Municipal auditor plan questioned by regional mayors

Premier Christy Clark says a municipal auditor would be established by the province to help highlight cost savings measures.

A municipal auditor, as promised by Premier Christy Clark, comes across as a solution looking for a problem, says Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.

Premier Christy Clark recently said a municipal auditor would be established by the province to help highlight cost savings measures.

While the city always welcomes opportunities for efficiencies, the role of the auditor needs to be better defined, Fortin said.

“Are they looking for municipal corruption? People may have issues, but I suspect the issues are more political,” he added, citing the tax ratio and the city’s involvement in affordable housing as examples of political policies outside the scope of an audit.

The new provincial oversight role seems to offer more benefit to smaller communities.

“More than half of our municipalities have populations under 5,000,” said Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong, who’s also minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. “They don’t have the capacity to do value-for-money audits or performance audits.”

Neither Victoria nor Saanich fit that category.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard anticipates audits of particular services or project, rather than  the municipality’s operating budget.

“A better use of their time would be to look at a particular service, say policing in Greater Victoria, which is expensive, or a project like building a bridge or an LRT or a sewage treatment plant, and audit that expenditure to see if taxpayers got value for their money,” Leonard said.

“The provincial auditor or comptroller general don’t usually look at the day-to-day operating budget, but if (a municipal auditor) every knocked I would never be reluctant, I’d say ‘Come on in.'”

Chong’s office has sent out a survey to municipalities and regional districts across B.C. The survey asks municipalities if an auditor should have authority over other local bodies as well.

The B.C. government took similar steps to oversee school districts, imposing common payroll and personnel systems on boards of education and appointing “superintendents of achievement” to monitor district efforts to raise student performance.

– with files from Tom Fletcher and Kyle Slavin