"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In defence of the plan for an auditor-general

I've met Port Moody mayoral candidate Robert Simons at several community events over the years, and he seems like an well-intentioned and intelligent fellow. But I took issue with a letter he recently wrote to the editor of The Coquitlam Now, and so I fired off a response, which I am happy to report has been published in today's paper. Here's the full text of what I submitted:

Re: “Municipal auditor a great idea, but who will pick up the tab?”, letter to the editor, Friday, Sept. 23.
Port Moody mayoral candidate Robert Simons writes that he believes “there is merit” in the provincial government’s plan to establish an auditor-general for municipalities. However, he then equivocates by wondering not only about who will pay for what he calls the “substantial cost” of the office but also about whether the expenditure is even justifiable in a “time of fiscal restraint and economic challenge.”
It seems clear, however, that he has it exactly backwards. Rather than precluding consideration of the establishment of a new level of oversight on our municipalities’ finances, the parlous state of the current economy actually demands it. In other words, precisely because money is tight, we need an auditor-general’s office to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely.
This might not be the case if municipalities had responded to the ongoing economic downturn with the same prudence that non-governmental sectors did. But the fact is they did not.
Whereas families and small businesses had to trim their sails by cutting spending and reducing overall budgets, cities failed to do so. One of the lamentably predictable results of this in Coquitlam, for example, is the (before-grant) increase of 22% we’ve seen on our personal property-tax bill from 2008 to the present. And that’s not counting an even steeper rise in the utility fee.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported in 2010 that operational expenditures “in the vast majority of B.C.’s municipalities” were expanding at an “unsustainable rate.” There is no evidence the trend has been reversed.
Surely, a new office of the municipal auditor-general, which would conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits every year, can only help municipal governments ensure they are spending their money wisely and, by so doing, point the way to cost savings and, ultimately, lower property-tax bills.
Can we afford to establish a municipal auditor-general? The better question is, Can afford NOT to establish a municipal auditor-general?
Terry O’Neill
Candidate for City Council, Coquitlam

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