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Town looks into debt policy, plans for FCM

During the Jan. 11 meeting, council requested a deeper look at how other municipalities deal with unpaid debts and agreed to have all councillors attend the upcoming Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.
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Administration for the Town of Bonnyville was asked to look at debt collection policies in other municipalities. Getty Images.

BONNYVILLE – Town of Bonnyville council passed a motion to write off certain unpaid debts from 2021 accounts receivable and utilities during the regular council meeting held on Jan. 11. 

Roughly $1,145 has been left owing to the Town’s accounts receivable. These debts have been outstanding since June 2021. Another amount of $1,085 for utilities remains owing to the Town as well. 

“We don't usually have write-offs for utilities, as we are able to transfer to the tax roll any outstanding utility balances. In this particular case, the company did claim bankruptcy and are in receivership,” Rene Stoyles, the Town’s general manager of corporate services, told council. 

The balance owing was considered uncollectable, and council voted to write off the amount to “bad debts.”  

However, Stoyles noted that a Proof of Claim had been filed in case any funds could be collected at the end of the bankruptcy proceedings. 

Before agreeing to write off debts deemed uncollectable, councillors discussed possible changes to how “bad debt” or outstanding payments to the Town could be processed in the future. 

Sparking the discussion, Coun. Phil Kushnir asked what the cost to the municipality was for attempting to collect outstanding payments. “We've got some little, tiny ones there - $10, $32.03 - How much does it cost us to try and get that money?” 

In circumstances of unpaid debt, the Town’s administration sends out three letters of notice, followed by a report sent to a collection agency. “After that, the collection agency takes over and should they get the funds back, we get 50 per cent of those funds,” explained Stoyles. 

Although he doesn’t want to set a precedent of non-payment, Kushnir questioned the practicality of spending staff time and resources on collecting relatively small debts. 

Stoyles said administration could return with a policy that automatically cancels the invoices at year end for debts under a certain amount.  

She also pointed out that unpaid balances have been trending down in recent years. 

"Prior years we have seen upwards of $5,000 on accounts receivable. These are very low this year. Last year, for example, there was $1,600. Annually they seem to be decreasing,” Stoyles said, adding that it is impossible to know what debt could be left outstanding in future years. 

Referring to the 50 per cent return on funds that are received through collection agencies, Mayor Elisa Brosseau agreed that setting a minimum amount for collection could be a benefit, but again, may create an undesired precedent. 

Administration was asked to look at debt collection policies in other municipalities. 

Town council road trip  

Council decided that all councillors and the mayor will attend the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference taking place in Regina this year, as well as the Calgary conference scheduled for 2024.  

It was also determined that the mayor, CAO and three councillors will attend the 2023 conference in Toronto, and the 2025 conference in Ottawa.  

Speaking to newly elected councillors, Coun. Brian McEvoy said FCM conferences are an opportunity to network, build intermunicipal relationships and gather knowledge about how other municipalities across Canada address issues. 

McEvoy suggested that conferences within driving distance should be attended by all council members.  

“Our previous council, if you remember, had 20, 25 and almost 30 years of going to these conferences and to a degree (they) became jaded with them,” he said. “I think it should be the entire council going collectively as a group to this, particularly the Regina one... it can be quite overpowering when you are at a national conference with every federal senior politician and all of the major municipalities from across Canada.” 

The Town’s CAO Bill Rogers noted that roughly $11,000 has been set aside in the 2022 interim operating budget for this year's FCM conference, based on the previous attendance formula. 

“If council drives to the ones that are fairly local, like Regina and Calgary, and then maybe half go to Toronto and half go to Ottawa... then you get your four years covered and we easily stay within budget,” said Rogers. 

He added, "It's an excellent opportunity to network with other politicians from across the country. But it's also an interesting perspective on things like how they handle emergency management, how they have wastewater treatment and water treatment, and challenges they face in delivering a lot of the same services that we do from a different perspective and a slightly different governance mandate because they are in a different province. So, it's a bit eye opening in that respect.” 

Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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