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Story by Lindsey Enns
A public meeting that was supposed to be about unraveling the details behind the sale of the Dryden Mobility Telephone Service to TBaytel quickly turned to the city’s finances on Sept. 27 at The Centre, allowing council members to see just how unclear the public is when it comes to Dryden’s current financial situation.
Several local residents asked for more clarification regarding the city’s finances and both Mayor Craig Nuttall and City Manager Joe van Koeverden told the public that they have nothing to hide and everything is available for them to see online at Dryden.ca.
“I think what people are realizing is we’re in a perfect storm. We’re having the reduction from the tax base from the mill, we’re having the problems with DMTS and we’re having pressure from the community not to raise taxes, so it’s a three way complication of how do we continue to deliver the level of service everybody expects in Dryden,” van Koeverden said.
Nuttall explained to the nearly 100 people in attendance that on top of the already incurred debt of $27 million the city also has another $10 million. Included in this $10 million is the city’s $6 million in overdraft but the city will not see an increased interest rate for their debt level.
“We’re getting these figures and shaking our heads at a lot of these figures but we’re going to work it out,” Nuttall said.
Nuttall says that a large portion of the city’s accumulated deficit, nearly $16 million to be exact, is due to DMTS and says that now is the time to sell it and move on.
“We have to stop the bleeding,” Nuttall said.
“I think people know that we have to sell but it’s a sad day for us to sell this because it’s been around for 100 years but because of the technology we just can’t compete.”
Community members also questioned why it took council so long to consider selling the local telephone service. Council explained that they were not aware of the figures as they are now and say it’s a good time for the city to exit the business gracefully.
“The purpose of the existence of DMTS was to serve the community and reduce taxation,” newly appointed councillor Shayne MacKinnon said.
“We have been served by dedicated and forward thinking DMTS employees who have sacrificed much in their lives to make the business run but sadly circumstances have sabotaged that dream almost from the start.”
MacKinnon says that although the city has many difficult years ahead when it comes to settling its debt, shutting down community centres and local organizations is not the way to go about it.
“As a community we need to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances and the debt but we also have to maintain a quality of life in this community.”
Councillor Martin MacKinnon added that when he first came to council he was horrified by the city’s financial situation but he believes that with the sale of DMTS, the city should be able to recover from its losses.
“The sale of DMTS gives us a chance to turn the corner. This is the financial bump that we need to start us back on the road where we want this fantastic city of ours to be.”
In regards to the purchase price of DMTS, Nuttall says the offer put forward by TBaytel is fair but cannot yet be revealed to the public. The closing date of the offer is Oct. 22 and the rerouting of customers to the new service will commence on Oct. 25 resulting in DMTS officially shutting down all services by Dec. 21.
All councillors said that they are open to hearing from the public about any concerns that they may have and they can be reached on their personal email addresses which are all available on the Dryden.ca website.
Council will meet again on Oct. 2 for the next committee of the whole meeting.