There’s a “gross lack of transparency” in the way the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen charges member communities for millions of dollars’ worth of internal overhead costs, says a Penticton city councillor who’s leading an effort to pull back the veil of secrecy.
Frank Regehr’s motion to have city staff arrange a review of those billing practices was approved by a 5-1 margin Tuesday by he and the rest of city council.
His concerns relate to proposed overhead allocations of $4.7 million in the draft 2021 RDOS budget, which is based on a $20.7-million tax requisition, according to a memo Regehr attached to the motion.
Those charges are determined in part by a time-tracker system used by RDOS staff to bill their hours accordingly to the 16 member local governments and rural areas.
And while RDOS policies – and a separate board resolution approved in February 2020 – call for regular reviews of the time-tracker system, that hasn’t happened, Regehr explained to council mates.
“It’s turned into today where it’s not done even annually, but in an attempt I made to find out information on it, I was actually refused information – period – on those salary costs,” he said.
Regehr also noted the RDOS has, over the past three years, used three different systems for calculating overhead and the end results have changed “quite drastically.”
As an example, his memo cited the Sterile Insect Release program, which saw its overhead costs go from $11,810 in 2019 to $74,388 in 2020. The charge is forecast to fall back to $17,502 in the 2021 draft budget.
“I think there’s just a gross lack of transparency and certainty following through on existing policies and practices,” concluded Regehr, who currently serves as one of Penticton's alternate directors on the 19-member RDOS board.
While his original motion called for city staff to undertake the review of RDOS practices and their impacts on city taxpayers and then report back to council, it was amended to allow the possibility of a third party doing the work.
The lone vote in opposition was registered by Coun. Judy Sentes, who supported the intent of Regehr’s motion, but wanted to involve the RDOS board.
“Let’s put it in writing to them. They’re then obligated to respond to us and we can take it forward from there,” said Sentes.
“But to put our staff in the middle, to virtually do an audit of (the RDOS), I just simply can’t support that.”