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B.C. MLAs gather inside the Legislature in Victoria on Feb. 10, 2015, as Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon delivers the Speech from the Throne.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

B.C.'s hastily created auditor-general's office for local government was in a shambles only six months ago, with complaints that nothing was getting done.

Today, many of the province's mayors and councillors say things have improved, in large part because of the hard work of acting auditor-general Arn van Iersel.

But they still think the office, which costs $2.6-million a year to run, is a waste of money.

"I just don't see that it's all that valuable," said North Saanich Councillor Murray Weisenberger, whose council has put forward a motion at this week's Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention to do away with the three-year-old office.

He said Mr. van Iersel has listened to the concerns of municipalities and made the office more efficient, and that he's been a "great person," but that only happened after wasted years during which a lot of money was being spent to achieve little.

Even if another good auditor-general is chosen, he wondered how much in savings is really being achieved through the office's audits. The North Saanich motion will be voted on later this week by the 1,000-plus mayors and councillors at the convention.

UBCM president Sav Dhaliwal, a Burnaby councillor, also said, at the end of a convention session Tuesday, that the "jury is still out."

One North Vancouver councillor, Robin Hicks, questioned why the office is planning future audits on water quality.

"You should remain in performance auditing, you shouldn't get into technical issues," said Mr. Hicks, hearing about Mr. van Iersel's description of the office's plans to look more at water-quality issues in B.C.'s cities and towns.

Premier Christy Clark's decision to create the Auditor-General for Local Government office in 2012 was controversial from the start.

Many said, as Mr. Weisberger still does, that it was "pure politics" to appease those in the business community, who were unhappy about taxes and fees municipal governments were levying.

Mayors and councillors protested from the start, saying their level of government doesn't need the kind of auditing that federal and provincial ones do, because they are legally required to produce balanced budgets and because their books are completely open to the public.

This March, the province fired its first auditor-general, Basia Ruta, after internal reports surfaced about problems in the office and after criticisms about how few audits had been completed after two years.

Mr. van Iersel, speaking at the UBCM session, said there have now been six audits published, while four are being reviewed before being made public, and seven more are under way.

He suggested the office only try to do six audits a year, not the 18 that the office originally committed to.

Tim Wood, a member of the Audit Council that oversees the office to assure its independence from the province, also told delegates the auditor-general was performing a valuable function.

"Performance auditing is a fundamental means of protecting our democratic values," he said. People "need to see government as vulnerable to oversight."

But Mr. Dhaliwal said he would like to see a review – an audit of the auditor-general, in effect – in two or three years to see whether the public is really getting any value for the millions being spent on the office.

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