The provincial government announced the establishment of an auditor general for B.C. municipalities last week, saying it will strengthen accountability for towns and cities.
This idea was soundly rejected by municipal politicians when it was voted on at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September, however, the province has moved ahead with its creation.
Premier Christy Clark says the Auditor General for Local Government will help ensure municipalities spend money efficiently and improve the taxpayer-funded programs by providing neutral, non-binding advice.
The auditor general will conduct performance audits and make recommendations for improvements. It will be left up to local governments to act on the recommendations.
It is a move which is being lauded by the BC Chamber of Commerce, including chamber representatives in the Shuswap.
“Taxpayers win with this,” says Jim Kimmerly, president of the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce, who notes the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) demonstrated municipal spending has far outpaced both population growth and inflation.
“This will provide a way to share the best practices in local government and help municipalities become more efficient. When that happens, taxpayers benefit.”
In the CFIB report, Salmon Arm’s municipal spending ranked in the middle of the pack as compared to all B.C. municipalities, being ranked 70th overall. Sicamous fared more poorly, ranking at 26th overall. (The number- one ranking is the worst performance according to the report.)
Sicamous Chamber of Commerce president John Schlosar says his organization also supports the move, saying it will provide opportunities for improvement, remove barriers to efficiency and will confirm the municipality’s good decisions.
“Also, other less obvious advantages will be available to Sicamous and other municipalities. Sicamous council will finally hear about what didn’t work in other municipalities. We won’t have to repeat others’ mistakes, which tend to be hidden away,” he said.
While chambers of commerce are not traditionally supportive of more government involvement, Schlosar says a municipal auditor is an exception, as it should, “shape the how and why of where our local taxes are spent.”
The creation of the Auditor General for Local Government was announced during the period when one local council is winding up their functions but before the newly elected council has been sworn in. Some municipal politicians suggest this was to minimize criticism of the province’s actions.