The newly created Office of the Auditor General for Local Government has angered municipalities across the province, but local chambers of commerce are suggesting the new position could be a useful tool for local government.
“From our perspective, the BC Chamber has felt that it’s been something that would benefit municipalities,” said Nelson and District Chamber manager Tom Thomson. “Obviously municipalities have a tough time right now and are facing challenges providing services with limited financial means, but many tax rates are set with very little involvement by the public and there’s not a lot of effective input.”
Thomson said the independent office could provide municipalities with the opportunity to go back to the province about potential imbalances in revenue sharing.
But Nelson Mayor John Dooley continues to oppose the position.
Dooley feels the decision to create the new office has been driven by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, “who clearly have a very limited knowledge of how municipalities manage and raise their funds. It’s short sighted and it won’t really do much for helping municipalities in any way in the long run.”
Thomson said the BC Chamber of Commerce was also lobbying on behalf of the municipal auditor position.
Municipalities are obligated to conduct their own audits every year, and even though Dooley feels these audits are sufficient, Thomson believes the provincial auditor will provide a more in-depth look at municipal finances.
“They do have an auditing system in place and all municipalities of course are required to conduct an audit at the end of the year, but that really just reports that the money was spent and accurately reported. It doesn’t really determine whether there was value for money spent,” said Thomson.
Suggestions by the auditor general will be non-binding, like those by auditors on the provincial and federal levels.
Dooley said compared with the rest of the province, taxation in Nelson is quite fair.
“I’m disappointed. I think there could have been some reasonable solutions to the direction the province wanted to go,” said Dooley. “But it appears to me that it’s solely drive by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business who seems to think taxation is increasing faster than the rate of inflation, and that is simply not true. In many cases if it has, it is because the community voted for a particular project earlier, like an arena complex.”
Much of Dooley’s frustration comes from the fact that he believes taxation in municipalities is being driven by downloading from the provincial and federal level.
“I think if they were to get their own act together and take a look at the amount of downloading that they put on to municipalities such as ours and the rest of the communities in British Columbia, we could do that analysis quite quickly,” said Dooley.
Thomson said if there is downloading from the provincial and federal governments, the municipal auditor general could provide a way for them to go back to the province and talk about revenue sharing.
“I think that this could actually work out in favour of the municipalities,” said Thomson. “Because it is an independent office — it’s not somebody that comes in and says you have to do this because the government wants you to — if somebody comes back and says there is no doubt there is downloading to municipalities now, there will be municipal opportunities for them to go back and say the revenue sharing is just not the way it should be.”