Do a Job Once, Do it Properly

This post comes after I personally have grown a little bit annoyed with the way that Thunder Bay conducts its road construction season. Now, I will fully admit that I am not an engineer, a construction expert or an expert in administering contract tenders but I do know one thing. If you’re going to do a job it should be done properly, done once and done as effectively as possible. Specifically this article is being written in regards to the Harbour Expressway and the mess it has become and continues to be. A job that had potential to have been much more is being left to become a mess and be majorly inconvenient to citizens/ineffective to taxpayers.

The Harbour Expressway is a major corridor for the city. It splits the city into two with access to the port, the north and south of the city and the major shopping areas. It is an important trucking route for the Port Authority and many shipping companies set up by the port. It is also heavily used by citizens to get to their destinations in the city and tourists looking to get around. For this route to be congested by spot construction here and there; leaves a lot of head scratching for all these people. This route seen major delays in 2013, again in 2014 and will see even more delays in 2015 as work takes up sections of road in other areas.

As it stands right now the Expressway is broken down into sections that are good, modest and crap. The areas under construction currently were crap and needed to be resurfaced. When a driver comes from the Thunder Bay Expressway they come onto a section of road that is modest but quickly headed towards crap. In certain areas there has been major reduction in the validity of the roadway. A couple years of patchwork to fix large numbers of potholes that continue to reoccur. Then they come onto a brand new intersection which was the cause of a major delay in 2013 from June-October. The driver reaches a bridge that is in modest condition, it is seeing some potholes starting to show. A brand new section (Under construction) all the way to the Balmoral Intersection which is crap (2015 delay), another section of good through the intersection (which I will talk about later). Then after the Memorial intersection they reach a modest road section where the expressway ends. One can see that this roadway as it stands is Declining – Good – Ok – Good – Crap – Good – Modest. How could someone approve this tender and says “Yep that sounds ok”. As a boss I know I wouldn’t see this as an acceptable method to getting the job done. I understand there are budget constraints but if pushing it back a couple years to get the entire job done at one time is the answer then so be it.

To me that is the exact opposite of what doing a job once and doing it right is all about. It is a major inconvenience to travelers to have the work done in patchwork such as this and cost ineffective to do this. While a larger project would have a larger price tag it would in the end be more cost effective, time effective and better for the public then what the city is doing now. One has to simply look at inflation to see that if the work was all tendered in a single year that it would be a single price instead of 2013 then 2014 (+1-2%) and then 2015 (+1-2%). By breaking the contract up and doing it over a number of years the cost has increased upwards of 4% over and above the initial cost. This is ineffective for the taxpayer and redirects resources away from city departments for a longer period of time. Clearly this is a huge project and likely couldn’t be completed in a single year but tendering it in a single year would have been better.

One of the things that truly irks me if how the job is being done half completed. #1: The entire stretch isn’t being done at the same time, #2: Things like light poles and guard rails aren’t being replaced leaving rusting hulks all along the stretch, #3: There was an opportunity to divide the highway (even if only by a little) with the 3 major intersections under construction. This opportunity was missed by council and administration, it would have reduced head on collisions and provided safer travels. #4: Nothing is being done to make the area more pleasing to the eye or to block traffic noises from the surrounding areas. This is a major through fair for many people and something appealing to the eye would have been nice. Having a divider with trees or grass could have been a minor upgrade with much more appealing aspects. Reduction in noise from the highway would have increased house values that back along the roadway and provided more peace of mind.

When I drive past this area I always shake my head when it comes to the intersection at Carrick/Harbour Expressway. The intersection isn’t heavily used so it didn’t need to be expanded but if your doing the section of roadway anyways why not do the entire thing? The straight through sections are getting done and some of the on/off ramps are being replaced but not all. This area is busy with construction right now, its seeing 2 hotels being built on both sides. Why are we not replacing the entire thing? What is the point in doing half a job so in a couple years you have to do the other half? It truly doesn’t make any sense and continues to defy logic.

To me, having the entire roadway from the Thunder Bay Expressway to Fort William Road would have been the best option. It would be an expensive proposition to do it in a single swoop but replacing the entire thing reduces congestion time, costs and city resources. This road could have been upgraded and traffic would flow much better after the project was done. Even if it took 2 years to complete it would have been much better than the patchwork it is currently and will continue to be. As a citizen I see a project that could have been so much more and been so much more effective had some forethought been put into it. We need to plan these projects with a thought for the next 20 years and make sure our money is going towards the best option there is.

Do a job once, and do it properly the first time is a motto we should all live by.

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Police Cut?

Emergency services represent one of Thunder Bay largest single costs in its annual budget process. We expect a lot of these men and women so we should pay them properly. The issue now facing municipalities is that wages have grown beyond inflation for so long that cities aren’t able to face the burden anymore. Infrastructure projects are being out off, services cancelled or police forces being shuttered in order to reduce the overall cost of general operations. Now I don’t want to see Thunder Bay Police shuttered or like many American police forces have a 20-25% wage cut shoved down their throat. So the question then becomes how do we continue to police the City of Thunder Bay effectively, manage the budget and continue daily operations?

I believe with a small cut and some guarantees from the City of Thunder Bay that we would be able to effectively and affordable increase the number of officers on the road and get the support of the police association. Thunder Bay Police Service annual budget in 2014 was around 36 million dollars with 90% of that cost being represented by wages and employment costs. That means that 32.4 million dollars in annually invested into officers pay. This leaves the other 3.6 million to cover costs like gas, legal fees, overhead costs, vehicle purchases, maintenance costs.
I believe that if we were to introduce a 10% starting wage reduction for new hires that we could start ourselves on the right foot to have a manageable police force going into the future. This means that a 4th Class constable (Under 6 months) would go from $44,509.69 (2011) to $40,058.72 a savings of $4,500. A First class constable (23 yrs+) would go from $89,819.70 (2011) to $80,837.73 with an annual savings of $8,981. As wages increase with increasing service and responsibility there is an increased savings to the Police Force and the City. $9,178-10,000 annually in savings for a Sergeant position, $10,000-11,000 for a Staff Sergeant all of which would positively affect the bottom line.

In order to allow for more urgent hiring to the rank and file of the membership a 5% wage reduction over 2 years should be implemented. This would allow for a reduction in wage costs from 32.6 million to 30.97 million to wages and wage related costs. That savings of 1.63 million dollars would allow for the immediate hiring of 8 new 3rd Class constables at $451,829.04, 4 new 2nd class constables at $268,411.84 and allowing the materials budget to increase from 3.6 million to 4.5 million. This could help to pay for broken laptops which frustrates officers, fix cars that don’t have Air Conditioning or heat, purchase new vehicles for use and other items that have been frustrating officers for years.

If one is going to ask the rank and file to look into what they are being paid then the top has to be willing to accept the same thing or more in order for this to happen. The city should look to cut deputy leadership position starting wages by upwards of 15% and the chief by 10%. People will still continue to apply for these jobs even with the wage cut and I cannot foresee a decrease in the quality of that leadership. Savings from these positions would be upwards of $23,000 a year for the police chief and $20,000 for the deputy position cuts. Leadership cuts won’t be the only thing that convinces these members to take a cut there will need to be more.

An additional 12 officers to the force based just on wage cuts would allow for relief to the different watches which are currently sitting close to the minimum for officer count. It would provide more 2 car units to respond to dangerous situations and provide more officers to reduce the overall call count. It would mean more opportunity to take lunches, be relieved on time and more effectively police the city. It would mean 3 more officers for each watch which could have a huge positive effect for officer morale and officer safety.
With a large number of officers retiring every year and that paced expected to increase as more baby boomers retire the savings could see both the city benefit financially and the police service materially and officer number wise. Other compromises for the wage reduction could see increases in the benefits package, money allotment for uniforms, supplies etc. Even with the wage cut I could see a large number of people continuing to apply and fill these roles as there is a desire to service the community in many people.

I write this as an idea to protect the advances we have made as a community with our police force and to avoid us gutting in tough times like many communities south of the border are being forced to do. It could be a tough go to see this trough but it will be necessary to look at the costs our emergency services cost us annually. They do a tough job and deserve to be paid accordingly but at the same time we need to look at our community as a whole as see our decimated industry, reduced population and tax burden and put that into perspective. If we can work something out then I believe it will work out well for the City of Thunder Bay as a whole.