Justin Prest and Lynne Lavery
L’ISLE-AUX-ALLUMETTES – A dispute over an overpayment of $30,000 from grants received by Residence Meilleur, a not-for-profit seniors’ residence in Chapeau, was resolved at the MRC mayors’ meeting on April 20, 2022 when a resolution was passed to rescind a previous resolution requiring the organization to repay the amount in question.
The situation began in 2016 when an initial grant of $30,000 from the 2015-16 Fonds de développement des territoires (FDT) grant was given to Residence Meilleur.
Then, under the 2016-17 funding envelope, another grant was awarded with two separate resolutions for $60,000 each, for a total of $150,000.
Former mayor of L’Isle-Aux-Allumettes, Winston Sunstrum, was a volunteer on the board of the Meilleur Residence project.
By August 2018, the MRC had released $93,000. According to Mr. Sunstrum, “[I was ] totally focused on getting enough money together to get the project going,” and emailed the MRC for the balance. Instead of arriving at a balance owed of $57,000, the clerk calculated $87,000. $150,000 had been approved, but $180,000 had been released.
Toller has stated that as a then-member of the Council, Sunstrum should have been aware of the resolutions he voted on, so he should’ve noticed when the Meilleur Residence received $30,000 more than the $150,000 approved. However, an email had been sent from the MRC to Residence Meilleur stating they would receive a total of $180,000; Sundstrom reported this to the board but not to Council, believing it indicated that the project had received a “separate grant” of $30,000.
In March 2020, MRC staff flagged the discrepancy to Council, which led to a resolution to have the overpayment converted into an interest-free loan, repayable on a 30-year term (or just over $83/month); the vote was a tie, broken by Warden Toller. According to Toller, Meilleur Residence never began repayment.
At the April 27, 2022 Council of Mayors’ meeting Donald Gagnon, mayor of Chichester, introduced a resolution to rescind the repayment, stating that the monies received were from two separate fiscal years and represented separate grants. A second resolution was then tabled by Sandra Armstrong, mayor of Mansfield-et-Pontefract, to defer the vote on rescinding payment until a legal opinion could be given on the situation; this did not pass. Thereafter a heated debate ensued with accusations of conflict of interest, discussions about how to account for the extra $30,000 spent, and finally, acknowledgement that Residence Meilleur did receive an email from the
MRC indicating they would receive a total of $180,000.
In the end the resolution passed with an addition made to acknowledge the mistake of the MRC and, to account for the overpayment, it would come out of the MRC’s surplus. This passed by a vote of 15-3.
Afterwards Warden Toller commented, “What would have been the right action would have been the repayment over 30 years, but Council has voted. It’s water under the bridge and will not be revisited.”