What was set out to be an unbiased look at projects carried out by the City of Rossland has resulted in a “hurtful” report, according to the community’s mayor.
Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom’s phone has been ringing steady since the first part of a performance audit on Rossland’s capital procurement projects from 2010-2012 has been made public. But he said the calls are coming from other municipalities that question the value of the newly formed office of the Auditor General for Local Government, carried out by B.C.’s municipal auditor Basia Ruta.
“We all need help but we don’t need to get poked in the eye when we ask for it,” he said. “I think this information could have been presented in a more constructive manner.”
He’s referring to the scathing report that concludes city staff did not adequately protect the interests of its taxpayers, backing up this claim mostly by noting the city did not get value for its money on the Rossland Arena roof repairs.
This is not new information for Rossland, which is in the midst of suing its former building inspector in hopes of recovering unaccountable funds from that project.
In the fall of 2011, the city discovered that then employed Jason George Ward was not only the city’s chief building inspector but he was also involved with a business called ADA Co. Inc., which had been doing construction work for the city.
The city investigated and confirmed that about $181,600 had been paid to ADA Co. Inc. in relation to work done on the Rossland Arena when the alleged value of the work was substantially less (estimated at about $50,000).
In hindsight, the mayor admits that not enough investigation was done into the contractor to find out who owned the company, a mistake that won’t happen again since the municipality is making third-party disclosure forms essential to avoid future conflict of interests.
Rossland has crafted an action plan and has been implementing changes for the past two years, based on recommendations made by the auditor that included addressing the absence of a full-time chief administrative officer and questioning the capacity of the city’s small core of senior staff.
To that point, the city did not expect a strain on resources to complete this audit, which Granstrom said equated to about two months of work for two staff members.
“This took over six months and it started when we were preparing budgets and year-end reports and our hard working staff of two was absolutely swamped with requests,” he said. “This is a huge cost to municipalities, especially small municipalities.”
The report is one of the first of 18 performance audits to be issued across the province, focusing on everything from cost containment measures to policing agreements. The Auditor General for Local Government call their performance audits “value for money audits” but in order to ensure this, Rossland is asking the new office to inform B.C. citizens on the cost associated with the audit process so that dollars can be compared with the benefits received.
Rossland invited the auditor to assist in identifying system improvements as a result of what occurred with its former building inspector.
In return, the city received a detailed audit that not only highlighted alleged missteps and misfortunes with the arena project but also noted a difficulty determining whether the same was true for the Columbia-Washington infrastructure improvement project.
“The city and the auditor have to disagree on the accounting of the (Columbia/Washington) project,” said Granstrom. “The project was on time, on budget and we told the residents from the onset that it would cost them between I think it was $76 to $300 on their taxes per year on an average house.”
The approximate $7-million project does result in the average taxpayer paying $114 more on their municipal property taxes in 2014, a seven per cent hike for the city’s debt incurred.
Beyond dollar figures, the report also points to an absence of critical documentation, conflict of interests, unauthorized expenditures, and a lack of consistency.
Though the auditor notes that small local governments often operate with limited resources, the author continues with the importance to have a set of essential controls and oversight mechanisms to fulfill their due diligence in the safeguarding of assets and the use of public funds.
“We have to multi-task and quite frankly we do it well,” said Granstrom. “Perhaps we don’t do it to the standard of an auditor general but I can tell you the standard is high that I see everyday and same goes for the accountability that we provide to our citizens.”
A summary of Rossland’s action plan can be found on page 50 of the report, located at www.aglg.ca