Review of backflow valve program stalls work

News Mar 23, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

A review of "irregularities" in requests for city grants to pay for sewer backup protection has left 40 per cent of resident applications in limbo.

The city started offering grants of up to $2,000 to install backflow prevention valves after chronic storm flooding in city homes between 2004 and 2009.

But this year, the city has already received $3.6-million worth of applications, about 1,750, for subsidized valve installation — more than $1 million over the expected budget for all of 2015.

A city audit report also raised concerns about contractors teaming up to potentially circumvent three-quote safeguards meant to keep job prices competitive.

City water and legal officials are now reviewing unspecified "irregularities" on close to 700 grant applications before giving residents the go-ahead to hire a plumber for valve installation, said water director Dan McKinnon.

Those plumbing projects are "parked" until the review is complete, he said.

McKinnon said the review started about two weeks ago and staff are calling affected residents to explain the delay. But he declined to say what kind of irregularities are under review.

City solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski confirmed her staff are involved in the review, which she said is meant to ensure the grant program isn't being misused.

Atwood-Petkovski said if the review turns up legal or price-fixing concerns, the city could "bring them to the attention of other agencies," such as police or the federal competition bureau.

But she also declined to comment on specific irregularities that warrant a closer look, or how the review would differ from the earlier audit.

The Spectator has previously reported on an example of city-subsidized plumbing jobs that use different price quotes from different business names — but are linked to the same numbered company.

McKinnon has pitched a series of potential repairs to the popular program designed to rein in prices and city costs, including cutting the maximum grant amount to $1,500 and only giving work to a roster of approved contractors.

Councillors weren't keen on making homeowners pay for the city's problems, however.

"I don't want any additional costs to my constituents," said Coun. Tom Jackson.

McKinnon said he was confident the "basic work" involved in a valve installation would be covered by $1,500.

He said it's possible contractors are using the "fat" in the contract to do cosmetic work related to the installations.

He will report back in detail by June on how the city could create an approved "roster" of contractors via a competitive process, as well as possible price caps for projects.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

Review of backflow valve program stalls work

News Mar 23, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

A review of "irregularities" in requests for city grants to pay for sewer backup protection has left 40 per cent of resident applications in limbo.

The city started offering grants of up to $2,000 to install backflow prevention valves after chronic storm flooding in city homes between 2004 and 2009.

But this year, the city has already received $3.6-million worth of applications, about 1,750, for subsidized valve installation — more than $1 million over the expected budget for all of 2015.

A city audit report also raised concerns about contractors teaming up to potentially circumvent three-quote safeguards meant to keep job prices competitive.

City water and legal officials are now reviewing unspecified "irregularities" on close to 700 grant applications before giving residents the go-ahead to hire a plumber for valve installation, said water director Dan McKinnon.

Those plumbing projects are "parked" until the review is complete, he said.

McKinnon said the review started about two weeks ago and staff are calling affected residents to explain the delay. But he declined to say what kind of irregularities are under review.

City solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski confirmed her staff are involved in the review, which she said is meant to ensure the grant program isn't being misused.

Atwood-Petkovski said if the review turns up legal or price-fixing concerns, the city could "bring them to the attention of other agencies," such as police or the federal competition bureau.

But she also declined to comment on specific irregularities that warrant a closer look, or how the review would differ from the earlier audit.

The Spectator has previously reported on an example of city-subsidized plumbing jobs that use different price quotes from different business names — but are linked to the same numbered company.

McKinnon has pitched a series of potential repairs to the popular program designed to rein in prices and city costs, including cutting the maximum grant amount to $1,500 and only giving work to a roster of approved contractors.

Councillors weren't keen on making homeowners pay for the city's problems, however.

"I don't want any additional costs to my constituents," said Coun. Tom Jackson.

McKinnon said he was confident the "basic work" involved in a valve installation would be covered by $1,500.

He said it's possible contractors are using the "fat" in the contract to do cosmetic work related to the installations.

He will report back in detail by June on how the city could create an approved "roster" of contractors via a competitive process, as well as possible price caps for projects.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

Review of backflow valve program stalls work

News Mar 23, 2016 by Matthew Van Dongen The Hamilton Spectator

A review of "irregularities" in requests for city grants to pay for sewer backup protection has left 40 per cent of resident applications in limbo.

The city started offering grants of up to $2,000 to install backflow prevention valves after chronic storm flooding in city homes between 2004 and 2009.

But this year, the city has already received $3.6-million worth of applications, about 1,750, for subsidized valve installation — more than $1 million over the expected budget for all of 2015.

A city audit report also raised concerns about contractors teaming up to potentially circumvent three-quote safeguards meant to keep job prices competitive.

City water and legal officials are now reviewing unspecified "irregularities" on close to 700 grant applications before giving residents the go-ahead to hire a plumber for valve installation, said water director Dan McKinnon.

Those plumbing projects are "parked" until the review is complete, he said.

McKinnon said the review started about two weeks ago and staff are calling affected residents to explain the delay. But he declined to say what kind of irregularities are under review.

City solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski confirmed her staff are involved in the review, which she said is meant to ensure the grant program isn't being misused.

Atwood-Petkovski said if the review turns up legal or price-fixing concerns, the city could "bring them to the attention of other agencies," such as police or the federal competition bureau.

But she also declined to comment on specific irregularities that warrant a closer look, or how the review would differ from the earlier audit.

The Spectator has previously reported on an example of city-subsidized plumbing jobs that use different price quotes from different business names — but are linked to the same numbered company.

McKinnon has pitched a series of potential repairs to the popular program designed to rein in prices and city costs, including cutting the maximum grant amount to $1,500 and only giving work to a roster of approved contractors.

Councillors weren't keen on making homeowners pay for the city's problems, however.

"I don't want any additional costs to my constituents," said Coun. Tom Jackson.

McKinnon said he was confident the "basic work" involved in a valve installation would be covered by $1,500.

He said it's possible contractors are using the "fat" in the contract to do cosmetic work related to the installations.

He will report back in detail by June on how the city could create an approved "roster" of contractors via a competitive process, as well as possible price caps for projects.

mvandongen@thespec.com

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec