The financial problems facing Fort Resolution are being dumped on the hamlet’s outgoing mayor, according to the soon-to-be ex-chief magistrate.
“I’m blamed because people were laid off during my term. The arena’s not open, the gym’s not open. We don’t have the money to open them,” as Louis Balsillie told News/North.
“Young people got the wrong impression of me that I ‘broke the hamlet.’”
The mayor was elected to a two-year mayoral term in 2017. He lost in the Dec. 9 hamlet election to Patrick Simon, who will assume office in January.
Balsillie is also chief of the Deninu Kue First Nation, and in March was elected to a four-year term.
The issues in Fort Resolution are the fault of the former administration and go back to 2009, Balsillie said. Fears of bullying made other councillors reluctant to speak up about financial issues, he said.
“(There was) overpayment of employees. Purchase orders to buy things in Hay River. All the other people were laid off because we had no money. I find it hard to believe the problems weren’t detected,” he explained.
The mayor casts some blame on the Department of Municipal And Community Affairs (MACA) for allowing the alleged misuses to continue and not complaining when hamlet reports weren’t regularly filed.
“Why would you keep funding an organization that isn’t giving you reports and is going deeper into debt and that it is paying staff but not paying bills?”
MACA acknowledges that at times the hamlet submitted its reports late or not at all, but that it eventually caught up with its reporting.
“Some of the municipal type services are essential, like drinking water. There are times when the reporting is late, but to maintain those services the funding has to keep flowing. They have to pay someone to maintain the water treatment plant and keep the roads clear,” said Robert Tordiff, assistant deputy minister of MACA.
For a few years MACA has been aware of alleged financial irregularities in the hamlet, but nothing has been proven, Tordiff said.
Balsillie thought that a forensic audit of the hamlet’s books would clear the air over the financial problems. He said he tried to hire an accounting firm to conduct the audit covering 2009 to 2017.
On Dec. 16 he received a copy of the “forensic engagement letter” from EPR Accounting in Yellowknife that outlined the audit’s scope focusing on accounts receivable and payable, and corporate credit cards. News/North has seen the letter.
But to Balsillie’s chagrin, the letter said the audit would at look the period from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019 roughly matching his tenure as mayor.
“I’m really upset with the letter. I don’t know why I’m being audited,” he said, adding that he asked MACA to look into the issue.
Former mayor Garry Bailey, who served two consecutive terms before losing to Balsillie in 2017 said there were no irregularities when he was mayor.
The hamlet’s deficits had actually been reduced during his time in office, he said.
News/North tried to get a hold of the incoming mayor but he did not respond to requests for comment.
The EPR audit is expected to begin in January.