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Municipal auditor not needed in Chilliwack: Chamber prez

Chilliwack city council doesn’t need a municipal auditor-general to review its financial affairs, says Jason Lum, president of the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean other B.C. municipalities don’t, he added.

“Chilliwack city council has a proven track record of financial responsibility,” he said. “I have to hand it to the Chilliwack council (because) over the last nine years they’ve done a good job of keeping business taxes low.”

Lum also said Chilliwack councillors and senior staff “have been open and transparent with the chamber, and we have a standing invitation to go over the budget at any time.”

But not all B.C. municipalities “subscribe to the same kind of financial responsibility,” he said.

Lum wouldn’t name the municipalities that don’t.

“Certainly there’s been talk about municipalities .. that rely on one or two major corporations for half their city budget,” he said.

And in some cases, he said, accounting standards are not being met.

“I think what we’re hearing from the B.C. Chamber is those standards ... don’t govern how the money is being spent,” he said. “I think that’s what the municipal auditor would do.”

B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter said in a Friday news release that he is “disappointed” by the motion passed at the Union of B.C. Municipalities that disagrees with the need for a MAG office because “it is simply untrue ... that the requirements of the MAG’s office are already met by government legislation and regulation.”

“Nowhere is local government subject to independent, third-party analysis over how they are spending taxpayers’ money and whether they are getting value for that money,” he said.

But Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said it’s not yet clear how the MAG would work, although Premier Christy Clark has indicated “it’s coming, and that’s the end of it.”

The legislation creating the MAG office is expected to be introduced sometime this month.

“The biggest issue for the UBCM is that we feel we are accountable to taxpayers,” Gaetz said. “Nobody is afraid of scrutiny. We welcome scrutiny, but we want to know (the details).”

“We want to know what the government is trying to fix,” she said. “We’ve never had an answer to that.”

Gaetz also questioned whether an auditor-general would have the resources to review the budgets of 192 local governments in B.C.

And who would pay for time spent by municipal staff involved in the audit? she asked.

“I predict there will be slim pickings when it comes to (accounting issues) that have gone awry with local governments,” she said.

The Chilliwack’s city budget is already audited by a professional accountant.

The UBCM motion instructs the executive to continue negotiations with provincial officials.

Gaetz and Lum declined to comment on the “qualified audit report” the B.C. government received last week, and that same government’s move to hold municipalities accountable.

Auditor-General John Doyle said in a news release that such a report “indicates to the users ... that some of the information is not auditable or is misleading.”

“During the last 15 years, this office has issued qualified audit reports on the Province’s financial statements 12 times,” he said. “For a government that strives for transparency and accountability, this is unacceptable.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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