The recently released report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, titled, BC Municipal Spending Watch 2016, was released Nov.21, 2016. This report discusses the topics I, and others, raised with Saanich Council before, that is, the unsustainability to both residents and businesses, of continuing to raise municipal taxes well in excess of the cost of living.

The report also looks at all municipalities in the province, so it is possible to compare the performance of Saanich in relation to the rest of BC. They assess 152 municipalities, and five regions.

So what are the results? For the period 2004-2014, for the province as a whole, Saanich is 80th out of 152, with one being best and 152 being worst. It is also noteworthy that while Saanich is 80th provincially, the year before it was 43rd, so there is a significant negative change in it ranking that should concern us all.

Of the twenty largest municipalities – arguably a fairer comparison – Saanich is ranked 15th out of 20, which is even worse than its provincial ranking. Saanich’s real operating spending for the period 2004- 2014 is 36.2% beyond inflation and population growth.

In terms of a one year change, from 2013 to 2014, Saanich ranks 19th out of 20 large municipalities, with the 2013-14 year being assessed at a real increase of 8.8% once both inflation and population growth are factored in (Pop growth 1.6%) During this time period Kelowna, Victoria, Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and North Vancouver of the large municipalities, decreased their real operating spending.

During this time transfers from other levels of government increased by 75% over the last 10 years to municipal governments to help pay for some of the downloading of services that have occurred. However, all municipalities face these pressures, so that should not affect any municipality’s overall ranking.

In terms of Vancouver Island, Saanich is 25 out of 34.

Saanich residents should be very concerned, but now is the time for council to take political leadership. There are a series of recommendations in the report for moving forward, which fall into four categories: operating spending control, 2) Wage and hiring control, 3) financial information and accountability, and 4) additional revenue sources.

  • Under the heading of ‘operating spending control’  there are three recommendations which council should adopt as part of its budget process:Limit increases in operating spending to no more than inflation and population growth. introduce annual zero-based budgeting, conduct regular service reviews and identify core and non-core services. Have suitable contingency funds for special circumstances that require an increase in operating spending.
  • Under wage and hiring controls, there are recommendations to do with staffing levels, rates of pay, and bargaining issues, some of which would be longer term propositions, but most of which should be looked at seriously.
  • Under financial accountability, all of the recommendations could be implemented virtually immediately, and have to do with accountability and transparency of financial information.
  • In the fourth area are recommendations to provincial and federal levels of government to take steps to ensure that municipalities better manage their operating spending.

It is helpful to have a report which looks at all of BC and ranks the effectiveness of municipalities’ management of their spending. Clearly, based on this report, Saanich has to take some major steps to improve. The taxpayers cannot afford these continued increases so far beyond the cost of living.

The report can be found at www.cfib.ca

Karen Harper

Saanich resident and board member Grumpy Taxpayer$