City report card

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies [AIMS] has produced its first National Municipal Report Card. AIMS has compared 31 cities across Canada.

The AIMS’ report not only tells us whether we receive good municipal service, but also whether we pay too much for those services. The report grades Canada’s largest cities and capitals based on the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery using a three year average (2005, 2006 and 2007).

Macleans commissioned and reported on the analysis.

We aim not merely to start some good barroom arguments, but to help voters to hold their representatives to better account, and indeed to help city governments themselves. For without some sort of yardstick to measure their performance, either against other cities or against their own past record, how can they hope to know whether they are succeeding?

How indeed. We think it an extremely valuable exercise as we did the comparisons AIMS did on NS municipalities and which we reported on in previous posts. It seems, however, that some of our municipal leaders were not at all interested in the results.

Halifax is included so of course we were interested in how it stacked up against other municipalities. HRM came in 24rth out of the 31 which is closer to the bottom than anyone should like. It did best in the categories of taxes and transportation [16/31].  On the scatter graph which shows efficiency vs effectiveness it doesn’t quite make the middle of the pack. The Maritimes doesn’t generally fare very well and it makes one envious of the other coast where things seem to be much better run. Burnaby, Saskatoon, Surrey and Vancouver show very well. The further west you go…

One city had to be at the bottom of the heap. Andrew Coyne describes it this way:

It is the quaint home of history and reverie … has governance and finance indicators that are near peerless … it is one of the more environmentally healthy.

Sounds a bit like Wolfville don’t it? Yes, Charlottetown is a nice place to live but …

It is much more difficult to start a business in Charlottetown, however. Or get bang for your bucks paid in municipal taxes, or to find a park—or anyone who takes the bus, for that matter. The city ranked last in AIMS’ overall economic development index; according to AIMS figures, which focused on the period between 2005 and 2007, Charlottetown had the highest per capita economic development and infrastructure costs in the country. … “If people want to do something business-wise that is a little different, they have to jump through city hall hoops to get anything done.”

Charlottetown has relatively low population growth, perhaps because it has trouble attracting newcomers. … [We wonder if they have a deed transfer tax?] Non-residential tax revenues account for only 27 per cent of its revenue, earning it a D- on the AIMS scorecard. … As a result, more than most other Canadian cities, Charlottetown is forced to rely on outside governments for help. “There’s a level of dependence in Charlottetown in particular to deliver services,” says AIMS executive vice-president Charles Cirtwill.

Yes, except for the parks bit, it sounds a bit like Wolfville alright. It is not surprising to us at all that it turns out to be the “most politically engaged”. All those irate residents. That too sounds like Wolfville. And in Burnaby they don’t have to be engaged; they have leaders who are doing what they are paid to do. Taxpayers can relax!

We were interested in some of the stats pulled out by the national report card. For example – The number of residents per municipal employee. The national average was 98 residents per municipal worker. How does Wolfville compare we wonder?[This was a stat not included – unfortunately- in the AIMS report card on NS municipalities.] Is it above average? Let’s see – population of Wolfville about 3800. So if the Town has more than 38 employees the Town has more civil servants than the average and as we see cities with more civil servants did not necessarily produce better results, just higher costs.

Another stat of interest is policing costs. The average percapita is $251. At that rate Wolfville’s policing should cost less than 1 million $.

Take a look at some of the other stats. We know one councillor who will be interested in the Transportation cost/ridership results. Some will perhaps find the fire service results of interest. Perhaps the Fiscal Sustainability Task Force will find something to interest them in this report card. It’s good to have a standard to measure yourself against, isn’t it?

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3 responses to “City report card

  1. Is it 98 residents per municipal employee or 98 residents per municipal worker?

    In matters municipal, the relationship between employees and useful work seems to be hostage to misdirection, sloth, and bureaucratic waffle-speak. Frankly, I doubt the present Mayor of Wolfville could direct traffic in Antarctica.

  2. Actually, the current mayor would probably fit right in with the crowd of Emperors in Antarctica, maybe that could be his future calling.