CP Rail has invoiced the City for emergency maintenance at the 13th St crossing in Fernie. Pictured: A CP Rail engine about to cross the 13th St crossing in Fernie in 2021. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

CP Rail has invoiced the City for emergency maintenance at the 13th St crossing in Fernie. Pictured: A CP Rail engine about to cross the 13th St crossing in Fernie in 2021. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Fernie handed ‘surprise’ $30k invoice for railway crossing work

CP Rail did emergency safety work on the 13th St crossing, and duly invoiced the City of Fernie

The City of Fernie has been handed a surprise invoice from CP Rail for crossing maintenance.

The invoice for $27,991 was received in mid-2021, and was for maintenance at the 13th St crossing in Fernie. According to city staff it was for emergency safety maintenance that was not scheduled.

At a council meeting on Nov. 22, during discussion on amendments to the city’s financial plan, the city’s Director of Finance, Bryn Burditt, said that the city had been ‘surprised’ to received an invoice, and had gone back and forth with CP Rail on the nature of the invoice, and whether they could receive more advance notice in the future.

Councillor Morgan Pulsifer took exception to the invoice and a lack of detail in the staff report requesting the council allocate funds to pay for it out of the city’s general capital reserve.

“What the heck is that for?” he asked, saying that because he couldn’t go through the details of the invoice, he couldn’t defend supporting it.

He wondered out loud whether it would cost the city’s legal counsel that much to challenge it, “because (the invoice) sounds like garbage to me.”

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Michael Boronowski explained that such invoices were the norm, and CP Rail was empowered by federal legislation to identify works needed on crossings, carry out those works and then hand an invoice to the municipality where the crossing was located.

He said that the city had engaged in push-back considering the price-tag, saying they would have appreciated advance notice and communication rather than an invoice out of the blue, especially considering they were on the hook for work no city staff had been able to go over and approve.

During discussion, Mayor Ange Qualizza asked whether staff could consider creating a reserve fund to cover such expenses, as she had been told by CP Rail representatives that they would “keep rolling around” as maintenance was done at crossings in the city.

While the funding for this expense had come through the general capital reserve, Burditt said they could begin directing more funds into the operating reserve to cover CP Rail invoices in the future.

The general capital reserve balance will fall to $1,337,521 with the crossing expense paid for.

Pulsifer was undeterred by the immovability of the invoice, repeating that he couldn’t support something formalizing an expense he couldn’t go over.

“There’s the better part of $30,000, there’s no way I’m moving this without seeing an invoice, and without a justification for why the taxpayers of Fernie are paying for this.”

While staff considered the possibility of tabling the invoice and waiting for more information to be brought back to the council at a later date (making CP Rail wait longer), Qualizza said she would ‘not blink’ at safety, and given the invoice was for emergency safety maintenance, she would approve the invoice and was happy with getting the information on the public record later.

Pulsifer was the only councillor present to oppose paying for the invoice out of the city’s capital reserve fund, and took notable exception to his colleagues approving the funds without having information on where the money was going at the time of the vote.

“We shouldn’t be making this decision without unfettered access right now.”

Information on the invoice and it’s makeup will come back to a Committee of the Whole at a later date, and Qualizza said she would be inviting CP Rail to make a presentation to the council on such maintenance works and the manner in which they were empowered to bill municipalities for their work.

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scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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