An independent audit of Westerner Park’s beleaguered finances has been completed and turned over to City of Red Deer officials for review.
Kelly Kloss, development services director with the city, said administrators will need several weeks to study the results of the city-ordered audit. He expects the results will then be made public at a city council meeting at the end of August.
Meanwhile, there’s also Westerner Park’s cash-flow crunch to consider. Kloss expects city council will have to discuss and approve an interim budget for the exhibition grounds.
He believes this could happen as early as next week’s council meeting.
Westerner Park’s troubles were made public in January, when the city was asked by the non-profit board to step in and oversee the finances of the agricultural society.
The facility drives more than $150 million of regional economic activity annually. But a number of factors led to its financial instability — including the decision to expand during what’s become a prolonged recession, and the terms of its contract negotiations for major events.
This spring, the size of public gatherings was restricted by the government to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This meant the cancellation of many revenue-boosting events such as Westerner Days, concerts, trade shows, banquets, hockey games and the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
Kloss noted the city needs to find out what went wrong and how to get Westerner Park back on the right track.
“It’s a very important part of central Alberta,” and a huge revenue generator, he added. “We want to make sure, going forward, that it will be successful.”
The forensic part of the just-completed audit reviewed the past several years of Westerner Park’s operations.
“It focused on the business of Westerner Park and how they got into the situation they are in,” said Kloss.
This audit also checked for irregularities, such as potential fraud.
“We are not assuming there is any,” said Kloss, who noted this is standard practice.
The second audit ordered by the city looked at what must be done to make Westerner Park sustainable: “What business practices have to change,” said Kloss.
He believes the costly new glass-clad building that helped exacerbate Westerner Park’s problems could also help pull it out of the hole if the extra convention space helps attract more major events.
“All things need to be considered…”
While the city is experiencing its own short-term cash-flow problems due to COVID-19-reduction measures — such as deferred utility payments and property tax bills, and facility closures — Kloss said these are unrelated to Westerner Park.