MUSKOKA – Lake of Bays mayor Bob Young decided to follow a Muskoka Airport money trail and did not like where it took him.
Lake of Bays mayor Bob Young presents a report in the District of Muskoka council chamber about increases to a Muskoka Airport budget item that he says were never approved by council.
Young raised concerns about an airport engineering and design budget that ballooned to $143,000 from $50,000 without approval from district council, and how $128,000 of that was spent on a consultant that was hired without a competitive bid process.
He voiced his concerns during a presentation to fellow district councillors at a Jan. 30 meeting.
“I’m just concerned that our fiduciary duty as councillors is to be very aware and cognizant of spending our taxpayers money,” he said. “We have to be fully confident that it’s being spent according to policy and according to our wishes. I’m not confident of that at the moment.”
He noted in his report that council had approved a $50,000 line item for site development at the airport in the 2011 budget, but by 2012 that line item had jumped to $143,000 and he did not know how that had happened.
After some digging, he found that a planning and economic development committee meeting in October 2011 had recommended an additional $93,000 be added to the line item, which was renamed engineering, design and studies, for a total budget of $143,000.
The proposed amendment was in response to council’s direction to investigate the feasibility of future development options for the eastside of the airport property. The amendment was supposed to come before council for approval, but never did, said Young.
Yet, at a following planning and economic committee meeting the budget variance was treated as approved.
“How did the budget addendum get approved?” asked Young. “In answer, I don’t believe it did. It got overlooked or it got missed, whatever word you wish to use.”
Since then, more than $128,000 has been spent on engineering studies, which Young called excessive considering the preliminary results of the airport and business master plan states the proposed development project may not be financially desirable or preferable.
Young was further concerned that the money was spent on work completed by companies that were not hired through a competitive process.
“That’s a lot of money without (requests for proposals), in my estimation,” he said.
Jim Green, chief administrative officer for the district, said he launched an internal investigation when Young brought his concerns forward.
Green said he asked for the engineering and public works, planning and economic development, and finance and corporate services commissioners for process reports. He also had the district’s auditors review the procurement policy procedure.
Green said that while there were some gaps in communication, staff and auditors found that the district’s policies were followed.
“The findings of your senior management team with respect to the present policies … which refer to capital budget reporting, variance reporting and procurement policies, I’m satisfied that, as those exist today, those were followed,” he said. “I’m also satisfied that the direction given by council to staff, to the best of our ability, was followed.”
He noted that the district procurement policy allows staff to recommend and obtain professional consultant services without a request for proposals if there is a clear and obvious choice.
District chair John Klinck commented that the will of council governs staff.
“We wanted to have the money expended to determine whether we would spend a significant amount of money thereafter,” said Klinck.
But there were recommendations put forward by Young as well as staff to enhance clarity and transparency in future.
Young’s recommendation was to update the district’s procedures and financial controls.
He said he wanted written confirmation of council approval for budget addendums, progress reports from staff when it is given direction by council, and changes to financial reporting procedures for greater transparency.
Staff recommendations included a review of the district’s procurement policy, procedure bylaw and resolution amendments, the latter two of which related to making council direction more clear and specific.
Councillors approved all the recommendations with little debate.