Cities grill province over municipal auditor

Civic leaders skeptical as Chong tries to calm concerns over new watchdog

Community

B.C. cities remain deeply suspicious of the province’s plan to unleash a municipal auditor-general to uncover their wasteful spending despite government assurances the findings will be non-binding.

Civic reps ripped into the idea Tuesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, raising questions about the costs and potential loss of local autonomy.

“To me this is redundant,” said Nelson Coun. Robin Cherbo, who said the province should turn over the money that it would spend on the office to cities to shore up aging infrastructure.

“Who is going to do a value-for-money audit on the municipal auditor-general?” demanded Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson.

Delta Coun. Bruce McDonald wanted to know if the spending watchdog might press Delta to give up its municipal police force.

They spoke after Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong told UBCM delegates the province will pass enabling legislation in October to set up a municipal auditor-general.

She urged cities to work with her to “shape” the office and determine how it works.

“It’s not another layer of bureaucracy,” Chong said. “It should be treated as a benefit, a resource.”

Chong pledged the province will pay for the municipal auditor costs – a key concern of the UBCM.

She said cities will decide whether to implement recommendations, but added councils that don’t will be answerable to their taxpayers.

The office would conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits on cities or civic projects.

Business and industry groups have long wanted to curb what they see as overspending by cities on questionable priorities.

They also want caps on business and industrial tax rates, which councils say could force up residential rates.

Chong and deputy minister Don Fast stressed the auditor wouldn’t seek to alter the policies of elected councils or their taxation rates.

The goal, Fast said, is to deliver independent, professional advice that is “not controlled by government, not controlled by business.”

UBCM officials said the planned municipal auditor – a Liberal leadership campaign promise of Premier Christy Clark – still needs a lot more work to make it work.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan questioned whether the province might still pressure cities to act on the auditor’s recommendations.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, Metro Vancouver’s representative on the UBCM executive, said much monitoring of civic best practices is already done and shared throughout the province by the UBCM.

“We all want to look at value for money,” Moore said, but added it remains unclear how far the recommendations might go or how the auditor’s office would be controlled.

One option, according to Chong and Fast, is to create a separate oversight committee or council so the municipal auditor doesn’t answer directly to a government minister.

“The devil is in the detail,” Moore said.

The municipal auditor issue goes to a vote of the convention Thursday.

The draft resolution merely endorses the UBCM executive’s approach to the issue, but delegates may seek to amend it to make a more forceful statement.

Just Posted

Enrolment, EA increases make for no surprises in updated school district budget

The budget reflects changes that were made after recieving provincial funds in December

Agassiz Community Gardens hoping to find new home at old McCaffrey school

The society has been looking for a new location since its previous gardens were sold in October

Kent looking to replace Ferny Coombe pool with indoor facility

The facility being built is dependent on grant funding from the province and federal government

Escape room brings ‘out of the box’ activity to Agassiz

AESS alumni and teacher developed the concept to bring teamwork-based entertainment to the town

Prices still rising, Chilliwack real estate back in balanced territory

Local market is steadier compared to points west with higher increase in average sale price

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

Manure company causing ‘toxic’ stink at Abbotsford school seeks permit

Property across from King Traditional Elementary cannot operate manure facility without permit

Vancouver city council endorses free transit for youth

Mayor Kennedy Stewart will write a support letter to TransLink

In limbo: Leftover embryos challenge clinics, couples

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and other couples struggle with tough decisions

BREAKING: Jury finds man accused of killing B.C. girl, 12, guilty

Twelve-year-old Monica Jack disappeared in May 1978 while riding her bike along a highway in Merritt, B.C.

B.C. government extends coastal log export rules for six months

Premier John Horgan promises reform at loggers’ convention

Lower Mainland pup poisoned by pot on dike

Five-month-old River was unable to walk.

Most Read