The prospect of a municipal auditor-general coming in and inspecting Saanich’s books is a great resource, says the mayor.
A former longtime business owner, Frank Leonard says auditors help provide productive options to improve practices within a company. In Saanich, that would “help us see if there’s something we could do better,” Leonard said.
“Part of the bias I have is from my experience in business. I’ve never seen an auditor as an adversary, I see an auditor as a resource.”
Premier Christy Clark last week made good on a campaign promise, saying a municipal auditor would be established by the province to help highlight cost savings measures.
“More than half of our municipalities have populations under 5,000,” said Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong, who is currently Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. “They don’t have the capacity to do value-for-money audits or performance audits.”
Saanich, with a population of 113,000, doesn’t fit into that category. For a municipality our size, Leonard can’t see the auditor coming in to look at the operating budget. Rather, he anticipates audits of services or projects.
“A better use of their time would be to look at a particular service, say policing in Greater Victoria, which is expensive, or a project like building a bridge or an LRT or a sewage treatment plan, and audit that expenditure to see if taxpayers got value for their money,” Leonard said. “The provincial auditor or comptroller general don’t usually look at the day-to-day operating budget, but if (a municipal auditor) every knocked I would never be reluctant, I’d say ‘Come on in.'”
Leonard isn’t championing the auditor-general idea just yet, though. His colleagues at the Union of B.C. Municipalities need clarification on the idea.
“(UBCM executives) stressed that local governments have a strong interest in a robust accountability system. Questions (the UBCM) has posed about (the need for a municipal auditor general) should not be taken as questioning the need for local government accountability,” said a press release from the UBCM.
If there is concern about the accountability of municipalities, the UBCM says there could be better alternatives than a provincially mandated auditor general.
“In past years initiatives have been collaborative (between the province and UBCM),” Leonard said. “I think this got off on the wrong foot. It was an announcement (from the province) taken as ‘this is going to happen,’ so everything subsequent (by the UBCM) is a reaction. They’re tripped up on the process, which doesn’t appear to have been collaborative.”
Chong’s office has sent out a survey to municipalities and regional districts across B.C. The survey asks municipalities if an auditor should have authority over other local bodies as well.
The B.C. government took similar steps to oversee school districts, imposing common payroll and personnel systems on boards of education and appointing “superintendents of achievement” to monitor district efforts to raise student performance.
– with files from Tom Fletcher