Village failed to issue utility bills for seven years: report

One third of Donalda residents did not receive utility bills for almost a decade due to financial mismanagement, a report into the village’s affairs found.

One third of Donalda residents did not receive utility bills for almost a decade due to financial mismanagement, a report into the village’s affairs found.

A recent Alberta Municipal Affairs municipal inspection report concluded the village had failed to manage its affairs efficiently over the past 10 years.

In some cases, residents did not receive a bill for water, sewer and garbage for seven years.

Mayor Bruce Gartside said some residents refused to pay for utilities until they were issued a bill. Gartside said one third of the village owed on their utility bills totalling $57,000 when he was elected in the last municipal election. There are 230 residents.

The report credited much of the municipality’s problems to a lack of administrative resources and the failure of the village council to hold the administration accountable.

The 24-page report also indicated the village did not collect some municipal revenues or grants and wasn’t transparent in its decision making processes.

A new council, including Gartside, was elected in the October 2010 election and a new chief administrative officer was hired in January. The previous CAO resigned during council’s swearing in last November.

One of the first orders of business for the new council was to direct administration to send out monthly utility bills starting immediately.

Payment arrangements have been made with those residents who cannot afford to settle their entire bill. Gartside said some residents owed thousands of dollars on their utility bills.

“Most of those people could not come up with all that money at once,” said Gartside. “They let it get too big.”

Gartside, who decided to run for council because of the village’s problems, said the report was adequate and not surprising but there several issues that were quite disconcerting.

For example, financial audits were found to be past due by two years and several municipal grant applications were not submitted under the previous administration and councils.

Gartside said the three-person council and administration are playing catch up and are determined to turn the municipality around.

The ministry ordered eight directives within the report focusing on bylaws, policies, financial reporting, accounting and the relationship between the council and the chief administrative officer.

Jerry Ward, a public affairs officer with Alberta Municipal Affairs, said the Minister of Municipal Affairs Hector Goudreau has the power to dismiss the council and the CAO.

However, he said, the current council and administration are working to implement the directives outlined in the report. The report was conducted between March and May and presented to village council on July 21.

The village’s residents signed a petiton in 2009 indicating a lack of confidence in the village administration and council and requested an inquiry in the village’s operations.

However, the ministry ordered a dissolution study where 75 per cent of the voters wanted to remain a village and not join the County of Stettler.

Subsequently the ministry ordered an inspection of the municipality after the dissolution vote in May 2011. A previous inspection was conducted in 2003 and recommendations were were made. The ministry does not typically follow up on recommendations. Read the full report on www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com