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Saskatoon gets poor grade for financial transparency

Saskatoon gets poor grade for financial transparency
A member of the city administration speaks to the city council on Day Two of budget talks, on November 26. The City received a low financial transparency score from a think tank. Files / Global News

The City of Saskatoon received a D– on financial transparency from the CD Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank.

“It is not really about the ranking, it is about just making sure that municipal financial practices are more transparent, they are more clear and more useful to the residents overall,” said Farah Omran, a policy analyst and co-author of the report.

The grade applied to the 2018 city budget, which the report said included $1.1 billion in spending and $0.8 billion in expenses without accounting for the difference.

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“The gap is so large that an expert with time to spare might suspect it resulted from an accounting discrepancy…but a non-expert…might think the city’s financial management is utterly inept,” the report said.

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“[T]he differences between how the numbers appear in budgets and in year-end financial statements have real-world consequences…” like understating claims on community resources.

Omran said Saskatoon showed one of the common problems the report identified among a number of cities in Canada — inconsistent accounting between the budget documents and year-end financial statements.

“[This makes] the comparison between year-end results and actual intentions very difficult,” Omran said.

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She said the city also received a low grade because it only publishes the financial statements six months after the end of the fiscal year, calling it a long time.

“We want taxpayers to be able to hold their government accountable for what they spend and what they promise to deliver,” she added.

Saskatoon’s chief financial officer Kerry Tarasoff said in an email statement the city is legislated to budget according to the Cities Act. He added that what the institute called a “discrepancy” in the city’s budget reporting was addressed in May 2016, “when we prepared an administrative report for the governance and priorities committee.”

“Every year — and early on — we openly and publicly outline the total costs of our programs and we use this method of cash-based budgeting to provide the city with more options, flexibility and better financial management than the accrual-based budgeting the institute favours,” his statement added.