Heated meeting sees Murray Harbour village council open its books to residents


Published on February 16, 2017

Murray Harbour chairman Garry Herring speaks to a crowd assembled Feb. 15 to hear details of the community's finances.

© Mitch MacDonald/TC Media

Residents are demanding to know what happened to $67,000 of the town’s money.

Accusations of mishandling public funds that have circulated in the town were addressed in a heated and combative meeting held Wednesday at the Murray Harbour Community Theatre.

However, the meeting seemed to raise more questions as to how the town’s finances are being run rather than answering why there was a $67,000 shortfall in the town’s gas tax fund.

Two Grant Thornton accountants used past audits to give a walkthrough of the town’s cash flow up to the end of 2015. The town’s 2016 audit will not be available until next month’s AGM.

The accountants said there was no evidence of illegally mishandling funds or improperly spending gas tax money in those years.

However, village council chairman Garry Herring said the accountants could not absolutely guarantee that no fraud took place.

Herring also called for a external audit to be completed by someone other than Grant Thornton and accused the company of “rubberstamping” the town’s finances every year.

 “I hate to say that, but maybe Grant Thornton didn’t pick it up and truly, I personally believe you guys should be held accountable for it,” he said.

There was a noticeable groan from many residents after Herring accused the accountants.

“Blame everybody,” said one resident sarcastically.

Council was also clearly divided at the meeting.

Tensions have been high around the town’s finances since council sent a newsletter last month saying auditors found the town had overspent $67,000 of its gas tax fund.

The newsletter said the fund, which is only eligible for certain projects, was used to make up for an extra $67,000 in costs for 2013 construction on the town’s community centre (which itself had an approved budget of $90,000).

The newsletter seemed to imply wrongdoing by Joan Young, who worked in the role from Oct. 2009 to April 2014.

“This whole thing has been stressful. I never realized I was being accused of missing funds from the gas tax or overspending,” said Young. “That’s why I’ve asked for an apology from this council.”

Young said she had asked the town’s current CAO Sylvain La Fontaine to show receipts where the gas tax fund was used improperly.
She said she has yet to see any of those receipts and doesn’t believe they exist.

Several residents also couldn’t understand how the community centre costs could have reached $157,000.

La Fontaine, who also drew criticism throughout the meeting, said the town had already owed money when he took over the position.

“I’m managing all the money in a proper way, the accusations that were made against me are trying to divert attention away from previous years,” said La Fontaine.

Herring later apologized to the accountants during the meeting and said he wanted to find out what happened with the finances.

“If the truth is there are no receipts, then we’ll be looking for another CAO,” said Herring. “And if there are receipts we’ll be looking for somebody to come forward and apologize for their actions.”

 

Mitch.MacDonald@TC.TC

Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI

Sylvain De Lafontaine, CAO of Murray Harbour, addresses the audience at a Feb. 15 meeting discussing the community's finances.

©Mitch MacDonald/TC Media