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Controversy over business tax panel, municipal auditor at SILGA conference

Revelstoke mayor and council pictured with Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development at the SILGA conference in Revelstoke on Friday. From left: Coun. Steve Bender, Mayor David Raven, Coun. Tony Scarcella, Minister Ida Chong, Coun. Linda Nixon, Coun. Phil Welock and Coun. Gary Starling.   - Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review
Revelstoke mayor and council pictured with Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development at the SILGA conference in Revelstoke on Friday. From left: Coun. Steve Bender, Mayor David Raven, Coun. Tony Scarcella, Minister Ida Chong, Coun. Linda Nixon, Coun. Phil Welock and Coun. Gary Starling.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review

About 200 visiting politicians attended the 2012 SILGA convention and annual general meeting in Revelstoke from April 26–28. One of the key speakers was Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

Chong talked about the role of the new B.C. Municipal Auditor General (see below) and also a provincial tax panel that has been convened to review business taxation in B.C.

She stressed the two programs were there to assist municipalities.

She said the Expert Panel on Business Taxation announced by Deputy Premier Kevin Falcon wouldn’t take away local governments’ taxation rights.

“I have been assured that any recommendations that are to be made for local government must be made in the context of the Community Charter and your rights to be able to charge your property taxes and in the context of sustainability,” Chong said.

However, in a speech soon following Chong’s, current Union of British Columbia Municipalities president Heath Slee targeted these two government initiatives saying they were both a “dramatic departure” from a usually cooperative working relationship between the provincial government and the UBCM.

Regarding the tax panel, Slee said: “The guidelines for the review include an examination of municipal property taxation and its impact on business competitiveness and investment. What is most striking about the announcement is the lack of any local government representation on the panel.”

Slee met with minister Chong and appealed for local government representation. “The minister’s response was the panel was already underway, and giving the reporting timeline, the composition would be left unchanged,” Slee said.

“It’s an unfortunate start to the review,” he said, adding it would affect how the panel’s recommendations are received by local governments.

Slee also noted an ongoing provincial government “revenue sources review” for local governments. “At the same time as the expert panel [on taxation] was getting underway, the ministry informed us of an internal review of local government revenue sources. This project has flown under the radar and it was launched without a news release,” Slee said. Information gathered in the review will feed into the taxation panel’s recommendations.

“After last year’s experience on the auditor general file, I hope that the ministry would return to the kind of a working relationship that has been standard practice for over a decade,” Slee told the SILGA convention. “UBCM continues to believe that our membership and communities are better served when policy is developed together rather than in isolation.”

Search begins for municipal auditor

~By Tom Fletcher

The B.C. government has appointed a committee to select and oversee its new auditor general for local government, and the minister responsible says controversy over the move seems to have subsided.

Community, Sport and Culture Minister Ida Chong said criticism of the move last year was a result of “confusion” about how the new auditor would operate.

“It’s not about finding fault, not about imposing new rules,” Chong said as she introduced the audit committee members. “It’s about helping to find efficiencies.”

Chong said local government representatives have seen the enabling legislation and now understand that auditor will be independent of the B.C. government and its recommendations will not be binding.

While some municipal leaders were suspicious, one the early advocates of the new office was Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. He said he learned the value of performance audits before entering politics, when he ran three tire stores that are part of a national chain of 300 outlets.

Auditors were able to answer questions such as “why were my fleet costs in Langford so much higher than what it was in West Kelowna?” Leonard said.

The audit committee is chaired by Anthony Ariganello, president of the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.

Other members are Rick Heney, a Kamloops lawyer; Donalda MacDonald, a vice-president of Westminster Savings Credit Union; Lisa Payne, chief operating officer for software maker Colligo Networks; and Tim Wood, former municipal administrator for Saanich, Penticton and Cranbrook.

The committee’s first task is to advertise the position and hire a local government auditor.

 

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