For a brief moment, suspend your anger over the fact Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst wrongly alleged that the software made by a Calgary-based technology firm “failed,” causing the city ongoing financial headaches.
Whatever may have been her reason for that clumsy bit of deflection and the lousy spin doctoring that followed, whether by ignorance or intended deception, it is a red herring to the more important issue at hand: When will the city’s 2010 and 2011 audited financial statements finally be submitted?
As the Sun has reported, the provincial government is withholding about $1.3 million in gas tax revenue from the City of Brandon because it has not filed its financial statements for 2010. As a matter of fact, that amount will increase to a total of $2.65 million if the city doesn’t file either its 2010 or 2011 statements by the end of the month. Rightly or wrongly, the mayor, much of council and city staff had laid the blame on the province’s new accounting methods, the difficult software conversion, staffing issues and the need to retarget staff duties to handle issues relating to 2011’s one-in-300-year flood.
Somewhat buried in the rhetoric and accusations that have been flung back and forth in the public domain this week was the fact that according to the audit and finance committee’s report to council on July 9, the reports for 2010 and 2011 are expected to be completed and filed by the fall.
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine), who sits on that committee and delivered that report, took upon himself much of the blame for the possibility that other councillors around the table were not aware that the province was withholding gas tax.
“I gave a written report two (council) meetings ago on the audit and finance committee and though we had discussed this situation then, I didn’t bring it up in our minutes or the reports because we thought the situation was understandable and we were going to get it in,” Fawcett told the Sun. “I didn’t deliberately keep that from our report to council. Now it’s an issue and I regret not putting it in.”
As we have already mentioned this week, we don’t believe ignorance of federal and provincial financial requirements for municipalities is a valid excuse in this case, even if councillors are not on the audit and finance committee. We can assume, at the very least, they certainly won’t forget that fact now.
Nevertheless, we can appreciate the fact that at least one councillor stood up and took some responsibility for his actions, or lack thereof.
And there were glimmers of hope from the fact that these tardy financial reports will be forthcoming rather soon. The committee felt confident enough in the numbers so far to report that work on the general fund and utility fund reports revealed the city generated a $800,000 surplus in 2010, in part due to the sale of the Fleming School property.
Further, the committee stated that the preliminary figures for 2011 indicate there will not be a significant surplus in 2011, though those files are currently under review.
But that review and the filing of these late reports better be quick in the offing. To our knowledge, the finance department has all the people it needs in place. And with the new financial software completely installed, no massive flood on the horizon and two years of experience under its belt dealing with the new accounting requirements, those staff should be able to finish their work by the autumn deadline.
At some point, the circus sideshow needs to end and the business of the city must continue. No more excuses will be tolerated by the public, something Fawcett seems critically aware of.
“They are excuses and they’re fairly valid, but bottom line is we need to get them done,” Fawcett told the Sun.
While Decter Hirst supposedly leads this administration, she is but one voice at the council table. There are 10 others tasked with the public trust. And there is plenty of blame to go around.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 20, 2012