“BC Mayors on a spending binge” – so proclaims Comox Valley Common Sense (a registered campaign organizer), quoting the Vancouver Sun.
Over two decades, the average annual expenditure of Canadian municipalities, when adjusted for inflation, has risen at a rate of .9 per cent per year. (.9 per cent is a spending binge?).
At the same time, revenues have only increased by .7 per cent, largely as a result of reduced inter-governmental expenditures (read: downloading to municipalities), though it would be well to note also that in B.C. the percentage of municipal tax revenues from business properties has been reduced from 32 per cent to 31 per cent.
(You can be forgiven for wondering why the group that has seen its share decrease, albeit slightly, is crying the loudest.) This has left the residential property owners to take up the shortfall, and residences now pay 59 per cent of property tax revenue, up from 52 per cent.
At the same time, business has more representatives on municipal councils, both in terms of mayors and councillors elected, than any other group.
Anyway, here’s what Trends in Public Finance in Canada has to say on the matter:
“From a fiscal perspective, Canadian municipalities appear to be healthy. The overall health of municipalities, however, has less to do with balancing their budgets (which they are required to do by law in any event) than with the adequacy of the services being provided and the current state of municipal infrastructure.”
A report submitted to the Union of BC Municipalities, titled Comment on Fiscal Management in BC’s Municipalities lists a formidable array of services that municipalities provide, and it is worth reproducing them here:
“Airports, Animal control, Arenas and sports facilities, Art galleries, Building, plumbing, Electrical inspection, Building licensing, Cemeteries, Communications, Economic development, Elections, Electricity generation and distribution, Emergency planning, Fire protection ,General administration, House numbering, Industrial parks, Irrigation and flood control, Land purchase and development, Libraries, Liquid waste management ,Museums, Parks ,Planning and zoning, Police protection, Protection of natural environment, Public health regulation, Public transportation, Public works, Recreation facilities and programs, Regulation of nuisances, Social housing, Social planning, Soil fill and removal regulations, Solid waste management, Storm drainage, Street maintenance, Subdivision control, Theatres, Traffic planning and control, Water supply and distribution.”
So which would you cut? Some in this community have suggested that spending on sports facilities and a homeless shelter are wants, not needs.
On the other hand, exercise is one (the other two are diet and genetics) of the big three predictors of good health in the population, and expenditures on facilities that allow more people to exercise have significant downward impact on overall health care costs.
Innumerable studies have shown the same with regard to homelessness: Ultimately the tax burden to house people is less than the tax burden to leave them wandering the streets.
The obvious point here is that a so-called “common sense” approach to “keep costs down and taxes affordable” is simply a short-term and myopic view that fails to consider how expenditures now might reduce expenditures later.
Anyone who believes that a simple tally of current inflow (taxes) and outflow (expenditures) can measure the health, vibrancy, and prosperity of a community is lacking both in common sense, and in imagination.
Shockingly, some who tout their view as fiscally responsible also appear to be unable to crunch the numbers. But truly, the worst thing about this view is its contempt for democracy — contempt for what you, the voters, have asked your elected representatives to undertake.
Contrary to those who would have you believe that the best candidates are about “strong leadership,” in my view the most credible candidates have the ability to listen more than they speak.
It is representation, not leadership, that is at the core of the democratic process. It is planning for the long term, not the short term, that distinguishes good government from bad.
It is the necessity to see beyond mere inflow and outflow that distinguishes the fiscally responsible from the mere cost-cutters. And it is the requirement to govern for all the people, not one part of them, that distinguishes democracy from other political systems.