Another tax drain

New auditor general position likely won't save municipal money

The provincial government just added another level of red tape and expense to B.C.’s municipal governments — and its taxpayers.

They have announced this week the creation of a municipal auditor general  — a new position, plus 12 staff and a $2.6 million annual budget — to look into financial irregularities in local government budgets. The job was created after B.C. business groups lobbied for such an position, and following a Canadian Federation of Independent Business report alleged most communities are outspending their population growth.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities called the CFIB on its specious report and opposed the call for an auditor general, saying it’ll cost taxpayers more. That’s being proven out with the creation of the provincial position and its support services — which, one assumes, will only be called to act on a complaint basis.

Soon, the auditor will start making recommendations on how local governments can save money. If the municipalities are willing to listen.

Municipal governments already are required to balance their budgets (the province is not) and are also required to have the books audited annually. This is by law.

Instead of creating another drain on taxpayers’ pocketbooks, the province — if it was that concerned about municipal spending in the first place — should have bolstered the local government act, requiring more detailed and thorough annual audits — with stiff penalties for non-compliance. That’s unlikely to cost the province $2.6 million a year.

If a local level of government makes questionable spending decisions, the province already has the option of taking over, getting the local body’s financial house in order, and allowing local electors to start again.

This issue is more about the business community complaining about high municipal taxes and trying to wrest away dollars spent on other municipal services. Their beef may be valid, but they’re not being up front about it. What the new municipal auditor general position does, is get their foot in the door — and that’ll be on the backs of resident taxpayers.

— editorial by Steven Heywood