Saskatoon

Lone Rock, Sask., residents call for financial probe into RM of Wilton

Residents say the Saskatchewan municipality requests money for council minutes and lacks transparency.

Residents say the municipality wants money for council minutes, lacks transparency

Residents in the tiny hamlet of Lone Rock, Sask., are calling for a financial audit of their municipality, Wilton, following concerns about a contentions rezoning plan. (CBC)

The Rural Municipality of Wilton was dogged by transparency issues even before the contentious rezoning plan that's recently put the tiny western Saskatchewan municipality in the spotlight, residents say.

Requests for money for council minutes, not allowing taxpayers to stay for full council meetings and making far-reaching decisions without consulting citizens are among the claims being made by residents of one of the municipality's communities, the hamlet of Lone Rock.

Glen Dow, the reeve for the municipality, says he'll no longer comment on the claims, now that Lone Rock residents have called on Saskatchewan's ombudsman to push for a financial audit of the municipality.

"Legal counsel requires that we make no further comments until that process is completed," Dow said Wednesday.

Money for council minutes

The Rural Municipality of Wilton has come under fire for its plans to redevelop land in Lone Rock, about 240 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, as a country residential subdivision.

Residents say the plan — which has involved buying locals' homes using a numbered company — was launched in secrecy and is founded on shaky grounds.

They also say it's part of a pattern of non-transparency at the municipality.

Melissa Heney, one of the concerned Lone Rock residents who met Tuesday night to discuss the ombudsman request, said she's asked the municipality for four years' worth of council minutes.

Minutes and agendas are nowhere to be found on the government's website.

"They're saying, 'Now you can get them but you have to pay $150.' We can't even get them for free," said Heney.

"I asked if I could bring them a flash drive or if they could email them to me. They just haven't answered on that either."

Dow has denied that residents were barred access to the minutes.

'No notice. No … nothing'

Heney's concerns extend to the meetings themselves, however. She said residents are only allowed to stay for the agenda item they're speaking to and not the entire meeting, even if other matters aren't closed or in camera.

"They had their meeting. They opened the door. They let us in. And then we left and they continued their meeting," she said of her experience at a past council meeting.

"They're not like public meetings."

The municipality's council procedures bylaw allows the council to close part or all of a session if the meeting involves "long-range or strategic planning" or privacy concerns.

It also caps speakers' remarks at 10 minutes, which is actually more generous than Saskatoon, which allows five minutes.

Lloyd Ludwig says the municipality has made key decisions without consulting its taxpayers. (CBC)

But Lloyd Ludwig, another concerned Lone Rock resident, said the council plays fast and loose with that rule, depending on what a citizen wants to talk about.

"They determine that as you come into the meeting," he said. "If they don't think it's very important, you get a very little amount of time. If they think it's important, they'll give you more time."

Ludwig said the recent rezoning plan isn't the first time the municipality has taken major actions without first running it by taxpayers.

Two years ago, he said, the municipality began charging Lone Rock residents taxes for each lot on their properties, instead of one price for the whole property — without consulting residents.

"No notice. No 'This is what our plan is.' Nothing. Of course the hamlet was up in arms and mad. Anybody would be," said Ludwig.

Reeve's past $61K salary questioned

Todd MacKay, the Prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the municipality came up on the watchdog group's radar several years ago.

"We had some concerns about some costs there, including the amount of money that the reeve was being paid," said MacKay.

The municipality, which represented 1,629 people as of the 2016 census, disclosed that Dow made $61,689 for the year 2011.   

By comparison, the reeve for the Rural Municipality of Torch River — population 1,471 — made $5,400.

That's less than the average pay for Wilton's six council members in 2011 ($6,388) and less than a tenth of Dow's pay, despite the similar population sizes.

The taxpayer federation's report on the sizeable pay gap was titled "Weird Things In Wilton."

Todd MacKay of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the municipality has come up on the organization's radar before. (CBC News)

Whether Dow still makes the same remuneration as reeve today is one of the questions he said he now can't answer in the wake of the ombudsman request.

Some of the municipality's newsletters in recent years have hinted at the need to curb operational spending. 

"There's definitely not the income to be paying [Dow] that exorbitant amount of money," said Ludwig.

"We need to see where those [salaries] are at," echoed MacKay of the tax federation. "And if they are high, give the reeve and council an opportunity to explain to ratepayers why they deserve to be paid as much as they are."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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