Community

Cities set to grill minister over planned auditor

UBCM convention to mull civic spending watchdog

The province’s plan to create a civic spending watchdog that might find efficiencies and uncover waste will be a hot topic at this fall’s Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention.

UBCM president Barbara Steele denies mayors and councillors are fearful of the government’s intent to appoint a municipal auditor-general, but says they have plenty of questions.

“There doesn’t seem to be a local government opposed to somebody coming in and checking out the books, checking the spending and even checking for best practices,” Steele said.

“The concern is we don’t know what the auditor-general is supposed to do or what’s broken. We don’t know what they’re looking to fix.”

Some civic leaders suspect the audits could limit their autonomy or constrain their ability to pursue different approaches or policies.

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong has said civic performance audits wouldn’t overrule local governments but would highlight areas communities could save money.

She also indicated they could look at property tax rates – industry and business have long demanded a mechanism to cap and perhaps reduce what they pay.

The municipal auditor-general initiative was a promise of Premier Christy Clark when she ran for the B.C. Liberal leadership.

The issue will be the topic of a workshop with Chong at the UBCM convention at the end of September.

But Steele and others don’t see how there’s much time for the province to meaningfully consult cities if Victoria aims to create the new office during an expected sitting of the Legislature in October.

Cities are already subject to balanced budget legislation that bans deficits and pay for their own auditors that report each year.

That’s raised concern that the effort might create duplication.

Cities already work together closely – often coordinated through UBCM – to compare best practices and share them, Steele added.

She noted Chong has now indicated the costs of the auditor may be downloaded onto cities.

“At no time had we been told that we would bear the cost of this,” she said. “So you can bet that’s going to be a concern.”