The Town of Slave Lake needs to fix some discrepancies in its financial reporting. That was the message the new M.D. of Lesser Slave River council heard last week from their CAO, Allan Winarski, who had looked at the town’s numbers and found them lacking. Once those are clarified, he feels confident the impasse on the Fire Services Agreement with the Town of Slave Lake can be solved.
“The point is that the audited numbers are wrong,” Winarski told council at its Oct. 25 meeting.
As for the town’s Dec. 15 deadline ‘or else’ – don’t worry about it, Winarski said. The existing agreement stipulates that six months’ notice is required to terminate fire services. He predicted in any case that things would be ironed out before Dec. 15.
Winarski said his analysis showed “errors in the financial statements and incomplete disclosure on the Municipal Affairs Financial Information Return concerning Protective Services.”
There are also questions about the whereabouts of equipment replacement reserves that the M.D. has paid into (they don’t seem to appear on the town’s financial statement). Further, Winarski reported, the financial figures related to the FireSmart program need to be more clearly separated from the rest of the fire service numbers.
Once all that stuff is cleared up, the basis for proceeding will be established.
Winarski stressed (more than once) that his findings should not be taken as a criticism of the day-to-day operations of the fire service. Nor was he suggesting the town was ‘up to’ anything in its financial reporting. But, he said, as presented the town’s numbers do not amount to a proper basis for negotiating a new cost-sharing agreement on fire services.
“I will forward the analysis to the Town and ask them for numbers,” Winarski said. “It shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Council gave its blessing to that, by way of a motion from councillor Brian Rosche.
If it works as Winarski hopes, the discrepancies will be cleared up and the two municipalities will have a clearer basis upon which to commence re-negotiation of the Fire Services Agreement. Whenever that starts, the town can expect questions on several other points of interest to M.D. councillors. For example:
“Eighty-five thousand dollars in overtime for four people?” exclaimed councillor Brad Pearson. “That’s ridiculous!”
Councillor Rosche, for one, would like more and better resources at the M.D. halls.
“I think we’re too dependent on the town,” he said. “We need more firefighters in the M.D.”
One way of achieving that, Rosche suggested, was to ask prospective M.D. employees if they’d be willing to join the rural halls as volunteer firefighters.
The Inter-Municipal Agreement did not receive as much attention at the council meeting. Winarski briefly reviewed the situation as it stands; the former council decided to pay $304,000 on a $416,000 invoice from the town for the 2016 period. This is for the M.D.’s share of the cost of running recreational facilities in Slave Lake. The reduction was based on the M.D.’s contention that paying for maintenance of certain green spaces in town was something it felt it shouldn’t have to do.