Business

New auditor for cities sets up shop in Surrey

Basia Ruta is the newly appointed Auditor General for Local Government, based in Surrey.  - Evan Seal / Surrey Leader
Basia Ruta is the newly appointed Auditor General for Local Government, based in Surrey.
— image credit: Evan Seal / Surrey Leader

B.C.'s new Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) says her first audits to probe spending in local cities will be underway by the end of April.

Basia Ruta started work this week in Surrey at the newly opened AGLG office in Guildford.

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

"I think the mandate allows us to really provide some meaningful information," Ruta said.

She hasn't decided which communities she'll scrutinize first.

Ruta said she intends to meet municipal reps, financial executives, chambers of commerce and other stakeholders before formulating a service plan and deciding on initial audits within the first 100 days.

"We can do horizontal audits that could impact many, many communities on a single  issue," Ruta said.

"It doesn't have to be just focused on one community.  So you can have broad-based issues, broad-based objectives that you go and pursue."

Procurement procedures and policing costs are examples of topics where Ruta said she might examine multiple cities' practices simultaneously.

"It isn't possible for this office or any office to audit everything of interest," she said, but added other potential topics include the sustainability of infrastructure, environmental issues and whether cities are making good use of revenue-generating tools.

The AGLG was created by the provincial government despite objections from some B.C. cities who feared it could turn into a witch hunt for waste that failed to take into account differing municipal priorities, and that might duplicate existing audits at their expense.

"We do not question policy," Ruta said. "We wouldn't be commenting on tax rates, for instance. We wouldn't be commenting on collective agreement negotiation rates – that's really a matter of policy."

But she said audits could weigh in on whether the performance of a civic program or function is meeting its objectives or whether adoption of best practices might bring better value for money.

Business groups including the B.C. Chamber of Commerce pushed for the new watchdog.

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.

The AGLG's website at www.aglg.ca also includes an area for citizens to suggest audit topics.

The local government auditor can serve up to two five-year terms.

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