Beset by financial and other challenges, the village of Andrew, Alta., is asking the province for a municipal inspection.
The community, about 100 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, is home to about 400 people.
Since 2021, the village’s monetary transactions have not been properly recorded, making it difficult to balance the books. To make matters worse, the municipal auditor recently quit.
“We haven’t really caught much of a break,” Mayor Merwin Haight said in an interview.
“None of us on council were expecting these kind of issues.”
In March, council voted unanimously in favour of asking the provincial government to conduct a municipal inspection.
If approved, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs could appoint an inspector to review Andrew’s bylaws, policies and contracts and interview municipal staff, councillors and local residents to find out what went wrong and offer solutions.
“We’ll have a much better understanding of our community and how we can grow together and work together to make it prosperous and stable,” Haight said.
Since 2009, the province has conducted 38 municipal inspections. However, since 2018, it has conducted only one, of the City of Chestermere, east of Calgary.
Andrew’s recent inspection request is the first of this year, according to Alberta Municipal Affairs.
But it’s not the first time Andrew has sought a municipal inspection. In 2015, a petition with more than 100 signatures went to the province. But after review, Municipal Affairs determined there was insufficient cause.
While numbers from the province don’t indicate an increase in inspection requests, Angela Duncan, vice-president of Alberta Municipalities, said more communities are exploring it as an option.
“In some cases, a new councillor has a poor impression of how the municipality has been operated prior to them being elected and they feel that an inspection is the only way to sort it out,” Duncan said.
In an email to CBC, a Municipal Affairs spokesperson said minister Rebecca Schulz has agreed that Andrew could benefit from a municipal inspection. Her department is meeting with local officials to determine next steps.
Radio Active10:49An Alberta village in crisis
Andrew has more challenges than just finances.
“Not everybody’s happy with this council. It’s fractured,” said Haight.
Signs have popped up around the village, asking for the removal of its councillors.
In the last year, Andrew has had four chief administrative officers.
Two months into the job, current CAO Tim Melnyk woke up to find screws in his truck tires. Later, someone destroyed his wiper blades, popped his hood and unscrewed the oil cap.
“It [his truck] started to tick pretty loud. So I shut it off and opened up the hood. If I would have been down the highway, it would have blown that motor up,” Melnyk said.
Haight credits some of the friction to council asking for overdue taxes.
Andrew’s annual municipal budget is $1.5 million, he said.
Last year, council discovered some residents owed more than $200,000 in back taxes. The village started to request repayments. Residents were told that if they couldn’t pay, their properties would be sold in a tax sale.
While Haight said most residents were able to make arrangements or payments, it upset some people.
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Village has seen big changes
Andrew has seen drastic change in recent years. It lost its grocery store and seniors’ lodge, and this week, trustees with Elk Island Public Schools voted to close Andrew School, the only school in the village.
“There’s nothing left. All the stores are gone. Everything is gone,” said Willy Pesaruk, who has lived in the community for 93 years. “I can’t understand this. How this town died.”
If he can sell his house, Pesaruk said, he plans to move to nearby Mundare.
Haight said house prices are down by as much as 50 per cent compared to the time before COVID-19.