Old Massett Village Council is facing serious financial problems, and is laying off 80-percent of its workforce, effective Thursday (July 1).
The council has a $7.4-million deficit, stemming from over-budget housing construction, spending money on programs its core funding does not cover, and receiving no payments from some renters and householders.
The problem, which has just come to a head, has been building for ten to twelve years. Last year for example, the council knew it had a $2.8-million debt problem.
“They are in a serious situation, but it can clearly be turned around,” Wayne Drury told the Observer Monday. He’s the administrator of the Lax Kw’alaams band, and recently turned around a much worse financial situation there. He was called in by Old Massett Village Council to help, and says he owes no allegiance to the federal government, just to the council and the community.
The big impact, Mr. Drury says, is going to come from the layoffs. The council will lay off 64 of its 80 employees, almost everyone it employs except department heads, as of Thursday. And even after the problems are solved, staffing will never return to the old levels, Mr. Drury said. “People have to realize we are never going to take the organization up to the staffing levels we had before, it is unsustainable,” he said. His objective is to reduce costs and increase revenue and get the village back on an even footing financially.
“Within the next year, we are going to have significant improvements in the operation,” he said. “We are going to maintain our core services,” he said, adding that services such as health, fire, sewer and water, education and social assistance will all continue.
However, some projects have been put on hold, at least for the time being. The new subdivision outside Masset is on hold for a couple of weeks. Mr. Drury said that while it’s funded separately, he wants to stop temporarily, but he did say a main priority is getting it finished.
Village staff is really eager to get on with the program, Nr. Drury said, noting that cooperation with new Masset is part of his plan. “In the next short while, we are going to be amazed at what collectively we are going to be able to do,” he said.
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.
Old Massett Village Councillor Marlene Liddle said Friday “this is something that has been a long time in the making, and we only have upward and forward to go from here”. She also said she hopes many workers can be called back before their employment insurance runs out next summer.
Mr. Drury said that while the problems are significant, there’s nothing illegal. “I can account for every penny, I know exactly where it has gone,” he said, “the problem over the past several years, they have been providing programs and services that are unfunded.”
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.