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By Chris Marchand
City of Dryden treasurer Linda McNaughton was on the defensive, Feb. 20 as a delegation from the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing appeared before city council to discuss concerns over unfiled financial information going back to 2009.
Financial Information Returns (FIR)s are used by the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund to calculate annual provincial funding to municipalities. At the moment, OMPF is withholding approximately $3.4 million — four quarters worth of payments — as it waits for the City of Dryden to complete its 2009 return, a portion of which was submitted Feb. 13. Dryden holds the dubious distinction of being the sole community out of 444 Ontario municipalities that has yet to complete its FIR for 2009.
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Local Government Manager Susan Fraser says making an appearance at a public meeting of council is to ensure everyone is up to speed.
“It’s something that we’re beginning to do more and more,” says Fraser. “Part of the reasoning is in order that council understands the situation that they’re in, the money that’s being withheld and what that might mean to them in terms of budgeting.”
As for what the City of Dryden is doing to fix the situation, Fraser said she’s satisfied that the city is doing all the right things, it is just a matter of how fast it can be completed in order to allow the release of funds.
FIRs are typically due on May 31 of each year with a grace period extending to Sept. 30 before OMPF funding is withheld.
McNaughton addressed comments made by Mayor Craig Nuttall that sought to distance the current council, mostly elected in autumn of 2011, from a full understanding of the gravity of the situation until recent weeks.
“The mayor and councillor MacKinnon were informed throughout 2011 that the 2009 and 2010 financial statements and PSAB stuff wasn’t complete and council was updated all along,” said McNaughton. “As far as the magnitude of the thing was concerned, maybe I didn’t convey that to the extent that I probably should have, but they have been aware of it. I think all of council has been aware of what staff’s workload has been over 2011. That’s no excuse. I’m sorry I’m only one person. Council has to consider then that there should be additional staffing at the finance department in order to help with the workload that’s there.”
Over 2011, McNaughton assumed the additional duties of interim chief administrative officer for several months following the resignation of Arie Hoogenboom. McNaughton also took on a primary role in managing of the city’s unforeseen relief effort, hosting evacuees from forest-fire ravaged remote communities this summer.
Fraser says municipalities who get behind in filing their FIRs face delays in budget preparations, can incur borrowing costs if withheld funding is needed for cashflow and lose interest on funds that could have been invested in the short term. Unfiled financial information may also have adverse affects on grant applications to other funding bodies like the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund who use FIRs to calculate project funding.
Finance Committee Chair, Councillor Martin MacKinnon, addressed the delegation following the presentation, pledging the fastest possible resolution to the problem.
“You can rest assured that council is now fully aware of the needs and requirements and they will be met in a very quick manner,” said MacKinnon.