project.
It was only on December 7, 2020, when council received a report from Wells – by that time the acting deputy city manager – that the full extent of the cost overrun of the project was revealed.
City councillor Brian Skakun is calling for a forensic audit to determine how the parkade project went millions of dollars over budget without council being informed. He suggested the Ministry of Municipal Affairs get involved to review the city's handling of the project.
"The community wants some answers, and we have to get them,” Skakun said.
In a March 30 editorial, for the second time this year, the Prince George Citizen, called for Mayor Hall to resign.
“Clear away the fog and it appears more than ever that as early as July 2018, Hall knew the parkade would cost far more than $12 million. That's more than three months before the last municipal election and nearly two-and-a-half years before the rest of city council and Prince George taxpayers would learn the truth,” the editorial reads.