A majority of City of Powell River council supports the establishment of an auditor general for local governments (AGLG).
MLA Nicholas Simons, who represents the Powell River-Sunshine Coast riding, had asked city council for its opinion on the proposed AGLG. The legislation creating the office is scheduled to be debated during the fifth session of the Legislative Assembly this spring. The AGLG will have a budget of about $2.5 million and will be located in Surrey.
Council passed a motion in January to advise Simons that it supports the legislation proposing the creation of an AGLG and invited him to meet with mayor and council to discuss the matter.
Councillor Maggie Hathaway voted in opposition to the motion. She pointed out that a majority of delegates at the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) convention voted against the legislation. She said she agreed that the auditor general was “almost redundant. We’re required to have our books audited and keep everything in order. I’m not exactly sure what the function is going to be, but it’s to the tune of about [$2.5] million. It’s an awful lot of money for something that we’re already responsible for.”
Councillor Myrna Leishman said she had the opposite point of view. “I don’t really have a problem with getting this assistance from the provincial government,” she said. “As I understand, they will be offering some solutions if we are having some difficulties.”
The vote at UBCM was not a landslide, said Councillor Debbie Dee. “There were points well taken for and against,” she said. “Myself, personally, I’m in favour of the municipal auditor general.”
Councillor Russell Brewer said he also supported the office. “There’s likely to be learnings through audits of other jurisdictions that could be transferred to other municipalities and districts,” he said.
Mayor Dave Formosa and Councillor Chris McNaughton were absent from the council meeting, but Simons’ letter had also been discussed at a committee-of-the-whole meeting. McNaughton said at that meeting that he thought the province was doing a good thing with the AGLG.
Formosa said he believed the province initiated legislation for the office because of major industry taxation by local governments, an issue the province has been grappling with. He also noted that the UBCM did not like the legislation. “I also echo very strongly that I believe this could be a good tool,” he said.
Stan Westby, the city’s chief administrative officer, said he believed the $75,000 the provincial government gave the city for a service review was “a bit of a trial balloon for what the office might be doing. I think this is the type of work that the municipal auditor general will be doing, looking for service reviews that have certain commonalities throughout municipalities, that can be used almost as a cookie-cutter approach to enhance the efficiencies of operations for communities such as ours.”
Formosa cautioned councillors that they were not going to be popular with the UBCM. “They won’t be happy with Powell River yet again,” he said. “They’re not happy with the stance we took with Catalyst [Paper Corporation] and I think that proved out with the grant.” Formosa was referring to the city’s unsuccessful application to the UBCM Innovations Fund for co-treatment, a proposal to treat the city’s wastewater at Catalyst’s Powell River division.
School District 47 has received funding from the provincial government for two new buses to replace two old buses in the fleet.
District secretary-treasurer Steve Hopkins said every year a capital plan is put forward and every year buses are awarded based on eligibility. The district’s two oldest buses, which Hopkins estimates are 10 to 12 years old, are getting high in mileage and are ready to be retired. One has had some recent mechanical problems, so Hopkins said it is most likely out of commission, but the other will probably be kept as a spare.
The buses will be brand new and have yet to be ordered. They will likely be similar to the old buses and Hopkins said that although the province has looked into more environmentally friendly options, costs will probably dictate that the district buy either standard gas or diesel buses.
The new buses have not been ordered yet and Hopkins doesn’t expect them to arrive until at least next school year.
In the last five years Hopkins said the district has acquired five or six new buses.
In total the province is providing $10.5 million to 32 districts across the province to go toward new buses.
For the first time the province has negotiated fixed prices from BC vendors to help save about 15 per cent on the replacements. Districts will still have options as to what make and model of bus they order.