Williams Lake one of six cities chosen for performance audit

Williams Lake will participate in an audit of local government performance in managing policing agreements and police budget oversight.

Williams Lake is one of six municipalities that will participate in an audit of local government performance in managing policing agreements and police budget oversight.

The audit is one of several announced last Wednesday by Basia Ruta,  B.C.’s auditor general for local government (AGLG).

They are the first performance audits the new office will undertake.

A number of considerations went into picking Williams Lake and the other five municipalities — Port Alberni, Surrey, Merritt, Victoria and New Westminster —for the policing agreement audits.

For municipalities that rely on policing service from the RCMP there are two types distinguished by the cost share agreements they have with the federal government.

“We picked two that were between 5,000 and 15,000 and then we picked two that were greater than 15,000, and then we picked two municipalities that have their own independent municipal police departments,” Mark Tatchell, deputy auditor general, told the Tribune Friday.

The other factor was to ensure there was a geographical distribution.

“That’s really how we got to picking those particular locations,” he added.

They are performance, not financial audits, and it may turn out that some of the cities being audited are doing a great job of managing its policing agreements, Tatchell insisted.

Audits might also reveal areas where cities can contain costs or make some savings, information that would be valuable for municipalities.

“If there are municipalities that are doing an excellent job, that’s something we want to share with other municipalities.”

When asked to define “oversight,” Tatchell said it’s being used in terms of governance to review the monetary reviewing of the policing budgets.

In February, the AGLG held an audit planning workshop with senior staff from local governments across the province and worked through a series of audit themes and topics.

“Representatives from local governments ranked the topics in terms of relevance, significance and risk,” Tatchell said. “Then we surveyed every local government in the province with 27 audit topics and they were asked to rank them.”

The ranking was not solely about risk either, but also about things that are important to local governments.

Director of finance for Williams Lake Pat Higgins confirmed that no one from Williams Lake participated in the planning workshop, however 60 per cent of local governments, including Williams Lake, responded to a survey, which the AGLG considered a “pretty good return.”

“We also conducted a media scan of local government issues over the last few years in the province and we received correspondence from citizens,” Tatchell said.

They looked at relative legislation and also received requests from local governments to conduct audits.

“All of that went into identifying our audit themes. We had six broad themes and those were published in our service plan at the end of March and then the next step was to identify more specific audit topics.”

The topics, Tatchell added, are completely derived from local governments themselves.

“These have not been picked out of thin air.”

Policing costs for 2012 in Williams Lake totalled $3.8 million, which represents 23 per cent of the total general fund operating budget.

“Three million was budgeted for the RCMP costs under the municipal police unit agreement. The remainder $800,000 was the city’s cost for operational support, safer community program, victim services and watch clerks,” Higgins explained in an e-mail.