Laval gets a pass from Auditor General – despite noted shortcomings

City still needs to improve its snow removal strategy, says Véronique Boily

In her fifth annual report presented to city council last week, Laval Auditor General Véronique Boily acknowledged that the Demers administration could do more to improve its financial statements, as well as its compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, but that overall the administration gets a passing grade.

“This fifth report produced since I took office highlights common issues that emerge from the analysis of the various subjects audited this year,” said Boily, who summarized the report for journalists during a webcast press conference last week.

“This analysis can enable the city to go beyond the isolated treatment of the findings and recommendations presented in each of the performance audits and improve certain key aspects of its management,” she said. The report includes four performance audits which resulted in recommendations from Boily’s office.

Snow removal

Boily notes that in October 2015, the City of Laval adopted a new snow removal strategy to help guide its snow removal operations. Despite the fact the strategy sets clear priorities and deadlines for situations considered normal, “the strategy is incomplete,” she concluded.

Referring to “recurrent under-estimation” by the administration, she said the budget allocated to snow removal “is not based on real needs and does not constitute a tool for controlling expenditure as it should.” She said the city has developed several useful and relevant performance indicators, except for abrasives spreading operations.

In addition, she said the city hasn’t developed a comprehensive management plan that includes measures to improve the efficiency of the spreading activity and reduce costs, while contributing to a better environmental balance.

Information technology

Boily’s office also examined whether the city manages its information technology (IT) projects to ensure that they are completed successfully and efficiently. While admitting that the project management framework follows accepted approaches, she said it isn’t supported by a methodology.

She said the content of deliverables, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders, are missing from the city’s strategy. “This opens the management framework to interpretation regarding how documents are completed and the presentation of relevant project information,” said Boily.

In addition, she said the cost estimate of IT projects was absent or incomplete for projects audited by the Office of the Auditor General because the cost of internal resources, among other things, was not included. “The risk analysis register is well designed, but not always used,” she said.

Finally, she observed that authorizations to move from one phase to another for IT projects is supposed to be granted by the governance committee. “But since this committee does not exist, these steps have not been subject to a request for authorization,” she added.

Monitoring of infrastructure

Boily noted that a significant portion of the City of Laval’s annual budget is allotted for the maintenance, improvement and development of infrastructure. She said management information for monitoring infrastructure work in the engineering department “is difficult to produce and insufficient to allow department managers to exercise proper governance.”

The report includes four performance audits, resulting in recommendations from Boily’s office

As well, she said some contracts were not reported to the executive-committee, as required by the contingency management and framework policy. Several non-compliances with contracts, the city’s monitoring guide and other internal forms were also identified by her.

Finally, Boily said the department has no documented analysis to support decisions on whether to carry out monitoring work internally or externally and has not assessed the risks associated with its reliance on external firms.

Pesticide, fertilizer and invasive species

On a somewhat brighter note, Boily pointed out that in recent years, the city adopted policies, strategies and objectives potentially affecting pesticide and fertilizer use and invasive species management. She said her team confirmed that the city’s actions to manage invasive species and reduce risks associated with pesticide and fertilizer use “are effective and consistent with the principles of sustainable development.”

She said the City of Laval is complying with applicable laws and regulations regarding the use of pesticides and fertilizers. However, even though it has adopted several recommended practices to reduce the impact on health and the environment, “it still has some progress to make in certain areas,” Boily concluded.

In the meantime, she added that the city is taking numerous actions to control the spread of invasive species such as ragweed. “However, these actions are not part of a structured, multi-year control plan,” said Boily.

Boily’s overall observations Overall, she said that to a greater or lesser extent, all the audits carried out this year by the Laval Auditor General’s Office “reveal a lack of control to ensure compliance with the frameworks in force. A lack of operational guidelines or instructions was observed in some audits. This deficiency is affecting the uniformity of practices in the various sectors of activity.”