Municipal auditor general to launch by April

The first-ever auditor general for local government in BC hopes to visit the Columbia Valley within three years

B.C.’s first-ever Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) has set up shop with the commitment to launch her first audit by April 30th.

While the resources aren’t there for her to do an audit on every one of B.C.’s almost 200 communities over the next three years, Basia Ruta told The Valley Echo she’s definitely going to try and visit the Columbia Valley and others in that time.

“I’m going at least to try to get to as many places as I think I can commit to,” Ruta said in an interview from her Surrey office. “Over the course of the next two or three years I certainly will have gone out to meet everybody.”

The Ontario chartered accountant and senior federal bureaucrat has the mandate to lead performance audits of municipalities and regional districts and deliver non-binding recommendations to help improve local government efficiency and effectiveness.

“It’s a new mandate, I think the first of it’s kind in Canada,” Ruta said. “It’s great to be able to do work on a consistent and common basis that can encompass communities with similar attributes across the board to draw on performance and understand how we can learn from each other and really improve or at least strengthen the confidence that British Columbians already have, I think, about how their governments are currently operating.”

The criteria her performance-based audits will be solid sound practices, “what you would expect to have in a well-run operation,” she said. Each audit report will consist of an objective, a summary of what was looked at, the criteria used to evaluate it and a conclusion with the results.

“Then you communicate the findings and based on the findings you make recommendations, and so that’s basically the flavour of it,” Ruta explained.  “Here’s what we suggest the administration should do to deal with some of the findings we have; that is then made available publicly , to individuals in the community.”

“It’s really there as a resource tool for them to use and see how they may put that in practice.”

Her team will determine, for example, whether or not a particular operation was carried out economically with respect to some fundamental operational standards. Should infrastructure sustainability be examined, then the amount of money used on maintenance and upkeep will be looked at and whether or not enough revenue is coming in to cover those costs.

“We will look at whether or not a good solid life cycle management approach has been done,” Ruta said. “Is there regular maintenance upkeep or not; if not, why not? As that usually presents a really huge draw on public funding to try to correct something.”

In terms of environmental consideration, climate change and other other impacts will be taken into consideration, she said.

An annual service plan will be publicly available by the end of the fiscal year, March 30, that will explain the audit process.

“It will identify themes and the scope of our work,” Ruta said. “Bottom line it should give confidence to everyone that there is a systematic approach.”

One target area a future audit might address is contracting out for professional services, “and that could potentially include all communities,” Ruta said.

When asked how the new Jumbo Glacier mountain resort municipality could fall within the scope of her mandate, Ruta answered that she categorizes organizations by maturity, and evaluates start-up communities differently than mature communities.

“Risks are different than what’s in a start up,” she said. “Basic funding, basic government, is more at risk in a start up, because you have to build from the ground up.

“That’s something I’ll be learning about over the next couple of months to see what are the characteristics of the local governments across the province.”

Ruta was assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer with Environment Canada and previously worked for 10 years in the office of the federal Auditor General.