Surrey’s Accounts in Order

Commentary, Frontier Centre, Local Government, Media Appearances

Surrey does the best job of Canada’s most populous cities in disclosing its financial information so that residents understand how well it is performing, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Winnipeg-based non-profit think tank, ranked the performance of local governments based on 2005 financial information from Canada’s 30 biggest cities.

Surrey scored 4.7 out of five for scope and quality of municipal accountability based on the disclosure of financial data.

According to the report’s criteria, any municipality that scored above four was considered good, over three was considered average and below three as poor.

Vancouver placed seventh, with a rating of four out of five. Richmond was 17th with a 3.3 score and Burnaby, the only other B.C. municipality on the list, was 19th with a rating of three.

Surrey joins “a small elite club of [indexed] cities making a start at publicly disclosing tangible asset holdings,” the report says.

Surrey was also only one of six among the 30 that is debt free.

“Based on the evidence, the citizens of Surrey are very well served by a municipality with a low draw on public funds and solid capital creation,” the report said.

However, despite Surrey’s high score for disclosing information to the public, the writers said the municipality suffers an “accounting deficiency,” because its subsidiary operations are lumped in with core municipal activities in financial statements.

Generally, report authors Larry Mitchell and David Seymour said the financial reports of Canadian municipalities are “of a custodial and controller nature, and they give little indication of the quality of municipal performance, so they are of very limited [if any] public value.”

Mitchell and Seymour write that Canadian municipalities will introduce better, standardized methods of asset accounting in the near future, but are behind countries such as New Zealand, which adopted better accounting practices in 1989.