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Peter Fassbender, mayor of Langley City, said the mayors' council and the board will discuss the scale and timing of an audit. (Richard Lam/CP/Richard Lam/CP)
Peter Fassbender, mayor of Langley City, said the mayors' council and the board will discuss the scale and timing of an audit. (Richard Lam/CP/Richard Lam/CP)

Board, B.C. mayors make the case for transit audit Add to ...

It’s not cheap to have a “value for money” audit of an organization the size of TransLink.

But if the public is going to be persuaded to shell out for new tolls, vehicle levies, distance charges or any other new mechanisms to raise money for TransLink in the next few years, an audit helps make the case, say all the parties connected with Vancouver’s transportation agency.

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As a result, people from the two governing bodies for TransLink – the board and the mayors’ council – say they are now talking about finding a way to have one done before the end of the year.

“We need to demonstrate our prudent use of funds before we can say that new funding is required,” said TransLink chair Nancy Olewiler on Sunday, at the end of a week when mayors’ complaints about TransLink spending got wide public attention. “If the review finds there are areas that need improvement, we will need to address them before going to our governments and the public for additional funding.”

The vice-chair of the mayors’ council, Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, said the mayors’ council and the board will talk about the scale and timing of an audit at a meeting this week. And whatever they come up with will be taken to a discussion with provincial Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom in a meeting scheduled for March 7.

“A full performance audit of an organization this size is not inexpensive,” said Mr. Fassbender. So the two bodies that govern TransLink need to figure out what actually needs to be reviewed to be the most effective.

That’s because TransLink has already had two performance reviews done since 2008, one by KPMG that it initiated itself and which Mr. Fassbender said cost about $500,000, and another one ordered by the province through the comptroller-general’s office. In addition, there is another one under way as the province’s transportation commissioner assesses whether TransLink should be able to impose a 12.5.-per-cent fare increase.

TransLink cut $60-million in spending after the KPMG review.

But Mr. Fassbender said there’s additional work to do to assure taxpayers that their dollars are well-spent before they ask for any more.

“It’s still our desire to see a performance and effectiveness review before the end of this year as we look for new sources of revenue,” he said.

By the end of the year, the province and municipalities are supposed to agree on what new kind of taxes, fees or tolls might replace a property-tax increase the mayors reluctantly agreed to this year as a stopgap measure to get the Evergreen Line construction started.

The demand for an audit began last fall, when Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts brought up the idea of having TransLink audits included in the job of the new municipal auditor-general created by Premier Christy Clark last year.

The province said it was too much for the new office to take on. That has prompted a cascade of criticism from mayors unhappy with that decision.

Some, like Mr. Fassbender, have been milder in their criticisms, saying it’s just good governance to have a periodic audit. Others, like Ms. Watts and Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, agree, but have been much more pointed.

Ms. Watts has targeted specific spending on items such as studying whether to build a gondola on Burnaby Mountain or offering key stakeholders in the region a donation of $100 to the charity of their choice for filling out surveys. Ms. Jackson has been quoted as saying TransLink spends money “like drunken sailors.”

Ms. Olewiler, a public-administration professor, said the council and the board need to have a long and thoughtful discussion about setting up an effective ongoing audit process.

The two, along with the ministry and TransLink’s management team, need to figure out which is the best agency to do an audit, what exactly should be reviewed, and how often audits should be performed.

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