Wary UBCM delegates approve watchdog in principle

With reservations, delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention endorsed in principle the creation of a Municipal Auditor-General's office.

With reservations, delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention endorsed in principle the creation of a Municipal Auditor-General’s office. Those who attended last week’s session in Vancouver generally disagreed on its necessity because requirements of such an office are “already met under local government legislation and regulations,” as stated in the declaration.”Everything that we do is so tightly regulated,” Courtenay Mayor Greg Phelps said. “The fact that they were suggesting that we needed this, in some people’s mind, created an impression that we’re not responsible. But we are…They hadn’t done a good job in selling the concept to us.”The Province said the auditor-general would not be involved in policy decisions.”I think that’s why we sort of held our noses and voted in favour of it in the end,” Phelps said. According to the Province, local governments would continue to have autonomy to make budgetary decisions while the provincial government conducts ‘value-for-money audits.'”I think the friendly message of it was this might assist municipalities and local governments in learning from others as to best practices, and making sure that whatever services we provide are done on a value-for-money basis, which I think is a good thing,” Comox Mayor Paul Ives said. “I don’t view it with the alarm that some do, but I do believe that you have to be wary of the cost aspects of it.”Cumberland Mayor Fred Bates, noting municipalities cannot run a deficit budget like senior levels of government, has mixed feelings about the creation of an MAG office. “Given that we are audited every year for the appropriate expenditures, I’m not sure what value the role will have,” Bates said. “As for not downloading the cost to municipalities, there is only one taxpayer and they will pay for it one way or the other.” Phelps concurs municipalities will bear some of the costs.”If they descend on your town then you have to dedicate staff to their questions and they’re not going to pay for that,” Phelps said. “However, there are things they say they can offer to shine a light on that would provide an objective overview.” For instance, an auditor general could suggest South Island police forces amalgamate into one department to save money. The final decision, however, rests with the municipalities.  The province plans to introduce legislation this fall to create the office.”We have nothing to fear,” Phelps said. “We’re open and transparent because we’re legislated to be…It’s going to be one of these things we’re going to grow into.”reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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