Councillors request Rocky View audit

Enrique Massot
The County News

Concerned Rocky View is digging itself into a fiscal dead end, a group of councillors have requested the provincial government to take a look at the County books.

“The basis for this request is fiscal mismanagement,” the councillors wrote in a letter to Doug Griffiths, minister of Alberta Municipal Affairs.

But spokesperson Jerry Ward said the minister would proceed only if he receives a motion supported by a majority of Council.

“We have not received a (council’s) motion,” he said.

Margaret Bahcheli, one of the councillors who signed the request, said the minister has set too high the bar for intervention.

“It is so disappointing that we can’t call in a higher authority,” she told the County News on May 27.

Reeve Rolly Ashdown bristled when this newspaper sought his comments about the request.

“I am concerned by your publication trying to dig stuff like that,” he said. “They (the councillors who signed the letter) got a response back saying there would not be any action taken.”

Five years of inability to pay the County’s principal debt in a time of historically low interest-rates was one of the reasons that moved Bahcheli and councillors Liz Breakey, Kim Magnuson and Al Sacuta to request a minister-mandated review of the way the County’s fiscal situation is being managed.

A provincially-mandated process, the four councillors believed, would provide residents with the assurance that their county achieves sound governance and financial compliance.

“We urge you to initiate…inspections as soon as possible since the ratepayers of Rocky View County are owed clarity on these concerns,” they wrote in their letter to Griffiths.

Bahcheli said the councillors who signed the letter to Griffiths shared it with the rest of council early October.

“And three weeks later, every councillor that had signed that letter was restricted from committees,” she said. “It was scorched earth policy as far as I am concerned.”

However, Bahcheli said the councillors who signed the letter were vindicated early January, when administration disclosed the County had been coming short on debt payments.

“They came forward and said they had obtained a holiday on payments to the principal of the debt for the past two years and would not be able to make payments for 2013,” she said. “So all of a sudden we need to take $1 million of taxpayers’ money instead of using levies.”

Wastewater levies from developers reached an all-time low of $575,000 in 2012, while debt interest payments hovered about $2 million.

The concerns

Rocky View’s $78-million debt had placed the County at the head of 64 municipal districts and counties in 2010, representing 20 per cent of the total municipal districts’ debt in Alberta. As a percentage of debt limit, Rocky View placed third in Alberta with 70 per cent.

The East Rocky View’s $100-million water and wastewater infrastructure generated about $11 million in levies from 2006 to 2012 and interests to the tune of $9.6 million, according to numbers provided by Rocky View to the County News.

The councillors who requested ministerial intervention were concerned a levy set up to recover costs of the wastewater infrastructure was “unrealistically low” and based on development of a size almost comparable to the City of Red Deer.

Earlier this year, the levy bylaw was rescinded to be replaced by a more appropriate recovery system.

The councillors also noted that Council is provided with insufficient financial information, analysis or disclosure allowing for proper decision-making.

Planning and development decisions, the councillors argue, are made without analysis of financial impact on ratepayers, which has caused spending to outpace growth.

“The lack of financial analysis has created a culture of development-will-save-us,” the councillors wrote. “There is no explanation of how projects lead to longer term financial commitments.”

Ashdown, however, said the minister’s lack of intervention shows there are no reasons to worry.

“In the end, everybody is satisfied that nothing came out of that,” he said.

  • s leete

    Like Nero they fiddle while the county brims with excess water (waste and otherwise) – they pump it, pipe it and transfer it elsewhere at the taxpayer expense then think that no one will notice. Shame on them.

  • Derrick Jacobson

    It surprises me Minister Griffiths doesn’t take notice when 44% (4 out of 9) vote in favour. The Municipal Government Act clearly states:
    Auditor appointed by Minister
    282(1) The Minister may appoint one or more auditors to audit the books and accounts of a municipality if the Minister considers the audit to be needed or
    (a) on the request of the council,
    (b) on the request of not fewer than 1/3 of the councillors on the council, or
    (c) on receiving a sufficient petition from the electors of the municipality requesting the appointment of an auditor

  • Gordon Johansen

    While I can appreciate the fact that the provincial government does not want to get involved in things like audits of MDs, the rules are there for a reason. That fact that it was four councillors and not the minimum of three required, should have left no reason for saying no.

  • Al Sacuta

    The reeve may be in “don’t worry, be happy” mode, but I’m not. The minister missed the boat on this one. MGA § 282 says he needs a request from a minimum of 3 councillors to initiate an audit; he chose to ignore the act and do nothing. That seems to be his modus operandi.