City auctions on hold

Herald file photo.

All city auctions will be put on hold while administrators dig into the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and New West Partnership.

Councillors voted by a unanimous margin to delay awarding a two-year contract to manage city auctions because they wanted more information from the city solicitor and the city manager’s office. The main concerns are the impact of those two major trade agreements, which govern what the city can and can’t legally do when selecting companies following an RFP (requests for proposals).

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski made the original motion on Monday. He said there are simply too many questions left unanswered, and he wasn’t comfortable moving forward without any answers.

“I was prepared to move a very different motion, but I think at this point, I’m prepared to put this back (to administration),” Zurakowski said during Monday’s meeting. “We do need some more information with what we are and are not allowed to do legally.”

Zurakowski wasn’t the only councillor eager for more information. Some were confused by the inclusion of information regarding SGI commissions in the final report. Administrators later clarified that the information should not have been mentioned in the report, and said it was not part of the criteria used in their final recommendation.

Despite that clarification, many councillors felt uncomfortable making a decision on Monday. Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha argued that the city may be exempt from some parts of the agreement because of how low the RFP is, and wanted additional input from the city solicitor, who as not present at Monday’s meeting. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp made a similar point, suggesting that the city review the RFP entirely, and perhaps reissue it with new criteria.

“I think it’s imperative that we get further review and eyeballs and on this from our city solicitor,” Botha told council.

Trade regulations were just one of several topics up for debate as the city considers whether to award the contract to local business Schmalz Auctions, or to go with McDougall Auctioneers Ltd., who have offices in Prince Albert by are based out of Regina.

Schmalz held the previous contract, and many councillors wanted to award them the next contract because of their local connections. Schmalz Auctions representative Eric Schmalz was on hand to argue his case before council. He said it’s not true that they’ll go out of business should they lose the contract. However, he also said it would lead to some “difficult conversations in our office Tuesday morning.”

Schmalz argued that the difference between his companies tender and the competition’s wasn’t large enough to justify the switch. In their report, city administrators wrote that switching to McDougall would bring more revenue to the city, while lowering expenses such as towing fees.

He also argued that trade agreements like the New West Partnership did not apply to this RFP because the contract wasn’t large enough.

“We are below the threshold as far as dollar value goes,” Schmalz told council. “To simply rely on those is not valid, in our opinion. We are good corporate citizens here. We’ve done a tremendous amount of community work. My father has been, he’s been here for 40 years. We’ve raised countless dollars for charity. We’ve put in leg work in this community (and) we appreciate some consideration in that regard.”

Schmalz declined further comment after the meeting because the process was still ongoing.

In response to a question from council, Schmalz said his business is just outside Prince Albert city limits, meaning they pay taxes to the Rural Municipality of Prince Albert, and not the city. He also said Schmalz Auctions does conduct business in other areas of the province. A list of previous auctions on the company website shows most auctions take place in Prince Albert, but others are conducted for customers located in Debden and Fort Qu’Appelle. Schmalz argued that although the business is technically located in the R.M., his employees all live and spend money in Prince Albert.

Not all council members were happy with the final decision. Some, like Zurakowski and Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, worried that Prince Albert businesses would have a hard time getting RFPs in other cities should city council close the door to outside businesses.

Mayor Greg Dionne said he’s fine with awarding a contract to outside businesses as long as they’re located in the province.

“We talk about local. What is local?” Dionne told reporters after Monday’s meeting. “Sometimes, to me, local is the province of Saskatchewan because we don’t have all the suppliers (in Prince Albert), so sometimes if we get it to our province I’m happy. That means that people in our province are being employed.”

The result from this decision means no auctions, whether for city owned property or impounded vehicles, will be held in the near future. When asked, city administrators told council the cars would just start piling up.