Ahead of Budget 2018, The Telegram did a checkup on some of the spending highlighted by the government at the time of the last provincial budget.
The focus was on planned infrastructure projects and items emphasized in Liberal budget documents. The largest expenditures by the government, relating to salaries and operational costs, continue to be tied to ongoing union negotiations and new contract deals.
Some of the one-off items announced in Budget 2017 are coming in under budget, some are on budget and some are costing more than expected. Some items have since been reconsidered. A few items are highlighted here.
Consultations for Budget 2018 are ongoing. If there is a particular project for the future you would like to voice support for, in-person consultations — public meetings — are expected to begin Jan. 15. Details on specific dates, times and locations are expected soon. More information is available online at engagenl.ca.
New Family Court
There was recognition on the part of the Liberal government, after taking the reins in late 2015, that the Family Court facility required improvements and expansion.
In the 2016 budget speech, the government committed to a $1-million expansion over two years, to allow for fewer delays with more cases being heard, the minister stated.
In 2017, that included $450,000, to renovate for the court’s expansion. The renovations will be to the Argyle Building, formerly home to the province’s research and development corporation (RDC). Family Court will make the move from its current home at 21 King’s Bridge Rd. to the building at 68 Portugal Cove Rd.
The budget hasn’t been spent at this point, but a tender process was completed just before Christmas to transform the building, including required security upgrades.
A report completed after the public tender call shows the work had been re-tendered, resulting in four bids, with the lowest at $1.6 million.
One of the highlighted expenditures planned for Justice in 2017-18 was $500,000 for advancing the planning for a new court facility in St. John’s. That expenditure has not yet been made and is currently under review, according to the department.
Spending on planning for the St. John’s courts and supporting offices was also announced under the Progressive Conservatives.
Her Majesty’s Penitentiary
The last provincial budget included $100,000 for a value-for-money assessment for a replacement to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s.
There have been multiple calls for years for a replacement for the prison. In 2014, the Progressive Conservatives reported the initial design phase was “well underway.”
A value-for-money assessment proposed by the Liberals would be used to determine the approach to financing the project — to determine if it could go ahead as a traditional construction or if it is better suited to a public-private partnership (P3) development.
A request for proposals, seeking companies interested in completing assessment, was issued by the government since budget day.
“Once the proposal process is complete, we will begin the process of awarding a contract (for the assessment),” a department spokeswoman stated.
Western Memorial Regional Hospital
At budget time, the Liberals announced $13.2 million to advance the replacement of the Corner Brook hospital.
To date, about $600,000 has actually been spent. About $1.5 million is expected to be spent by financial year-end.
The money used so far has been to engage consultants, who will advise the government on the partnership project and are involved in preparing related documents — covering the building’s design, construction, financing and long-term maintenance.
The next step for the government is to issue a request for qualification for companies, or any partnerships of companies, interested in taking the project on.
Construction is expected to start in 2019.
At budget time, the announced commitment for advancement of a replacement for the Waterford Hospital was $7.5 million.
About $300,000 has been spent so far, with $400,000 expected to be spent by financial year-end.
The money has been spent on re-evaluating the project, as per the province’s new mental health and addictions action plan, released in July 2017.
The plan stated the hospital “must be replaced as an urgent priority,” but also stated having all of the services offered at the Waterford Hospital continued in a single location was not the best approach for the future.
“The provincial government must investigate options for replacing the existing hospital with in-patient services as well as more services provided in community closer to home,” the report stated, adding there should be a related plan ready to report within a year. “Services at the Waterford Hospital must continue until new services are in place.”
Long-term care facilities
Budget 2017 identified $4.6 million for long-term care facilities in Corner Brook and Central. About $850,000 of that has been spent so far and $1.8 million is set to be spent by the end of the fiscal year.
In Central, a request for qualifications is expected to go out this month, for companies interested in taking on the construction.
For Corner Brook, it was announced in November 2017 the Corner Brook Care Partnership will build the new facility. The contract covers the next 30 years of the facility’s life and is valued at about $120 million.
The Corner Brook Care Partnership is led by Plenary Group and includes Montgomery Sisam Architects, Marco Services and G.J. Cahill.
It is expected to open in 2020.
In under budget
The final report from the Premier’s Task Force on Improving Educational Outcomes was presented to the public in July.
The task force — including chair Alice Collins, David Philpott, Marian Fushell and Margaret Wakeham — settled on 82 recommendations to support a new Education Action Plan and inform Budget 2018, and changes largely starting in the 2018 school year.
The task force was efficient. A Budget 2017 announcement included $100,000 to support the completion of their work, but not all of it was needed.
Over two fiscal years, the team was provided a total budget of $277,000, but spent only $213,500 (not needing all of this year’s allocation).
At the end of two years, they came in about 23 per cent under the original budget.
For Fisheries, Budget 2017 was about trials, transformations and transitions.
There was $2.8 million for the Aquaculture Capital Equity Program, $2 million for the Seafood Innovation and Transition Program and $100,000 for the Fisheries Advisory Council.
The council’s funds have been tapped in full and both programs are fully subscribed, or expected to be before the fiscal year is out, according to a department spokesman.
At budget time, $500,000 for a Fish Plant Worker Employment Support Program was highlighted. That is administered by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment and makes funding available to create short-term employment for plant workers who need additional weeks to qualify for Employment Insurance.
In August, the province made an additional $5 million available under this program to address challenges being faced from a year involving a significant cut to shellfish catches and severe ice conditions, limiting catches and therefore the amount available for processing, to name two concerns.
While the budget was available, to date about $658,000 has been paid out to help 128 plant workers under the program.