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Council misses the boat on finance committee

As someone who has sat on audit/finance committees for major organizations, I find council’s decision to defer establishing such a committee for Rocky View County (RVC) deeply distressing.

Council’s discussion of the issue and their decision clearly suggests that few on council have any notion of the value that such a generally accepted key component of governance brings to a large and complex organization such as RVC.

Federal and provincial governments recognize this value through the ongoing operations of their auditors general. As is pointed out by the Alberta Office of the Auditor General, audit committees serve the people of Alberta in many aspects of government by identifying opportunities and making recommendations to improve the performance of and confidence in the public service.

I find it unfathomable that council has delayed, for “bureaucratic reasons” such a critically important aid to financial oversight, particularly just after it was disclosed that the true cost of providing water and wastewater infrastructure in east Rocky View is much greater than most members of council and the public had been led to believe.

County staff insist they present transparent, understandable financial information to council and to county residents. However, it is impractical for the entirety of council to become sufficiently familiar with this reporting to be confident they properly understand the county’s true financial position. An audit/finance committee, with at least one member being an independent representative from the public with expertise in municipal accounting and reporting, is an absolute must in bridging this gap.

Establishing a high performing audit/finance committee is a journey not a destination. County staff appear to miss this. They insist that such a committee is not needed because council serves that purpose when it approves annual budgets and audited financial statements. Not so.

An audit/finance committee looks at many things including whether expenditures are efficient and effective in achieving objectives; how risks are identified and mitigated; business ethics and conflicts of interests; the effectiveness of internal controls and decision-making processes; and regulatory compliance.

The conclusions the committee reaches would provide valuable information for council to exercise its fiduciary responsibility to ensure that county resources are expended in a responsible manner.

I can only hope that, when the issue is brought back to council later this year, council will move quickly to establish an effective oversight body to improve transparency and accountability for Rocky View’s financial decisions.

Joe Doolan

Rocky View Forward

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