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Town of Innisfail forced to write off big hockey debt

Administration apologizes to council and Innisfail Eagles for invoicing error as town loses thousands of dollars in revenues
MVT Innisfail Eagles wall logo
The Innisfail Eagles will have to pay $3,800 to the town for uninvoiced lease payments as a result of an administrative error made by the Town of Innisfail. The Eagles have until March 31, 2023 to pay the bill. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The town is out $11,400 in revenues due to an administrative error of not invoicing the Innisfail Eagles hockey team for dressing room and advertising space over a three-year period.

The issue came to light at council’s regular meeting on March 14, with Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer, apologizing for the error and promising there would be “more tight channels” explored by administration with invoicing going forward. Before the meeting, Becker had also apologized to the Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club.

“I did apologize to the Eagles as well on behalf of the town for the inconvenience . . . for not conducting our corporate responsibility by properly invoicing their organization,” Becker told the Albertan on March 15. “But I made an apology to council for the administrative error that put them in the position to make this decision.”

In the meantime, the Eagles hockey club, which has struggled financially through the COVID-19 pandemic, has agreed to share responsibility by coming up with $3,800 by March 31, 2023, on top of their current $300 monthly lease rate.

“There have definitely been missteps on both sides, and town administration is the first to acknowledge that there were some missteps from them,” said Mayor Jean Barclay, noting there was a signed lease with the Eagles back in January of 2018. “I don’t know what happened with the processes at the town office but the Eagles did not get invoiced.

“I think what is important now is that we move forward. We’ve come to an agreement, and processes have been tightened up at the town office to ensure this doesn’t happened again. I think we’ve been fair in settling on an ultimate sum to pay.”

Brian Spiller, current president of the Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club, was not appointed to the role until May of 2018 and did not have first-hand knowledge of the signed lease but said bills would have been paid if they had arrived.

“If we were getting that bill every month, we would have been paying that bill every month, and we would have had less money to run our hockey team but we would have paid our bills,” said Spiller, whose team was investing heavily at the time for a new professional dressing room.

“But we never got those bills, so we were under the idea that maybe they (town) were giving us a grace period until we got our loans paid off. We didn’t know what was going on.”

Spiller said the team was not informed by the town it had a problem over non-payment of the 2018 signed lease until late last year when a new one had to be drawn up.

“And then they told us, ‘we haven’t been charging you for a lease all these years',” said Spiller. “I said, ‘yes, we haven’t got a bill'.”

The March 14 council meeting featured a comprehensive report from Meghan Jenkins, the town’s director of community services, on the tangled invoicing issue between the town and Eagles.

Jenkins outlined to council that in July of 2016 the Eagles and the town worked out a deal for a new team dressing room that had the town pay $195,000 for construction costs and the Eagles taking care of other associated expenses of about $90,000.

At this time the Eagles were advised the new dressing room would be subject to a lease agreement, said Jenkins in her report to council.

Council was told that in January of 2018 a new dressing room lease was signed for $300 per month for the period Dec. 1, 2017 through Nov. 30, 2020.

However, council was told this lease was never invoiced to the club and no payments were ever made to the town.

“To the best of what we can put together is that it was simply an administrative error; the lease was signed and the documentation not forwarded to the accounts receivable department,” said Jenkins, who was not the town’s community services director at the time.

However, she calculated the town lost $10,800 in dressing room revenues from the error.

At about the same time, the Eagles were permitted to sell up to 25 wall board advertisements on the west wall of the Arena’s blue ice surface. Under a memorandum of understanding signed in February of 2015, the Eagles were required to pay $100 a year to the town for each installed sign.

Council was told payments to the town for this advertising space have not taken place since 2017/18 season. Jenkins calculated the town lost an additional $4,400 in revenue from the 2018/19 to 2021/22 Eagles hockey seasons, bringing the total revenue loss to $15,200.

“We did contact legal to understand that when you are looking to go back for unpaid (invoices) how far back you could go,” said Jenkins, noting the legal principle of statute of limitations in this case. “If you were going to go to court and have a big battle, typically 24 months is as far back as is typically awarded in a situation like this.”

In the end, Jenkins’s motion to council recommended that it grant a discount of the outstanding balance owing, and that the town seek $3,800 of the total $15,200 revenues lost, and that it be payable by the Innisfail Eagles prior to March 31, 2023. Council passed it unanimously.

In late 2021, the Eagles signed a new 18-month lease for the period of Jan. 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023 at $300 per month.

Jenkins said payments have been made by the hockey club for the first two months of the lease.


Johnnie Bachusky

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