Council and staff were in Kamloops this week attending a one day seminar on accounting. The seminar was hosted by KPMG and BDO. I want to recognize that these seminars are not cheap to produce and say thanks to them for their generosity. I also want to say thank you to the people from the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) that did all the hard work of putting this seminar together. President Marg Spina and her team at SILGA are doing a great job of bringing together professionals that help to educate and inform local elected officials in a cost effective manner.
The seminar covered most aspects of local government’s responsibilities around finances. Subjects such as borrowing, risk management, financial reports and the role of the audit committee and auditor were explained in plain language. Well, as plain as accounting language ever gets.
Council is responsible for setting the budgets. It does not matter if the budget is one million dollars, or five hundred million dollars, each tax dollar is precious and the goal of council must be to gain the best possible value for each dollar spent. This is a huge responsibility to be sure and one that requires ongoing education. Attendance at seminars and conferences allows council members to share their knowledge and experience. It is money and time well spent.
In some small towns the working budget is reviewed at best four times a year. When asked if this was enough, the resounding answer from the experts was no. Each month is a much better method. That way the budget has little chance of going off the rails, even if there are few, or no safeguards in place.
The seminar did not go into details around what safeguards are best, which are essential and which simply do not work. Each case is custom tailored to the needs of the town. In a small town with a small budget, some would think the need for checks and balances would be very minimal. That is the furthest thing from reality though, as with a small budget there is simply no room for error. Bad spending decisions in even small amounts can mean disaster.
Even long standing well recognized companies need to do a review every now and again. Boeing and Harley Davidson undertook restructuring to meet the demands of a changing financial picture. The concept of being ‘lean’ was their choice. Reducing stock on hand, defining process and production flows, were all used to bring profitability back.
It may seem like a stretch to apply such financial and performance methods to how a small town does business. The truth is that most successful councils are doing just that.
Decisions around service levels, project management and future growth are all part of the duties of a council.
To shy away from the right decision because it may be unpopular with some residents is a definite formula for disaster.
Not properly reviewing staff recommendations is another recipe for ruin. Staff members are not robots programmed to give out the best advice based on the facts at hand. Like all people they have their own opinions and those opinions can colour their recommendations. Should the need arise it is the role of council to bring the process back in line.
Before people start saying I am picking on district staff, please understand that this is not the case. It is true that in every organization there are shortfalls, and perhaps Barriere is no exception. My point is that it is council’s role to provide the guidance to overcome any process problems or policy shortfalls that may exist. This is not the role of district staff.
To that end, council is doing its best to provide good governance around any issues. Council being provided with monthly budget reports, a monthly cheque list and other forms of transparent accounting are all part of good governance procedures. Council has nothing to hide and everything to gain from getting public input.
The Barriere Volunteer Fire Department outdid themselves this year with a wonderful fireworks display. A big shout out and thanks to Colleen Hannigan, Brian Hannigan, Margaret Houben and Antoon Houben for working the concession.