Port Financials, CAO Travels & the CBRM’s Shopping List

This week I checked the Nova Scotia Tender Notices website and discovered the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) is in the market for a number of things, including external auditors.

The lucky winners will get to audit the CBRM, the CBRM Water Utility and — what fun! — the Port of Sydney Development Corporation. The contract will be awarded for the fiscal year ending 31 March 2017 and renewed each year thereafter to 2021.

The tender is accompanied by a package of materials including the CBRM’s consolidated and non-consolidated financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2016 and the Port of Sydney Development Corporation’s operating budget for 2016/2017 (along with a warning that some supplied materials are to be kept confidential on pain of prosecution — presumably not these materials, as they were posted to a public website).

Under the Municipal Government Act, the CBRM should have submitted those audited 2015/2016 financial statements to the province by September 30. I contacted the department of municipal affairs to find out if it had done so, but as of press time had received no answer. The request for proposals (RFP) for auditors states that the audited financials will go to CBRM Council in November, but CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke has pushed that to the December meeting to give councilors more time to “digest” them.

You can see the information for yourself here (the call for proposals closes 1 December 2016).

What follows are some of the items that struck me from both the auditors’ information package and the tender list more broadly.

 

Our Peripatetic CAO

In fiscal 2016, the CBRM’s chief administrative officer Michael Merritt (whose salary is listed as $185,267) ran up travel expenses worth $25,901. That’s actually down slightly from 2015, when his travel bill totaled $31,715, but it still puts him ahead of all CBRM councilors and senior staff members and second only to Mayor Cecil Clarke, whose 2016 travel expenses came in at $33,899 (of course, this doesn’t include any travel Clarke did on the Port of Sydney’s dime during fiscal 2016.)

 

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I’m very curious to know where the CAO went and what he accomplished for the CBRM in his travels, but I may have to wait for a response to that $43,000 FOIPOP to find out.

 

Port Budget 2016-2017

The Port of Sydney Development Corporation really hates to share information. When it’s forced to, it tucks it away in funky little corners of its website and hopes nobody will find it (hence the 2016 Audited Financials in the “About the Port” section rather than the “Documents and Media” section). The interim board posts the minutes of its meetings, but those minutes contain little information; moreover, the board hasn’t met at all since February 2016. (Or else it has met and failed to post the minutes, a possibility I’m not ruling out.)

At that February 2016 meeting, the interim board approved the 2016/2017 budget for the Port of Sydney Development Corporation. That budget wasn’t included in the minutes but it was included in the package of materials provided auditioning auditors and I’m happy to present it below (the original was blurry in spots too, which is kind of fitting):

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I was struck by the entry for “business development,” which is a $20,105 expense in the approved budget. In 2015/2016, business development was a $567,231 expense, funded largely from the $2.5 million left over from the harbor dredge (and earmarked for navigational aids). The February 2016 minutes show the actual business development budget for 2016/2017 was much higher than $20,105:

 

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That $730,000 includes $420,000 from the navigational aids budget, $205,000 from the Port of Sydney’s project funding (I’m not sure what that is) and $105,000 from the CBRM CAO’s office budget to cover half of Port CEO Marlene Usher’s salary. I know that because I read it in the Post, not because it’s made clear anywhere in the minutes or in the approved 2016/2017 budget. Surely such details should be spelled out somewhere for the benefit of future generations who will otherwise wonder where all the mysterious money came from?

I also noted that:

The Port, which claims to be “turning away” so much business it is in need of a $20 million second berth, expects to make a whopping $16,065 in 2016/17.

The Port budgeted $2,900 for board of directors meetings in 2016/2017, which seems crazy to me because a) couldn’t the board just meet in a room at the Civic Centre? And b) the board hasn’t actually met since that 2 February 2016 meeting at which the budget was passed.

The passenger tax total is $598,133, divide that by the $8 per head passenger tax and you get 74,767 (which is rounded off, for some reason it doesn’t divide neatly by $8). On 1 February 2016, Bernadette MacNeil of the Port of Sydney was telling the Cape Breton Post they expected 87,600 passengers in 2016. One day later, the Port board approved a budget that seems to be projecting 74,767 passengers. That’s a difference of 12,833 passengers or — wait for it — more than five visits by the much-ballyhooed Disney Magic. “Magic” is a word that should be used more often in connection with cruise ship numbers, don’t you think?

 

The Wheels on the Bus

Nova Bus has won a tender to supply the CBRM with a $499,280 bus and the Accuride steel wheels on that 40-foot transit bus will go round and round.

 

Downtown Development

Ekistics Planning and Design of Halifax has been awarded a contract worth $96,040 to do a downtown Sydney planning study.

Although based in Halifax, Ekistics is very familiar with downtown Sydney as they were behind that $60,000 “Sydney Harbourfront Conceptual Vision & Design” from 2014.

That “vision,” as presented in this 2014 YouTube video, was something closer to a hallucination, involving extensive residential housing development right to the water’s edge (because the CBRM has super powers and is immune to climate change) and a sand beach (complete with bathers) in the cove beside the government wharf. (No sign of a coliform bacteria testing station but you know there must be one.)

I’m all for “revitalizing” Downtown Sydney, but I would be willing to put money on this report being received, filed and ignored — along with the 2013 CBRM Task Force Report (police force reductions, anyone?), the Sydney Harbor Shuttle Report, the CBRM Transit Review and that previously mentioned harbourfront hallucination.

 

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