Wednesday July 30, 2014



QUESTION OF THE WEEK

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Mayors welcome municipal auditor general

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Basia Ruta, seen here, will soon look at the financial records of local governments in her role as the auditor general for local government of B.C.

An accountant sent by the provincial government will be looking over Fort St. John’s books to make sure the finances are adding up.

The new auditor general for local government (AGLG) will offer recommendations to help municipalities run efficiently.

However, both Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman and Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier said that they welcomed the scrutiny.

"I hope it will assist [municipalities] in finding ways to save money," said Ackerman. "It's going to be an interesting job for this person."

On Wednesday, the B.C. Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development announced that Basia Ruta would be taking on the position of a provincial auditor general for local government (AGLG).

Ruta is a chartered accountant with more than 30 years of experience in both the public and private sectors.

"At every level of government we need to find new and innovative ways to make sure British Columbians are getting the best value for their money,” said B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

Ruta will look at helping local governments identify the most efficient and effective ways to address B.C. priorities and bring greater affordability to families, said Bill Bennett, the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

She will then make non-binding recommendations based on performance audits, which means that local governments will not have to follow them. Ruta will also publicize the best practices of local governments.

The move was praised by Bernier.

He said that while communities at first were hesitant, more were becoming open to the idea.

Bernier said that he has always encouraged accountability in municipal government, and that it was good that Ruta would give out this type of information on best practices.

Another municipal leader, Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom, said that she would “look forward to a constructive working relationship with Ms. Ruta."

Jordan Bateman, a B.C. spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a group which calls for lower taxes and accountable government, said that his group was “thrilled” by the announcement.

“She’s a good pick,” he added. “I think she’s going to deliver real value to taxpayers.”

He said that even though her resolutions are not binding, municipal governments would still take her accounts into consideration.

“I wouldn’t want to be the mayor who fights [Ruta’s recommendations,” Bateman said. “I think [voters] would cave on the side of the referees.”

He also said he was glad to see the chance for municipalities to learn what moves worked, and what should be avoided.

The conservative Fraser Institute also welcomed the move. Charles Lammam and Niels Veldbuis, who both work for the organization, wrote that the move was “a ray of good news.”

Lammam and Veldbuis said that while many municipalities already go through audit, these only determine if the finances are accurately reported, and not that the money is well-spent.

“There’s little doubt that a municipal auditor will expose… accounts of government waste at the local level,” according to Lammam and Veldbuis’s report.

However, they questioned the impact the AGLG could have.

“Without the ability to question the merits of policy decisions and the authority to force municipalities to respond to audits with measurable plans to overcome issues identified by the auditor general, British Columbians should be wary of the proposed AGLG’s effectiveness.”


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