Coun. Nancy Bepple put the conundrum facing B.C. municipalities quite well after attending a meeting last week of the Southern Interior Local Government Association in Revelstoke.
SILGA (it used to be called Okanagan-Mainline Municipal Association) is an umbrella for local municipal councils and regional district reps to get together once a year for workshops, resolutions and schmoozing. There’s usually some worthwhile discussion about current issues facing local-government politicians.
Not surprisingly, the issue of a municipal auditor general came up. The Christy Clark government decided last year to create the position to oversee spending by civic governments. A lot of those in municipal governments don’t really want it — for one thing, they feel they’re already the most transparent level of government — but feel they’ve got to go along with it.
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong was there on behalf of the Liberal government to talk about the job, telling delegates that following advice from the new municipal auditor general won’t be made mandatory, but they’d be well advised to heed it.
As Bepple said of the message, doing what they’re told by the auditor general might not technically be a must, but municipal governments would ignore the AG at their peril.
And as Chong pointed out, provincial and federal governments follow advice from their own auditors general, and municipalities should do it, too.
Indeed, while the new overseer of municipal spending won’t be able to issue orders, no City council could afford the public backlash that would come from telling the auditor to take a hike. Taxpayers have an abiding suspicion that politicians spend too much of their money, so the idea of having an impartial accounting of municipal books is bound to be popular.
Yet, Bepple, said, “It’s at your peril not to follow the recommendations, but there may be reasons.”
Those reasons would have to be pretty good. Bepple also said she supports the municipal AG role, but there’s “uncertainty” about how it will unfold. That’s what municipal politicians all over the province are anxious about.
So what will the new AG do? Probably similar work to what we’re used to seeing auditors general do for senior levels of government — look at whether taxpayers are getting good value for their dollar, whether programs and services are being provided cost effectively, and whether public debt is being held to a reasonable level.
What the AG won’t likely do is interfere in specific project issues or tax rates — that sort of stuff is what elections are for. He or she will, though, keep local-level politicians’ feet to the fire.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.