SPRINGHILL – It was too little too late for many in Springhill Thursday night.
The Town of Springhill, which voted to dissolve its town status in March, held a public meeting to show the financial information the town leaders used to make their decision, which came as a shock to the community.
Armed with the previous year’s financial statements, graphs and charts available through the Municipal Financial Condition Index released by the province earlier that day, and the support of the Dept. of Municipal Affairs, Springhill Mayor Max Snow and Deputy Mayor Darrell White painted a bleak situation where deficits and tax rates would continue to grow in the coming years for the community. The audience of more than 400 citizens spilled into the hallway where a television monitor had been set up for the overflow of attendees listened quietly, but it was clear they were waiting for their turn to talk.
“I believe once you see the information you will have a better understanding of this serious, serious, serious situation Springhill is in,” Snow said.
“I guess in hindsight we should have approached the process differently,” White said.
In its 2012-2013 audited statements, Springhill’s long-term debt was $5.1 million, with an $800,000 overdraft. It’s present unaudited statements, ending March 31 of this year, White says the town is looking at a $300,000 operating deficit and an overdraft of almost $1 million. And there’s still the issue of $1.6 million in uncollected taxes.
While dealing with the town’s financial situation it’s been leaving vacant positions putting strain on the town’s human resources, and infrastructure has been deteriorating.
“Anyone here who drives our roads would assay they’re in deplorable condition,” White said.
White did clarify protective services in the community is more than policing – it also includes building services and the fire department – but the cost of policing in the community still carried a lot of weight on the decision to dissolve the town. The town called for proposals for policing in Springhill prior to the decision to dissolve, with a bid coming in from the existing force and another from RCMP. The police proposal was for $1.5 million and the RCMP was $1.3 million. Members of the department argued the Springhill proposal didn’t account for revenues they make offering criminal background checks, which goes into the town’s accounts.
Then White struck to the point. Why they chose to dissolve the town without public consultation. The policing contract required the town give 12-months notice to the department if it is going to end its services.
And with respects to the town’s responsibility to the officers’ pensions, White stated “Council will meet all of its legal responsibilities to its employees.”
For the Springhill Police’s Doug Williams, president of the police union, those were ominous words.
“If the town doesn’t dissolve and goes with RCMP, the town has to pay $2 million [in Springhill Police pensions],” Williams said. “If the town does dissolve, the town pays zero.”
Williams was not the only one in the audience who took offence with how the numbers were being presented. Former resident Stacey Fisher and her husband Pablo Rodriguez, both chartered accountants, had dug into the town’s previous financial statements and the very same information the town presented from the Municipal Financial Condition Index the town used to present a negative picture of the financial situation, and called for clarification.
“The numbers don’t make sense,” Fisher said.
“Is the town is dire short term straits? Is it going to be bankrupt in 12 months?...The long term debt, you’ve been paying your mortgage, but there is something wrong going on with you accounts receivable,” Rodriguez said. “You were in a solid financial situation for six years then came off the rails. What happened?
Mayor Snow and White would not comment on how the accounts receivable grew to such a sizable amount, but said council acted when the matter came to their attention. Audience members, however, were not satisfied and wanted to know who was responsible.
No names were given.