Audit request shot down by council in 4-3 vote

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Councillor Bart DiPasquale’s request to have an external audit of the town’s finances done was defeated  by a 4-3 vote at Monday night’s council meeting.

DiPasquale said he wanted to see an independent audit cover the span of the current council and that an RFP go out to choose the firm to do the work and made a notice of motion two weeks ago. DiPasquale was joined by Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland and Councillor Diane Pouget in supporting the motion while Mayor Wayne Hurst along with councillors John Sutton, Bob Pillon and Carolyn Davies voted against.

Pouget called it “a very important notice of motion” saying there have been numerous changes in staff in the town’s financial department and that ratepayers have been “bombarded” with a variety of different figures, including that of the debt.

“I support this motion in its entirety,” said Pouget.

Pouget said CAO Mike Phipps has made statements that the town may have to look at raising taxes and cutting service only to later state the “finances are not that bad.” She said council has the obligation to request an audit if there are any financial concerns on behalf of the municipality.

Sutton stated there have been two external audits in the last six months when both the 2011 and 2012 financial statements were reviewed, saying those had an “external set of eyes” looking at the financial information of the town.

“The cost of an audit, and I’ve spoken to an auditor, is around $30,000,” said Sutton. “To spend $30,000, I need concrete answers on what benefit this going to have for the municipality.”

If there is evidence of anything untoward happening, Sutton called for it to be revealed but said without evidence to date, he saw no reason to ask for another audit.

Amherstburg has been “victimized by a lot of financial misinformation” with regards to its finances, he added.

“We’ve never had problems paying bills, we’ve never had any problems meeting payroll,” he said, adding debt reduction is a pillar of council’s strategic plan and that debt is not much different than what was projected during the last election campaign.

Interim director of finance Wendy Dade said the recent audits showed no reason to believe there was fraud or financial mismanagement by administration.

“Those reports came back clean,” said Dade. “What is being asked for in the motion is what was done in the last couple of months. An audit is an annual process and isn’t something we won’t continue doing.”

“What are we looking for?” asked Davies.

Davies expressed concern this could lead to a further mistrust of the town from members of the public, adding she has heard figures of $40,000 for another audit. Pillon admitted he thought about supporting the motion just to show there is nothing wrong with the books but ended up opposing, citing cost.

“I don’t think we should spend $30,000 or $40,000 just to look good,” he said.

Pillon also questioned whether the motion was signalling that the previous auditors couldn’t be trusted and believed the town would “have an elephant on its backs again” while the audit was being carried out.

DiPasquale said the public has a lot of questions and trust issues about the town’s finances and financial practices and said this was not a “witch hunt.” The issue has been a distraction he wanted eliminated and that there were trust issues he had with previous audits.

“I think it’s time we stop hiding,” said DiPasquale. “Stop hiding and come forward.”

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