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Municipal auditor starts in January

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett  - Black Press
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett
— image credit: Black Press

VICTORIA – Chartered accountant Basia Ruta starts work in January as B.C.'s first auditor general for local governments.

The new position caused a stir among local politicians when Premier Christy Clark made it part of her leadership bid for the B.C. Liberal Party. Her platform promised to expand the provincial auditor-general's office to include a municipal auditor, and to "review the municipal taxation formula."

Clark's ministers for local government, Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong and now Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, have emphasized that the Surrey-based Auditor General for Local Government will compare similar communities through performance audits and publish non-binding recommendations on which are more efficient. That is similar to how provincial and federal auditors work, relying on public pressure to move politicians to cut down waste.

Local mayors and councillors balked when the idea came up at the 2011 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. Some complained about an extra layer of costly bureaucracy, while others said the province was going to impose tax rate changes on communities.

Those concerns faded as local politicians were assured they wouldn't lose autonomy, and also faced the prospect of campaigning against extra accountability. Clark promised there would be no costs passed on to local governments to run the auditor's office. UBCM president Mary Sjostrum, mayor of Quesnel, said Wednesday she welcomes Ruta's appointment.

Ruta has worked in the federal Auditor General's office and was chief financial officer for Environment Canada, as well as in private practice auditing local government, hospital and community organizations.

Tinkering with municipal tax rates, especially for industries that subsidize popular low residential rates, has been raised and abandoned before, and won't likely be seen before the next provincial election in May 2013.

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