Skelly wants forensic audit of waterfront trust’s finances

A city councillor is calling for a forensic audit of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust's finances while her colleague wants all arm's-length boards and agencies receiving municipal funding to make meeting minutes and financial statements public.

Coun. Donna Skelly said she will introduce a notice of motion or a motion calling for an audit during the Oct. 4 general issues committee at which the waterfront trust is scheduled to appear.

Coun. Matthew Green, who does not support the audit, said he plans to put forward his notice of motion regarding minutes and financials shortly.

Green said his motion is "not just about the Hamilton Waterfront Trust. It's about open government and transparency."

City council has asked the trust — an arm's-length agency — to answer questions about its audited financial statements and address certain issues, such as the $330,000 in property taxes owed to the city as well as its annulled charitable status.

"Throughout the summer, things have been brought to my attention and raised in the media — enough questions that I think we should be looking at a much more in-depth analysis of the waterfront trust's activities since inception," Skelly said.

The trust submits audited financial statements to the city on an annual basis and, at its board meeting Tuesday, passed a motion to make meeting minutes public dating back to 2015.

Its recently released 2016 audited financial statement shows the trust slashed its deficit almost in half last year — from $453,563 in 2015 to $230,336 in 2016.

Green said he does not believe a forensic audit of the trust's finances is necessary.

"I don't see the smoking gun … for a forensic audit," he said. "I trust chartered accountants to provide audited statements."

"If there is a smoking gun, then by all means, but if there's not, then let's not waste taxpayers' money," Green said.

Skelly said she believes a forensic audit is the best way to address any issues and hopes, if supported by councillors, it would put any questions to rest.

"If nothing is wrong, then that's wonderful," she added. "I think transparency is paramount."

"We show as a council that this is the type of attitude, the type of policy that we want to promote, then I think that we will be doing our job and I think taxpayers will feel more comfortable," Skelly said.

This is not the first time the idea of a forensic audit of the waterfront trust's finances has been raised.

In 2012, Gary Santucci, the owner of The Pearl Company, appeared before council and asked for one to be conducted. His request was unsuccessful.

At the time, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson estimated the examination — which can look at possible irregularities including misappropriation of funds, reported fraud or other allegations — could cost $100,000.

The trust's mandate is helping Hamiltonians connect with their waterfront. It was created in 2000 to settle long-standing issues about the waterfront between the city, federal government and former Hamilton Harbour Commission.

The trust has developed such amenities as the two popular waterfront trails, one in the west end of the harbour and the other along the beach strip.

As The Spectator reported in 2015, the trust lost money for seven years straight — about $2.5 million from 2007 to 2014. This year, the waterfront trust is on deck to receive more than $333,000 from the city to operate the outdoor rink.

npaddon@thespec.com

905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

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