The Department of Municipal Affairs is investigating issues concerning the acquisition of property within the Town of Steady Brook.
The department confirmed Friday through email the investigation was taking place under the authority of the Municipal Affairs Act, but would not provide any further details.
Mayor Donna Thistle said the investigation is being carried out under Section 4 of the act and was prompted by the purchase of land located at 4-10 Willow Ave. in December 2017.
Thistle’s words were measured as she talked about the investigation.
She said there are two pieces of land adjacent to each other in the area and one is owned by a private individual who would like to develop them while the other piece has developmental lots in it.
If the development of the lots proceeded independently the town thought if it owned one of the lots it could control the road so as not to end up with another dead-end road.
In retrospect, Thistle said the town probably could have controlled that through legislation.
There is the potential for 12 very large building lots on the location and the town felt it would have an opportunity to recoup its money.
Thistle said through assisting in the development the town could see a minimum of $50,000 a year in revenue through taxation, in perpetuity.
“There’s very little land left in Steady Brook and it’s a sought-after location,” she said.
“We were a new council. We thought we were doing a good thing.”
Thistle would not say how much council paid for the land and it was not disclosed in the minutes from the Nov. 9, 2017 council meeting when the purchase was approved.
Before that purchase decision was made, Thistle said the town made all of the inquiries to Municipal Affairs it thought was needed to confirm it had the authority to make the purchase.
Once it was done, Thistle said a resident came to the conclusion council had “inadvertently” breached a couple of sections of the act and reported it to Municipal Affairs.
In July 2018, Andrew Parsons, then acting minster of the department, sent the town a letter saying it had breached the act and that council and staff should take training so as not to do it again.
They did and thought that it was over. The town then wrote the minister requesting permission to sell the land because that seemed to be where the issue was, said Thistle.
There was no response and in early December the town received a letter from current minister Graham Letto advising it was being investigated.
Thistle said the town is co-operating with the inspector.
“In our opinion, we have nothing to hide," Thistle said.
She said any wrongdoing was inadvertent.
“It wasn’t wrongdoing — it was a technical mistake.”
Thistle said it is possible there was a misunderstanding between what the town thought it was allowed to do based on the advice it had received and what it was actually allowed to do.
She said the town was not given a timeline for how long the investigation will last or when the results will be known. But it’s now over a year since the land was purchased and the town is unable to proceed with finding a developer for it. That is causing tension for the council.
“It’s a difficult time because all the oxygen in the air is being sucked up by the investigation and it’s difficult to just get on with just the progress of the town or even trying to figure out what to do with the land.”
What Section 4 of the Municipal Affairs Act says
Inspection of municipal records
4. (1) Inspectors shall be appointed in the manner authorized by law, and they shall, as required by the minister, examine and inspect all books of record and account, all bank books, assessment and collection rolls and all other papers and matters belonging to a municipal authority.
(2) The books and records of every municipal authority shall be inspected by an inspector under the authority of subsection (1) and the minister may order a special inspection in the case of a municipal authority whenever the minister considers it advisable or upon the request of the municipal authority setting out clearly the reason why, in the opinion of the municipal authority, the special inspection is considered necessary.
(3) An inspector has power to require the attendance of an officer of the municipal authority or of another person whose presence the inspector may consider necessary during the course of his or her inspection and the inspector has the same power that is exercisable by a judge or court in civil cases to compel the attendance of the officer or person before him or her, to compel the production of documents and to take evidence under oath or affirmation and to administer the oath or affirmation.
(4) Whenever required to do so by an inspector, an officer of a municipal authority shall produce for examination and inspection all books, records, papers, documents and other property of the municipal authority in his or her possession.
(5) After the completion of the inspection of the books and records of a municipal authority, the inspector shall make a report on the inspection to the minister and to the municipal authority in the form prescribed by the minister.
(6) An inspector shall see that the regulations made by the minister respecting the methods of bookkeeping, accounting, recording and auditing of municipal affairs are carried out by the officers of a municipal authority.
(7) A person summoned in accordance with subsection (3) or required to produce in accordance with subsection (4) who neglects or refuses to attend and be examined or to produce for examination and inspection a book, record, paper, document or other property which that person is required to produce is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a penalty of $200 and to a further penalty of $20 for every day during which that person neglects or refuses to do so.
(8) All officers of the department shall by virtue of their office have the powers of inspectors appointed under this section for the purpose of this Act.
Source: Municipal Affairs Act