Hay River’s municipal government has drawn a line in the sand.
The mayor and town council sent a letter to the GNWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) on Sept. 6 stating the territorial government has 180 days to make effective progress on the funding formula for the municipality.
If that doesn’t happen, the town says it will pull services from surrounding communities, including but not limited to water and sewage treatment, fire rescue, and ambulance service.
“It’s time we play hardball,” Mayor Andrew Cassidy told The Hub. “In the past, Hay River has always picked up the slack, and we’re proud of that. We have a strong business community and a resilient community, in general, but the territorial government has come to count on that.”
Cassidy said Hay River is the only community in the NWT to not see its funding levels from MACA return to pre-2010 levels, and that furthermore, while other municipalities see an increase in support, Hay River’s allotment remains the same. The letter asks for “significant progress, by the Government of the Northwest Territories, on addressing the concerns raised by the Town of Hay River.”
Those concerns centre on the fact that the GNWT pulled $300,000 from the town’s block funding in 2011 without notice, after the town had reviewed and passed its annual operating budget.
“The explanation for the decision was based on a funding formula that the department (MACA) has publicly agreed is flawed,” the letter reads. “The following year, we noticed that our community was the only one that had not returned to pre-2010 block funding levels.”
Hay River serves as a regional centre for communities like the Hay River Reserve, Kakisa and Enterprise, which see their water and sewage treated by the larger municipality. The letter states that it is “discouraging” to see that a community of 100 people, referring to Enterprise, relies on Hay River for such services, but “has enough funding to accumulate $5 million in reserves while Hay River re-invests in our water treatment plant, lift stations, and emergency services using funds collected from our ratepayers.”
Cassidy said that, while MACA has acknowledged that there are problems with the formula – which takes into account population levels and infrastructure needs among other things – and has even sat down for discussions with the town, nothing concrete has come out of those talks.
“We need more of a presence in Yellowknife leaning on senior government officials for us,” he said. “We lose funding because we’re not aggressive, so we’re giving them a deadline.”
Town council recently struck a sub-committee to look at ways to increase revenue to the community in relation to its status as a regional centre. While the sub-committee has yet to present a report to council, its chair, Coun. Donna Lee Jungkind, said members are working hard at looking at all possible sources of funding.
“We are frustrated with the lack of movement from the Department of MACA,” wrote Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard in an email to The Hub prior to town council’s letter being sent out. “The MLAs and town council have had a few meetings about the reduction for the community of Hay River. This is especially frustrating when Hay River is acting like a regional centre, but isn’t seeing funding for this situation.”
Cassidy hoped that, before the six months are up, the GNWT will come to the table with solutions.
However, the mayor noted, “We’ve had talks and they haven’t resulted in anything.”
— Sarah Ladik