01/28/2014 08:53 EST | Updated 03/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia orders financial audit for Provincial Exhibition Commission

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's agriculture minister has ordered an audit for the Provincial Exhibition Commission, saying the troubled organization owes the province about $450,000 but hasn't made any loan payments and has refused to hand over financial data.

Keith Colwell told a news conference Tuesday his department will hire an accounting firm after numerous unsuccessful attempts by the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board to get financial information from the commission.

"The loans haven't been paid in a long time and no attempts have been made to pay them," he said. "Over at least 18 months, the loan board has requested information and it has not been supplied ... That's whey we're going to audit them."

The non-profit group owns and operates a 26-hectare exhibition facility in Bible Hill where the annual five-day Provincial Exhibition has been held since 1946. The August event typically attracts about 40,000 people.

The exhibition grounds are also home to the Truro Raceway, a harness racing track that was threatened with closure last year.

Colwell said the commission needs to be run more efficiently and the government won't forgive its debt.

The commission's board of directors recently resigned and a new board has been appointed.

"The new board has made some positive moves and needs a clean slate to move forward," Colwell said.

Bruce Kennedy, the new board chairman, said the commission also owes suppliers about $350,000. He said the biggest bill is for fees owed to other harness racing tracks that provide video feeds for their races.

Kennedy said the new board has discovered "inconsistencies" with the way the organization has been run, but the minister said their was no indication of impropriety.

The new board has already cut some costs, having recognized the operation has too many employees and is spending too much heating three barns that have since been closed, Kennedy said.

Despite the financial problems, Kennedy said he expects harness racing to resume in April.