The management of the Village of Vilna has been irregular, improper and improvident, according to a scathing Final Inspection Report conducted by Doug Irwin on behalf of Alberta Municipal Affairs, which highlighted shortcomings in decisions made and not made by the village’s CAO and council.
On Aug. 23 in Vilna, Irwin spoke to a crowd of between 25 and 30 people, including business people, villagers and village council on the state of affairs that led to the inspection and the results of the report.
“The use of resources by the Village of Vilna council does not lend themselves to sustaining the village as an autonomous and financially viable municipality,” says the report, going on to state, “Dissolution would be the best choice for the Village of Vilna.”
But Village of Vilna Mayor Carol Trider takes issue with the report, which she describes as being “shocked” to see, with little preparation, just half an hour before the public meeting, saying she feels there are “erroneous” or misleading points in it.
“There’s things that we certainly deserve being criticized for. But we thought we were doing what was in the best interests of the town with what we got, with what funds we had.”
Based on concerns raised by Vilna’s Municipal Corporate Review and a dissolution study then undertaken, the Minister of Municipal Affairs had identified “serious financial concerns” that required further examination. The department hired inspector Doug Irwin to look at the Village’s management.
At the Aug. 23 meeting, Irwin went over his report and identified cases of “irregular and improvident management” in the village.
Among the criticisms in the report included an attack on the lack of planning: the village’s business plan prepared in 2002 has not been reviewed or updated in eight years and no long-range financial plan exists, states the report. Instead of long-range planning, infrastructure projects are done based on breakdowns, grant availability and what the grant dollars could fund, which the report identifies as “irregular” adding that, “Using grant dollars to backstop current operational expenses is a contravention of grant regulations and accounting principles.” In 2010, grant dollars were used to purchase, relocate and renovate an old school, for which there is no plan on how to use or operate, and to upgrade Mushroom Park, according to the report.
“Considering the village’s aging infrastructure and limited capital grant funding, there is a serious question whether these grant funds should be used for these projects,” states the report.
The report also identified numerous problems with the budget: such as an unclear format; with the fact it was not in balance and included an addition error; that nearly half the year had passed before the town had seen and approved its 2010 budget; and that it included expenditure items that seem excessive, given the financial challenges the village is experiencing. Not only does it have very little available cash, but its debt load is “not sustainable” given its current expenditures, states the report.
A proposed 2010 budget involves streamlined expenses, with a new salary and wage structure for village employees, deferred schoolhouse and Mushroom Park capital projects, reduced mileage, meal and accommodation allowances, selling the village’s campground and putting the money toward debt elimination and more.
The report also refutes comments made by the CAO and the Mayor in a June 8 edition of the St. Paul Journal, in which the CAO stated the current inspection was “routine” with the mayor also stating, “Everything is running smoothly right now.”
Inspections are not routine, and “things are not running smoothly, but improperly, irregularly and improvidently,” according to the report.
“It is regrettable that the citizens of Vilna, while satisfied with their level of snow clearing, sidewalk maintenance and garbage collection, are not aware that the current situation is not sustainable and that many of the choices that council has made and not made are improvident, improper and irregular.”
Trider acknowledged that council’s “biggest mistake” lay in trying to save money by training local people to handle administration. “Unfortunately, we did not have the proper administration we required. We should probably have paid the extra money and hired someone with experience.”
CAO Twila Bauman had another full-time job and was unable to devote as much time as needed to the position, and only served as CAO to help out the village, said Trider, adding that in the report, “She got beat up badly.”
The same holds true for council, who basically volunteer their time to help out the village, she said. “To take such a licking, I think, really isn’t all that fair.”
Trider took issue with a number of points in the report: for instance, the points about council spending money on Mushroom Park and purchasing an old school. Money spent on Mushroom Park largely just involved mowing the lawn, and the school purchase was done for the cost of a dollar, if that, she says. A grant from a trail association helped with the moving of the school onto a different site, she acknowledges, but notes that certain grants can only be used for certain projects.
Increasing village taxes is not an option, since taxes are too high already and discourages growth, according to the report. “The only option is to reduce expenses and maintain the current tax levy,” it states, a point with which Trider agrees.
For now, the report makes a number of recommendations, including appointing an official administrator to oversee the Village of Vilna, who should direct council to terminate the contract with its current CAO and find an interim competent CAO to put the village’s finances in order. It also recommends council should hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct, as according to the Municipal Government Act.
It should also develop a strategic plan and long range capital plan through a public consultation process, recommends the report, adding, “The Village of Vilna has a slim, very slim chance of remaining autonomous, only if it develops a comprehensive long range strategy and sticks to it.”
Certainly, the recommendation about finding good administration is one the village will follow, says Trider. Municipal Affairs has sent an official administrator to oversee the village, for whom Trider had nothing but praise. Village council is waiting for further direction from Municipal Affairs to decide its next course of action, she said.
The report is available online at http://www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca.