After nearly a year of negotiations for a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Strathmore Handi-bus Association, Strathmore Town Council reviewed the proposed document on Nov. 10 during their regular council meeting.
Administration recommended town accept MOU as presented with one amendment, that the town appoints a member of council to the board of the Handi-bus Association, but not as a voting member.
The new MOU outlines an agreement in which the Town would provide the association with $175,000 annually which, according to the current document, would be used at the association’s discretion.
It would then be the association’s obligation to provide the Town with an audited financial statement detailing operations and user statistics.
Deputy Mayor Jason Montgomery motioned to delay the agreement and move the discussion to a committee of the whole meeting on Dec. 8.
“I spent four years as the council representative to the Handi-bus and I spent two of those years as the association president … I would love the opportunity to fill the rest of council in on the history of the operation … what we should be able to expect from the service and what we should look to expect from the service,” said Montgomery.
“I certainly think that it’d be a good idea to get into an agreement with them, (but) I don’t think this is the best agreement that we can do at this time.”
Over the course of the discussion, Montgomery spoke extensively about wanting to further refine the MOU so the Town would have more say and clear expectations about how the money would be used by the Handi-bus Association.
He also raised concerns, based on the wording of the document, that the Town would not be able to back out of funding the association once the agreement was signed.
Administration clarified that the funding agreed to via the MOU would still be subject to allotted funds for the association when the Town completes its operational budget.
“There’s no reason at all why we can’t or shouldn’t spell out some of our expectations … It’s not the most efficient or best way to use the money and that’s one of my concerns. That’s something that I would like the council to sit down and discuss,” said Montgomery.
Councilor Denise Peterson felt oppositely and expressed that she felt since the discussion has been ongoing since February, it was time to sign the document and deal with any problems that may arise later.
Her concerns also addressed whether continuing to delay signing an agreement would put the Handi-bus Association at risk of dissolution.
According to administration, following a discussion with the association earlier that day, though the Handi-bus is currently pulling funds from its reserves, it will continue to operate while council makes its decision.
Further regarding their financials, Montgomery added there has been a lack of information from the association provided to council despite requests.
Council voted 4-3 in favour of postponing signing the MOU, the matter will be discussed again during the committee of the whole meeting scheduled on Dec. 8.
In the meantime, administration was tasked with informing the Handi-bus Association that they are to prepare their most up-to-date financials, current user statistics, total current registered client number, total current number of association members, current board list, copy of current bylaws and current operating budget to present before the committee.
Council’s last regular council meeting of the year is scheduled for Dec. 15. It has not yet been decided whether an updated MOU will be on the council’s agenda for that meeting.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times