RFP for towing decision pushed back to September

A decision on a controversial request-for-proposals for towing services has been tabled until the Sept. 9 meeting of North Battleford city council.

Monday, council was set to vote on whether to sign a five-year agreement with Lash-Berg Towing of Battleford for towing services to the RCMP and CSOs. Lash-Berg Towing was one of two local towing companies to submit proposals for a sole-sourced towing and impound revenue sharing contract.

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After much discussion, the consensus on council was to defer the decision to the Sept. 9 meeting, mainly so members can gain further public feedback and gather more information.

“I think the thrust of the conversation was that council just wants time to consider and engage with the community,” said Mayor Ryan Bater.

The issue stemmed from an RFP posted on SaskTenders.ca to “solicit companies to supply towing services to the City of North Battleford’s CSO division and its municipal police services provider, the RCMP. The successful Proponent will be the main supplier of towing services to the City and operate a municipal impound within City limits effective Jan. 1st, 2020.” The RFP closed at 3 p.m. July 12.

It would have been a change from the way things have been done, where RCMP and CSOs would spread out towing services among all the towing companies in the city.

According to city officials, the idea was that revenues coming in to the city would support protective services. City revenues from the towing and impound were estimated to be about $100,000.

A controversy erupted after a local company, Vista Towing, saw their bid rejected. Their bid was “disqualified,” according to Director of Finance Steve Brown, because it was not submitted in time and was missing a document as well.

That left the lone Lash-Berg Towing’s bid. Their proposed contract would have included performance guarantees that would have required them to respond to tow calls within 20 minutes.

But council got cold feet Monday on making a final decision after hearing from Dave Washburn of Vista Towing, who spoke at the start of the meeting.

In his remarks, Washburn urged council to postpone a decision on awarding the towing contract. Washburn explained the way things had worked for years was that local towing companies all had a share of the towing business with the RCMP detachment.

“The rules of the towing game stayed the same,” he explained. “You bought a truck or two and a business licence and showed up at the RCMP detachment, you got a share immediately.”

Washburn particularly voiced his opposition to the idea of a towing company “writing a quarterly cheque to the City of North Battleford for the privilege of doing our job.”

At the end of his remarks, Washburn presented numerous signatures supporting a public meeting on the issue. He also submitted a petition signed by 97 business owners in North Battleford that expressed opposition to the city’s offering of the RFP.

It was that petition, and its possible legal ramifications, that prompted immediate concerns from Councillor Kelli Hawtin.

“Given the petition before us I’m a little uncertain as to how to proceed here,” said Hawtin.

She also was concerned about capital costs for the impound lot the city would set up. Hawtin wondered if there were alternative ways to raise revenue for protective services and suggested increasing parking ticket fees or violations in handicapped or fire zones.

Administration pushed back on that suggestion. Brown noted that the courts take a sizable portion of the bylaw revenues generated from enforcement of tickets. Another concern raised earlier was that there were $250,000 outstanding in parking tickets already.

Councillor Len Taylor voiced concerns as well. While Taylor supported increasing revenue to the city and liked the idea of an RFP, he didn’t like how the process played out.

“I find it’s unfortunate that the RFP came down to one company hit the nail on the head while the other company was a little late,” said Taylor. He also spoke about the public reaction.

“What Vista has given us today is an indication that our communication processes are extremely flawed. There are 90-some business people in the community who don’t understand what the city was trying to do and have told us not to proceed. I think that’s unfortunate, because everybody’s involved in this process.”

Taylor also expressed concern about another aspect of the RFP: the plans by the city to set up a compound on the east side of the city. His concern was about the environmental impact.

“If we are utilizing a lot where we have a lot of vehicles leaking oil, where’s the liability for the city if indeed there is some environmental damage to the area?” If there was some future use for that lot down the road, “we have to know that in advance.”

For their part, administration officials defended the plan to move towards a sole-source towing contract.

Brown told council the revenue sharing was a “common approach” across Canada, specifically in British Columbia. The practice has been established in two Saskatchewan cities including Prince Albert. 

Following the meeting, City Manager Randy Patrick explained the RFP process and indicated they had proceeded by the book in rejecting Vista Towing’s RFP bid.

“There are rules around them. They have to be complete and they have to be on time. If they aren’t, it’s not fair to anyone else putting in a tender or an RFP,” Patrick said.

Brown had said essentially the same thing to council earlier, but added that on a purely proposal-to-proposal basis, the Lash-Berg bid was “a vastly better proposal” anyway.

Patrick also reiterated to reporters there was no change to administration’s recommendation to council that the contract go to Lash-Berg Towing.

“The recommendation stays the same. Nothing changes.”

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