Old Massett to lay off most staff

  • Jun. 25, 2004 9:00 a.m.

By Jeff King–Old Massett Village Council is facing serious financial problems, and is laying off 64 of its 80 employees, almost everyone it employs except department heads, effective Thursday (July 1).
Details are difficult to come by, but the Observer has learned from a reliable source that there’s a $7.4-million deficit, mostly from mortgages the council has on homes it’s not receiving payment for, a situation that has been going on for several years, as well as ‘over employment’, having too many people working. We ‘ve also learned the problem is not recent, and has been building for years, possibly as many as ten or fifteen, and that last year the council knew it had a $2.8-million debt problem.
Old Massett Chief Councillor Wilson Brown told the Observer Friday afternoon “we have some financial problems” but refused to offer further information, despite our offer for him to clarify the situation. When we asked him if it was correct that the money ‘had not properly been accounted for’, he said that was not the way to express it, adding if we don’t correctly express it, “we could come after you”.
An urgent public meeting was held in Old Massett Tuesday evening, with as many as 160 people attending, one of the best-attended meetings in the history of the village.
And an investigator Wayne Drury, has been appointed by the Department of Indian Affairs to look into the situation. Mr. Drury recently helped the Lax Kw’alaams band turn around a much worse financial situation, where the band was some $18-million in debt.
David Seymour, a spokesperson for Indian Affairs in Vancouver, told the Observer Friday that what is going on is confidential between the department and Old Massett Village Council.
Old Massett Village Councillor Marlene Liddle said “this is something that has been a long time in the making, and we only have upward and forward to go from here”.
It is expected that sorting out the problems could take a year. It is also expected that several programs will be cancelled during that period, and that if the situation improves, the laid-off workers will be called back, hopefully before their employment insurance runs out next summer.
The council oversees numerous programs in the village, and operates on a budget of approximately $12-million a year. Its fiscal year ended April 30.