Auditors: Cornwall ‘absolutely outstanding’ at balancing books

(Newswatch Group/File)

CORNWALL – The city’s auditing firm says the municipality is keeping up with its infrastructure doing an “outstanding” job at balancing the books.

Auditing firm Craig, Keen, Despatie, Markell LLP presented highlights of its 30-page report to city council Monday night.

“It would take so long (to go through the entire report) the Leafs would make the playoffs before we were through,” partner Ross Markell joked as he opened his presentation with colleague James Pollock.

In his highlights, Markell said the net financial assets, which is cash in the bank minus what the municipality owes, was $7.3 million. The year before it was $14 million.

“We already knew the number was going to go down so you were spending more money to the waste water treatment facility,” Markell said in reassuring councillors the city is in the right direction.

As for infrastructure, Markell suggests the numbers are good. “At least you kept pace with your amortization.” You’ve spent $21 million when actually the value of the goods are $27 million. “You more than doubled your tangible capital assets,” he said.

“You should be at least maintaining your amortization,” Markell said.

He says staff have been “absolutely outstanding” in keeping the city’s finances in check.

Where Cornwall struggles is being able to move ahead with projects because of its small tax base. “You don’t have the horses to basically build what you want to do,” Markell stated.

Reserve funds were up to $4.8 million from $4.2 million the year before (2013) after the city created a policy to fund reserves. Markell lauded the new policy. “We’ve been harping on you to create a policy,” Markell said noting that it’s been done through so-called Procedure 16 with a plan to top up reserve funds.

Markell says the city is also strong with its reserve fund that it’s able to fund its payroll, unlike other municipalities which have to borrow money to make payroll. “You are your own bank,” he said.

Markell said the city is also doing a fantastic job of collecting most of its tax dollars. “People are able to pay their taxes,” suggesting Cornwall is not feeling any recessionary effects despite what the public may think.

Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy asked about comparing Cornwall taxes compared to South Glengarry and South Stormont, an argument long used by the Community Action Group in making the case for lower taxes.

Markell also says it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to compare the municipalities.

Compared to other municipalities like North Bay and Belleville, Cornwall has one of the lowest debt loads per household.

Markell suggests the the city take all its plans, such as the capital budget and reserve fund policy and others, and create a central document which would create a five year budget plan.

“We strongly suggest you put it all together in a five year plan,” he said.

Coun. Andre Rivette suggested it could be hard as the provincial might cut back on transfers in the years ahead.

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