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HRM Disputes Canadian Press Report Regarding Disaster Relief Funding

(Tuesday, April 20/2004)-- The following is a statement issued this morning by Dale MacLennan. Director of Financial Services, for the Halifax Regional Municipality.

A Canadian Press news article which was published in today's edition of The Chronicle-Herald under the headline "Ottawa Disputes Juan Claims," and in The Daily News under the headline "Province, city padded Juan claim-report" was inaccurate, misleading and not presented in a fair and balanced manner.

Halifax Regional Municipality is both surprised and disappointed the author of the article made no apparent attempt to contact any municipal official for comment regarding its policy and practices in applying for federal disaster relief funding through the Province of Nova Scotia.

Contrary to what the article stated, HRM's dealings with federal and provincial officials for disaster relief funding for damage and clean-up costs related to Hurricane Juan last fall have been extremely professional, and in many instances, exemplary.

Both HRM and the Province of Nova Scotia are aware that claims must be based on actual cost--- not estimates-- and that proof is required to show that costs have been paid and are eligible under the DFA program. To date, no costs submitted by HRM through the DFA Program have been denied by federal auditors.

To date, HRM has submitted only nine claims relating to Hurricane Juan and all claims have been reviewed. Six claims for the Environmental Management Services business unit have already been returned with the auditor 's comments of "The documentation was well presented and supported the expenditures as reported". As a result, HRM has been informed by provincial officials a cheque is being issued for the full $153,498.63 submitted for these claims.

In addition, Consulting and Audit Canada's auditors reviewed the three remaining claims from the Halifax Regional Police business unit. It suggested the province obtain a letter stating why overtime pay for police staff, cadets, and 9-1-1 staff was an eligible item, and explaining the role of these individuals regarding Hurricane Juan. Despite the obvious answers to this request, it does show the detail that is required by the federal auditors.

The article stated "Federal accountants also say the province and the municipality have been filing claims for expenses based on estimates, not actual costs."

For the record, a request was made in October 2003 to HRM by the Nova Scotia EMO Office to provide an estimate of costs to date, as well as anticipated costs as a result of the hurricane.

An e-mail (attached) dated October 11, 2003 from the Federal-Provincial Liaison Officer for the NS EMO states, "I can confirm that any estimates of costs related to Hurricane Juan provided to EMO will be used only in the calculation of the interim payment request to the federal government. The amount of any final claim made by HRM can differ from the interim estimate, and the final amount is in no way restricted by this interim estimate."

A preliminary estimate was provided to the province at that time, with the clear understanding that this was not a claim by HRM. However, it did list the costs to date, along with estimates for future projects required as a result of Hurricane Juan.

In mid-December, Mr. Monty Onyette , Chief Auditor, Consulting and Audit Canada, met with HRM Financial Services officials to review the only three work orders listed in our costs at that point. These work orders related to Debris Clean-up East, Street Lighting Repair West, and Sidewalk and Curb Restoration East. His review consisted of looking at a few samples of costs from each of these work orders. In addition, Jim Corning, a federal government engineer, accompanied Mr. Onyette to review the work. Mr. Corning reviewed the projects with HRM Public Works Staff.

Mr. Onyette was aware that this was not a claim submitted by HRM, but merely an attempt by the federal government to have comfort in providing preliminary financial assistance to the province. The three projects reviewed by Mr. Onyette had not been completed at that point and the actual submission of the claim to the province on these projects will not happen until next week.

Although the Canadian Press was able to obtain a copy of the report from this preliminary review of projected costs, HRM has been unable to do so.

The HRM disaster relief fund working group and the provincial Disaster Recovery Centre have done a significant amount of work, and are very much aware of the level of detail required in the submission of a Disaster Financial Assistance Act claim. Both groups have worked side by side on achieving successful accurate claims.

In addition, much of the work required as a result of Hurricane Juan has not been started. Therefore, at the time of December 2003 to which the audit report refers, the incomplete work would have been even greater. It would have been impossible to provide the type of engineering reports that the Canadian Press article in both daily newspapers mentions.


Dale MacLennan
Director, HRM Financial Services
(902) 490-6308

Above content last modified Thursday, November 02, 2023 at 11:40am.