B.C.’s largest cities on a spend­ing spree for last decade: re­port

The Miracle - - National & Int -

Wage in­creases for mu­nic­i­pal work­ers, prop­erty taxes and city hall spend­ing have all grown far faster than the rate of in­fla­tion and the pop­u­la­tion growth over the last decade. This new re­port, by a na­tional busi­ness group, comes out as may­ors and coun­cil­lors are about to run for re-elec­tion. Less than six weeks be­fore mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, a new re­port is crit­i­ciz­ing B.C.’s cities and towns for jack­ing up both spend­ing and prop­erty taxes by 43 per cent be­tween 2006 and 2016, dur­ing a time when the prov­ince’s pop­u­la­tion in­creased by just 12 per cent. The re­port, from the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness, ranks 152 B.C. mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties on their op­er­a­tional spend­ing, which in­cludes costs such as polic­ing, parks and trans­porta­tion, but does not in­clude cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­tures such as in­fra­struc­ture projects. If spend­ing dur­ing that decade had been lim­ited to in­fla­tion and fac­tors such as pop­u­la­tion growth, the fed­er­a­tion ar­gues, the av­er­age fam­ily of four could have avoided pay­ing nearly $8,000 in prop­erty taxes — the main source of rev­enue for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. “Ev­ery year has seen spend­ing grow beyond a sus­tain­able rate, which raises the fi­nan­cial bur­den on Bri­tish Columbians, in­clud­ing en­trepreneurs,” says the re­port, ti­tled B.C. Mu­nic­i­pal Spend­ing Watch: Trends in Op­er­at­ing Spend­ing 2006-2016. The busi­ness group an­a­lyzed the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ fis­cal per­for­mances by us­ing data from fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing col­lec­tive agree­ments, an­nual re­ports, and sta­tis­tics. The fed­er­a­tion gave equal weight to two mea­sures: over­all op­er­a­tional spend­ing in­creases for 2006-2016 (ad­justed for in­fla­tion) and the 2016 per-res­i­dent spend­ing to­tal, which takes into ac­count pop­u­la­tion growth. It high­lighted the 20 big­gest cities, where three-quar­ters of B.C.’s pop­u­la­tion lives, and found op­er­a­tional spend­ing went up 26 per cent be­tween 2006 and 2016, with an av­er­age of $1,537 spent per res­i­dent in 2016. It gave the worst marks to Lan­g­ley Town­ship for ac­cel­er­at­ing its ex­pen­di­tures by 50 per cent over that decade, although even with the high­est pace of growth its per-per­son out­put was lower than av­er­age, at $1,388. “Each mu­nic­i­pal­ity has it’s own unique chal­lenges that will at times in­crease their spend­ing, and for us it was fire,” said Lan­g­ley Town­ship Mayor Jack Froese, who is run­ning for re-elec­tion. Dur­ing that decade, he said, Lan­g­ley went from a paid-call to a full-time fire depart­ment, and taxes had to in­crease to fund that. “For a com­mu­nity that has gone from pri­mar­ily ru­ral to now ru­ral and ur­ban, we are re­ally see­ing chal­lenges in growth that are re­ally af­fect­ing how we do our spend­ing,” he said.He added that some cities, such as Lan­g­ley City, Rich­mond and Co­quit­lam, get rev­enue from casi­nos, while his does not. The sec­ond-worst rank­ing went to New West­min­ster, which has in­creased its oper­a­tion spend­ing at an av­er­age pace (29 per cent) over the decade, but spends the most money per res­i­dent of any of the other city: $2,225. New West­min­ster Mayor Jonathan Coté, who is run­ning for re-elec­tion, could not be reached for com­ment. Other cities that ranked poorly in­clude Ab­bots­ford, Delta and the District of North Van­cou­ver.Top marks went to Port Co­quit­lam, Maple Ridge and Kelowna, which all had below-av­er­age spend­ing in­creases over the decade, as well as rel­a­tively low per-per­son ex­pen­di­tures in 2016. Port Co­quit­lam Mayor Greg Moore, who is not run­ning for re-elec­tion, said his city con­sults with res­i­dents about where they want money spent, most no­tably through a bud­get sum­mary sent to ev­ery home, which gen­er­ates about 1,400 re­sponses a year. The city then uses that feed­back to de­ter­mine less-pop­u­lar spend­ing ar­eas where sav­ings can be found.“When you are look­ing at spend­ing in each lo­cal gov­ern­ment, you have to bal­ance spend­ing with what the pri­or­i­ties are that the com­mu­nity wants. That’s kind of the art of gov­ern­ing,” Moore said. Surrey, which ranked ninth out of the 20 big­gest cities, had in­trigu­ing sta­tis­tics: it has in­creased spend­ing over the decade by 31 per cent, but still has the low­est per-per­son spend­ing at $1,057. Van­cou­ver ranked 11th. The re­port found B.C. mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties spent $7.9 bil­lion in 2016 on op­er­a­tions that in­clude run­ning gov­ern­ment, pro­tec­tive ser­vices, garbage, so­cial ser­vices, tran­sit and re­cre­ation. Wages for fire, po­lice and CUPE work­ers have out­paced in­fla­tion, as have salaries for some ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions, such as chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cers. The doc­u­ment sug­gests mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can save money by shar­ing re­sources, leas­ing out pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties when not in use, in­vest­ing in new tech­nolo­gies, and chang­ing in­ef­fi­cient prac­tices. “The broader im­pli­ca­tions of these re­sults is that pop­u­la­tion growth does not al­ways ne­ces­si­tate mu­nic­i­pal spend­ing growth. Thus, it is clear that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have the ca­pac­ity to de­crease their spend­ing while their pop­u­la­tion grows and re­tain ser­vice lev­els,” the re­port con­cludes.

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