05/28/2013 10:36 EDT | Updated 07/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Montreal underfunds infrastructure work, auditor general finds

Montreal auditor general Jacques Bergeron is calling on the city to correct what he calls massive underspending on infrastructure, warning that without an infusion of money there could be "major disruptive effects for the public."

The 551-page report, presented to city council last night, looked at the city over a full year, ending on Dec. 31, 2012.

In it, he said that road and sidewalk maintenance in Montreal was underfunded by $100 million in 2010 and 2011, and now the city needs to spend $178 million a year to keep up with their maintenance.

In his conclusions, Bergeron warned that without additional funding, “infrastructures and buildings will continue to deteriorate."

Véronique Fournier, a city councillor for the Southwest borough, said the report was revealing.

“It shows the importance of the issues that we're facing on the infrastructure and it shows that we have money, but we don't spend it entirely right now,” she said.

“It shows also that we'll need to find new sources for financing infrastructure.”

Infrastructure needs more than a band-aid solution: auditor

The report warned the deterioration of city roads and sidewalks have increased the need for emergency responses instead of creating long-term solutions.

Bergeron also said the city needs to be clear about outlining “the desired conditions” it wants for “buildings, infrastructure, the road system, bridges, tunnels and the water system.”

It said those conditions will better help the city determine what needs to be done and how much it will cost.

The auditor general also recommended extending the infrastructure planning system from one year to several years.

It noted that the auditor general’s report from 1997 pointed to the limited number of suppliers who shared in what it termed “the Montreal market.”

In 2009, the auditor general reported on the high percentage of contracts that went to the same contractors within a group of 21 firms.

But it said measures taken by the city to tighten contracting rules led to “a more equitable awarding of contracts” in 2011. And it said since that time, work by police forces and the Charbonneau commission have also helped change the situation.

Improving accountability and transparency

Bergeron looked at various types of contracts awarded for infrastructure repair in different boroughs and from his sample size, concluded that even though the borough could have charged a penalty to construction companies for late completion, most did not.

Multi-million-dollar projects in boroughs across the island came in after their completion deadlines, and according to Bergeron, no explanations were given by the boroughs about why no penalties were charged.

He recommended boroughs should justify their decisions on whether to penalize companies for finishing projects late.

The auditor general also made a pitch for returning the ethics tip hotline to his department.

The hotline was turned over from the auditor general’s office to the city’s comptroller general office, which is directly overseen by the city manager, in 2010.

Bergeron initially appealed that decision last October by sending a letter to city councillors urging the hotline's return to his department’s care.

His report said the auditor general's department is independent and neutral. It pointed out that other Canadian cities have seen an increase in such whistleblower calls over recent years, but since the Montreal's comptroller general's office gained control of the tipline, calls have decreased.

Elsewhere in the report, Bergeron said he “noted a certain laxness on the part of the municipal administration in implementing the recommendations outlined in the annual report” for the year ending Dec. 31, 2011.

“In fact, as the current report was going to press, a ‘completed’ status applied to only 35 per cent of the recommendations made in 2011, compared with 69 per cent for recommendations made in 2010 at the same time last year,” read the report.

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