The creation of a municipal auditor general’s office in the province may be in the consultation phase but it will happen.
Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Ida Chong says a determination still needs to be made about what model the office would use and to that end she’s gathering feedback from municipalities, businesses and stakeholders.
Chong described the scope of the office as similar to those which conduct audits from time to time on federal and provincial programs. In this case, officials would audit programs or services delivered by a municipality to determine whether they offer the “best value for money.”
They will consider, “Was this the best way the dollars could have been spent because sometimes when you’re close to it you don’t always see that,” Chong says. “We have to acknowledge there is only one taxpayer and they deserve to know that they are getting value for money from their local governments.”
An auditor general, Chong expects, will also be able to shed light on how things might be done better.
“He or she will not tell you how it can be done better but say there’s a problem here you might want to look at it.”
Chong says the office would be arms-length from government in that the government would not direct the office as to what services or municipalities to audit. Rather it will use its own discretion when it comes to those matters.
Williams Lake Coun. Laurie Walters is positive about the development, pointing out that it can increase accountability and transparency.
“I don’t think the intent is to overule local government,” Walters says. “I think if you look at it from the performance-audit perspective maybe there are ways we can save money. I look at it more as a positive in those respects. A new set of eyes, I don’t have a problem with that.”
Walters adds that audits may reveal areas where the province could be providing more funding to municipalities.
“It may indicate as a government that we need to do more to partner with them so there could be benefits. I do believe there are benefits that go both ways here.”
Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce president Tracey Gard says although the B.C. chamber has endorsed the office, the local chamber hasn’t yet canvassed its members.
Personally, Gard says, she’s “50/50” on it.
“It’s a great idea but it’s another level of government and do we really need another level of government?”
Gard’s concern is with process.
“We do know we need to have an independent body and we need some transparency and we’re getting some strong messages from government that these will be critical features of the office,” she says.
Chong says she can’t see audits beginning until sometime next year.