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Mayor acknowledges multi-million accounts payable error

How much money was spent by the City of Lloydminster in December?

Two different numbers appeared to answer that question in recent days.

The municipal government has been posting the monthly expense totals of the City since September, when the accounts payable information of the Border City was made available online, dating back to 2010.  In addition to operational expenses for the City, the accounts payable documents contain the details of expenses undertaken by city council members and senior management officials while operating on City business.

However, a substantial change was recently made to the December accounts payable listing.

When the document was first uploaded to the municipal website, the balance of costs for the entire month read as $4,545,054.16. This number was later revised and reposted to read as $8,806,663.14. The difference between the two balances stood at $4,261,608.98. The numbers have not changed since being revised.

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Lloydminster mayor Gerald Aalbers chalked up the sequence of events as a human error, and says that city administration tries every day to do the best job they can do.

“When there is an error made, I think that it would be corrected,” says Aalbers.

“Will we make a public statement about it? I don’t think so. In this case, I believe, some were caught in our department from the finance group, that error was corrected and it was reposted. One of the challenges is that in haste to try to correct an error, was another error made? I’m not sure.”

He also says the error had been taken “very seriously” by both council and administration, and corrected as soon as possible.

“I can appreciate that an error was made, and I’m sure that it was acknowledged at the finance department that it was made,” says Aalbers.

“The challenge is that I don’t have an excuse, I can’t make an excuse, it was an error made. Will there be checks and balances to ensure that hopefully going forward, there are no errors? There certainly will be.”

As for the online publication of documents, Aalbers indicated he would only want to see it done once.

“Anytime we put up a document, we don’t want to have to take it down, and revise it,” says Aalbers.

“I think that anyone would agree that when you put something up, you want to make sure it’s right. That’s why we’ll be discussing the checks and balances to make sure that error doesn’t happen again. There are certain things, as updates would be a living document, but when you try to put forward (information) especially your financial position, or any other position, we want to be sure that we put our best foot forward. That’s why you won’t see revisions going forward.”

City councillor Jonathan Torresan, who works as an accountant in Lloydminster, echoed the mayor’s view on the error, focusing in on the summary sheets of the accounts payable listings.

According to Torresan, November’s summary information was incorrectly included in December’s first posting. The difference between November’s summary and December’s first loaded summary stood at $31,586.

Torresan indicated the rules on how the payables are handled and posted are up to city administration to figure out.

“We (council) say what, they determine how,” said Torresan.

“The big picture is that we don’t have much say in the process, how it gets done, but we would appreciate to have the payables posted. At the end of the day, what’s important is that the information gets out there.”

Torresan says the original document was online for around two to three days, and the process of taking the document down and revising it had been “no harm, no foul.”

“I could understand why people might want to know, if you were one of the 16 people who viewed that document prior to it being changed,” says Torresan.

As for the multi-million rise, Torresan says the larger amount for December’s expenses was also due to large-cost items being included in the month, such as the quarterly payment of the RCMP contract and money for a land purchase from Husky Energy. He also says administration can handle “small errors.”

“If it was something pervasive, then absolutely, you might have to change policies down the road,” says Torresan.

“I think when we get to new financial software when there’s not so much manual entry, then you’re going to have less probability of error going out on a public document.”

Lisa Buchan, the Director of Business Services for the City of Lloydminster, says additional checks and balances will be put in place for the posting of the accounts payable documents.

“It’s up to our clerical staff to compile everything into one,” said Buchan.

“They manually type out a summary sheet for it, and that’s where the issue came. They actually just loaded in November’s summary sheet, without updating to reflect the numbers in the cheque register. Moving forward, it’s just the additional check and balance through the personnel to make sure that the General Manager of Finance (Scott Pretty) has that final look before it actually hits the website.”

Buchan said both she and Pretty were on vacation at the time of the upload.

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