Meeting held August 9, 2022
2021 Financial Statement presented
On August 9 WN Council finally had the opportunity to receive the financial statements of 2021 as audited by Baker Tilly and presented by accounting team Dan Longlade and Jessica Dion. Although the financials were affected by the pandemic in terms of delayed capital works projects, grants and subsidies and expenses related to COVID, the net results were positive for the municipality. The year 2021 ended with a net surplus of $2.277M, bringing the accumulated surplus to $125,529,813.
Longlade pointed out that there was new debt on the books for financing the construction of the OPP detachment, and that a lot of the construction was paid through current operations until the station was complete. That new debt of $8.5M was offset by the repayment on long term debt of $3.3M, resulting in a debt increase of $5M.
Another point of interest was the increase in landfill closure costs, but Longlade added that “There’s a lot of judgement in these numbers, relying on experts and engineers. The end result is that landfill closure costs have increased… This could be a number with serious fluctuations in the future.” This pronouncement raised questions about the estimated longevity of area landfills. Council was assured that the agreements with the Ministry of Environment affirm the existing site capacity can be expanded for usage, and capacity has not been reached yet. Director of Corporate Services Alisa Craddock explained the financial estimates are based on actual landfill life expectancy. “At our existing site we have what are called cells; as soon as we open the next cell, we have expanded life – when we close a cell, we will do all the maintenance… When I work with the auditors, we look at end of life.” Jessica Dion added, “Some of your smaller rural landfills have a light capacity …we’re going on remaining capacity… They will last to your great-great-grandchildren – it skews liability when projecting so far out.”
In reviewing the Statement of Operations with Council, which is the breakdown per department, Longlade said that 2021 taxation revenue was “right on budget”, and “When it comes to user charges, we have an increase of about $422k – Environmental Services tipping fees were much higher”. This, again, was related to COVID as a lot of people turned to home renovations in 2021, resulting in more trips to the landfill. Also, the landfill received more contaminated soils and had more recycling sales, two items which are not easy to budget. Au Chateau experienced an increase in budget largely related to significant grants for COVID-related expenditures which were not budgeted and not expected. They also had a corresponding overage in expenses.
In respect to General Government and Protection Services, expenses in 2021 were down. Longlade said that the Fire Services couldn’t do as much facility management as they had planned, again largely due to COVID. In Transportation Services there were capital projects of approximately $2M uncompleted. Cultural and Recreational Services experienced similar under-budget savings of $863K in incomplete capital projects, facility closures, etc. Planning and development was down because special projects were not undertaken as budgeted. Government grants and transfers related to capital expenditures were way below budget because of projects not completed, and the gas tax was not used, but those funds are available to spend as planned in fiscal year 2022. The unspent funds of 2021 were earmarked in the reserve and, as Mayor Joanne Savage pointed out, capital projects are now proceeding, “Most of that money has been spent in 2022.” In total, at the end of 2021, there were $3,739,007 in budgeted capital projects not completed, mainly COVID-related.
Following an overview of the reserves, and the funds earmarked for expenditure in 2022, Longlade concluded that “Your financial situation, money set aside, has improved this year,” with Jessica Dion noting, “You are not retaxing the taxpayers… A lot of projects are ongoing so you…take that money out of reserve so the ratepayer is not being affected twice.”
Dion also made the presentation comparing how well West Nipissing was doing in relation to other municipalities. The benchmarking figures are a consolidation of the municipality, Au Chateau, Environmental Services and West Nipissing Power Generation, all the audited information, compared to the submitted audits from other municipalities as posted by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (FIR – Financial Information Return numbers from 2020). In terms of tax arrears, West Nipissing went from 10.2% in 2020 to 9.22% in 2021, which puts the municipality at low risk. Dion said that in 2021 there was better success in collecting older taxes, and WN is above average compared to other municipalities (avg 6.3%), that there is a plan in place to improve tax collection and reduce arrears.
Debt servicing is quite high, Dion said, in the moderate risk range, but the figures include West Nipissing Power Generation, a municipal asset which has invested in major capital improvements and will generate income. Longlade pointed out that because WN Power Generation is run as a business, the risk evaluation is different. “It is profit-oriented, has incurred debt but is generating income – you’re selling power – you made a decision to go ahead with this debt for infrastructure, knowing it would be attached to a revenue stream. Keep that in the back of your minds when looking at this.”
The Asset Consumption Ratio is used to measure the state of a municipality’s infrastructure, looking at how much of a municipality’s depreciable assets have been used up (and therefore are in need of repair or replacement), compared to the original cost of those assets. Dion said that West Nipissing “has been stable for the past 5 years, adding to capital assets to your rates at the same level you are using them… You’re well below the national average of 52.% You are constantly investing in your capital infrastructure; you are low risk ”
The overall prognosis was that West Nipissing is in good shape financially, and the audit reflects sound financial practices and management. Council marked the audit as received; once it is approved, the audited statement will be posted to the municipal website.
More Safe Sharps Disposal units
Caitlin Dobratz, a community health promoter with the North Bay & District Health Unit (NBDHU), along with Lynn Perreault, manager of the Alliance Centre, and Chris Bowes, manager at the NBDHU, made a presentation asking town council to consider installing wall-mounted sharps disposal units throughout West Nipissing as part of harm reduction efforts. Dobratz gave an overview of the program as it exists currently, with sharps disposal units used to reduce social health consequences associated with drug use.
Currently there is one mailbox-type unit at Queen and Main in downtown Sturgeon Falls. The Alliance Centre also operates a needle syringe exchange program and syringe disposal, hands out naloxone kits, provides education, referrals and addictions treatment. Dobratz noted that “People will use substances in a much more harmful way if these programs did not exist.” The program works by “Building trust with marginalized, stigmatized, vulnerable populations”, with those efforts possibly evolving into treatment through building relationships. “A lot of evaluation goes into these ongoing programs.”
The current program was well received in West Nipissing, reducing the casual disposal of sharps, needles, syringes etc. onto the ground, thereby keeping local environments safer and cleaner, reducing possible injuries, and keeping these items away from children. The proposed units would be wall mounted and placed in strategic locations. “West Nipissing has been great,” said Dobratz. “I wish it was easy everywhere.” She said the proposed wall units are good year-round, offer a 24-hour option, people can deposit their discards discreetly, they are tamper-proof and childproof.
The matter received positive feedback from council, but councillors Chris Fisher and Lise Senecal wished to see some local statistics on the current program: numbers of returned needles, clients, and costs associated with collecting the waste. Location was another issue. Dobratz suggested the Health Unit could start with about 5 units, and anything after that would depend on their budget. Lynn Perreault of the Alliance Centre said that their organization has results from surveys previously conducted “with members of the community as well as individuals who do utilize substances… We still have information with respect to where a small unit could be installed and beneficial. The public beach, the splash pad (near Twiggs) have been identified on several occasions where additional disposal units would be beneficial.”
Mayor Savage indicated that council would like to have further information for the next council meeting in September to expedite the process. “It does align with the Community Safety and Well-being plan the town has adopted… We still have time [before the elections]… there’s an appetite for additional information – costs, hot spot locations, statistics, opportunities of partnerships… to move forward with this initiative.”
Cache Bay Trailer Park
Following an in-camera session, council came back to indicate the municipality is terminating the lease at the Cache Bay Trailer Park and providing due notice to the operator, ending in October. While the public was not privy to deliberations on the matter, the decision follows complaints sent to the municipality from campers at the site, deploring the deteriorating condition of the campground. Coun. Lise Senecal wanted to know from Community Services the status of the swimming pool at the park, which council had resolved to replace. Steph Poulin, director of Community Services, said he received an engineer’s report on the proposed new pool, and “It’s a lot more complex than originally thought – it’s a public pool, building code has changed”. He added that additional costs will come before council for approval if the project will exceed the approved budget. The matter of the swimming pool was deferred.
The Sturgeon Falls Beautification committee’s desire to have a mermaid sculpture mounted has met with some setbacks. Stephan Poulin informed council that for safety reasons, only two sites have been identified at Minnehaha Bay, it has to be mounted about 10 feet high to mitigate public risk “to a manner that insurers are agreeable to… It’s not as easy a project as some might think it is.” Poulin was looking for direction from council. Mayor Savage wanted to know if the cost would be in addition to the $40K provided to Beautification in budget 2022. Poulin advised it was within the budget. She told him, “Council needs more information, mounting, cost and proposal.”
Lame Duck Period
A motion was passed to delegate authority during council’s “lame duck period” during municipal elections. A bylaw is required to authorize the CAO to continue conducting business. Mayor Savage asked if it would be prudent to appoint an alternate in the event that CAO Jay Barbeau was not available. The bylaw was modified to include the Director of Corporate Services, Alisa Craddock, as an alternate.