With municipal government officials from across Alberta gathering in Edmonton Feb. 14 for the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) conference to talk about new revenue-generating powers, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has renewed its call for the establishment of a new auditor general for local government.
The role of the auditor would be to provide better oversight and independent analysis of municipal finances, and facilitate the sharing of best practices.
“Too many entrepreneurs across Alberta continue to tell us the cost of their local government is driving unmanageable tax increases. Business owners bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden and need confidence that municipal governments are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible,” said Richard Truscott, Alberta director of CFIB.
The CFIB also released the results of a November 2012 survey of 733 small business owners across Alberta that asked: “Should the Government of Alberta appoint an independent auditor general to perform regular audits of municipal spending?” Seventy-one per cent said yes, 17 per cent responded no, and 12 per cent were undecided.
Creating a new, overall municipal government auditing function is not unprecedented. The B.C. government responded to growing concerns from taxpayers and business owners about municipal spending by passing legislation in 2012 to create a new auditor general for local government.
A new municipal auditor general in Alberta would enhance the accountability of local governments.
“Yes, municipalities are required to have their financial statements audited each year to ensure they provide a fair representation of the facts. But few have ever done a true value-for-money audit to see if taxpayers are getting good value for the billions of dollars being spent”, says Truscott.
In light of the Alberta Government’s current budgetary constraints, the CFIB recommends an auditor general for local government be established and funded once the provincial budget is back to a surplus. CFIB believes the savings created from better scrutiny of municipal finances will more than cover the cost of the new office.
“Establishing a new independent municipal auditor would be an important step toward encouraging all municipalities to be squarely focused on providing the best value for the tax dollars they collect. Even better, the new auditor could facilitate the sharing of best practices between local governments about new and innovative ways of controlling costs and delivering effective municipal services,” Truscott said.