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Province creates municipal watchdog

Auditor general will make recommendations for improvements

by Laura Walz City of Powell River’s new mayor welcomes the provincial initiative to establish a municipal auditor general.

BC’s government introduced legislation on November 24 to create a watchdog for municipal governments. The office will conduct performance audits and provide recommendations, much like a provincial or federal auditor general.

BC Premier Christy Clark announced that the office is scheduled to open in Surrey in the spring.

The auditor general will make recommendations for improvements, not impose solutions, according to a government news release. It will be up to local governments to decide what action to take on any recommendations, provided by the auditor general. Local governments’ ability to make policy decisions about taxation, land use and other services would not be restricted.

Mayor Dave Formosa, who was sworn in on December 6, said he believes Clark initiated the idea as a way to deal with heavy industrial tax problems. “Government has been avoiding the issue and turned it over to UBCM [Union of BC Municipalities],” he said.

An auditor general will be able to tell communities that have high major industrial tax rates that they are “way out of line,” Formosa added. “I can see why local governments don’t want this, because it’s somebody else breathing down our neck, it’s somebody else looking at the work we’re doing.”

However, Formosa said he thinks the public will “really like it.”

The process the auditor general will establish sounds similar to the city’s recent service review, Formosa added, which involves evaluating services, benchmarking them to other communities and looking at how the services are being delivered.

Formosa said he doesn’t have a problem with the enactment of an auditor general for local government. “I think that has a good value to the public and I’m personally not afraid of it,” he said. “I think it will keep people sharper and we’ll be able to use that department as a tool.”

Nicholas Simons, New Democratic Party MLA for the Powell River-Sunshine Coast riding, said the bill will be debated next year. “I’m going to read the legislation, study it and talk to local government people to get their views,” he said. “I’m going to see if the original concerns raised by local governments were addressed by the province.”

Simons added that he thinks residents want to have confidence that their dollars are being spent wisely and that they are being consulted on important decisions. “I have many questions, as do members of the public. If it looks like a good use of an annual budget of $2.5 million, I’ll support it,” he said.