Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor says the Prairie Spirit School Division needs a better plan to maintain schools before it finds itself, in her words, "in a pickle."

Judy Ferguson says in her annual report that the division identifies structural deficiencies in 40 per cent of its schools, but there’s no long−term plan for repairs.

The Prairie Spirit School Division has 45 schools in 28 communities surrounding the city of Saskatoon.

Ferguson says spending money on maintenance early on can save time, effort and dollars down the road.

She does say that the school division is doing a good job on health and safety for students and staff.

The auditor’s report did not look at every school division, but Ferguson says in the past, the same maintenance issues tend to pop up across government organizations.

"We realize it’s not as sexy as a new building," Ferguson said Tuesday.

"It’s not like a shiny new coin where you can cut the ribbon, etc. I guess what we’re trying to convey is that it’s equally important. When you’re building new infrastructure, plan for that maintenance and the cost of maintenance, factor that in right away."

Her report makes seven recommendations for the school division to track what work is needed and develop maintenance strategies so it is prioritized.

Ferguson’s report also raises concerns about the risk of aquatic invasive species entering Saskatchewan’s 100,000 lakes.

She says the Ministry of Environment has trained 36 conservation officers on how to inspect watercraft, but it hasn’t decided how often to sample water or carry out inspections, who should do them and where.

She said public education is key.

"More of the public needs to know some of the invasive species, like mussels, can readily attach themselves to watercraft and gear, and that they can live a full month outside of water," said the auditor.

The risk is considered extremely high because zebra mussels exist in Manitoba.

For the first time, the auditor’s office also looked at programs where certain people get tax breaks. It specifically looked at the fuel tax exemption.

Since 1987, the exemption has allowed farmers, bulk fuel dealers selling heating fuel and producers of renewable resources, such as commercial fishers, to buy certain fuel tax free.

Ferguson said the purpose of the heating oil exemption is clear because it makes the price comparable to natural gas, which does not have a tax.

But the rest is not clear and a review is needed, she suggested.

"The first step is, why do we have the program. Obviously, it reduces taxes, but why else is it there?"

-The Canadian Press