Municipal fraud troubling towns

There's been another theft of money from a small town in Newfoundland. And the province has become so concerned, it's trying to do something about it.

In the last few years a number of people who had access to money have stolen tens of thousands of dollars from communities that are already cash strapped.

Deborah Short was a volunteer in Deep Bight, collecting town taxes. She's admitted to pocketing almost $10,000 of other people's money.

Deep Bight's financial loss is the latest in a string of thefts from Newfoundland town councils. There are two other recent examples. The town clerk in King's Point was convicted last year for stealing $1,800. She got three months' house arrest and three years' probation.

Leading Tickles lost $72,000, stolen by the town clerk who was sentenced to a year's house arrest and three years' probation.

It's a trend that hasn't escaped the notice of such groups as the Provincial Association of Municipal Administrators, made up of the province's town clerks and town managers.

The administrators, the RCMP, the province and the Federation of Municipalities are putting the finishing touches on a handbook on how town employees should handle money. They believe training and education are the key, so workshops will begin in the fall. Employees and councillors will be taught how to document the flow of money and taught that more than one person must keep an eye on the cash flow to limit temptation.

"You don't go out and hire a labourer to do your plumbing," says Derm Flynn of the Federation of Municipalities, "or a carpenter to fix your car, but at the same time some of those towns are hiring people with no background in finance, no background. In fact, in some cases very little education, secondary education or whatever. So we're saying there's a whole effort needs to be done on that side of the coin for starters, then get into the specialized training for them as well."

Deborah Short has pleaded guilty to stealing money from Deep Bight. There's no evidence on what she did with the money. Her lawyer told the court she's very sorry and wants to pay it back. She's already returned $1,000. Short will be sentenced later this month.