Hay River won’t be pulling services to communities like Enterprise, the Hay River Reserve, and Kakisa after all.
“(The department) got back to us with a bunch of thoughts,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy.
“And we’re happy with their understanding of how serious this is.”
After a special meeting April 1, mayor and council decided they were satisfied with the progress made by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) on their demands as stated in a letter from last fall.
That letter threatened to stop providing water and sewage treatment, as well as emergency services, to the communities if MACA didn’t return $300,000 a year in block funding, as well as take steps to correct what the municipality feels is an inherently flawed funding formula. While the former hasn’t happened, the formula has been under review and local government it counting that as a victory.
“The outstanding issue is the block funding,” said Cassidy, adding that although there isn’t a mechanism to pay the town’s demands from past years – now amounting to more than a half-million dollars – there are “extraordinary” funding options for the municipality if the review of the formula finds that it had been unfair to Hay River.
In the meantime, the administration will be sending MACA a bill for the services the town provides that are outside its mandate.
“Our argument isn’t with the communities, it’s with MACA,” said Cassidy.
“The issue isn’t with the delivery of services, it’s with the funding we’re getting to do it.”
Cassidy said that the idea to bill the department had come up last summer, but mayor and council felt the territorial government would not take a simple invoice seriously enough. He argued that the letter threatening to cut off services was necessary to bring MACA to the table.
“It was a serious letter. We discussed it and we were going to follow through with it,” he said.
“But at the end of the day, this is a much better approach.”
MACA deputy minister Tom Williams told The Hub this would be the first time a community sent the department a bill for services, but that they would review any correspondence coming from the municipality.
“There’s always been some debate with the way we fund the 33 communities in the NWT,” he said.
“But we try to keep it fair and equitable.”
Williams did note that Cassidy is part of the panel reviewing the funding formula, set to have its third and final meeting later this month.
The group, drawn from politicians and administrators from communities in the territory, will present its recommendations to the department, from which they will have to go through both the legislative assembly and cabinet before they are implemented. Williams said he hoped to see changes to the formula produce tangible results for communities in the 2015-2016 budget.
“Regional centres in the past have argued that they provide services to surrounding communities at their own cost,” he said.
“But that brings a lot of economic benefits that aren’t necessarily reflected in the municipal budget.”
Cassidy was quick to agree with this sentiment and reiterated that the town’s beef had not been with the surrounding communities, but rather with the funding formula itself and how it had been applied to Hay River.
“It’s not us versus the other communities,” he said. “We don’t want to penalize them for relying on Hay River at all.”