The 2016 Budget in Perspective

 

Budget -icon

 

There is much ongoing debate and discussion regarding the recently passed 2016-2018 Budget for the City of St. John's, including the recent resignation of St. John's Poet Laureate,demonstrations at City Hall, and criticism from former councillors.

 But, how does our budget compare to those of cities across the country? How much do other cities, of similar population, spend on the items that we are talking about here in St. John's?

 We chose the following eight cities to compare some items of interest in their 2016 Municipal Budgets. To keep things simple, we chose comparison cities with similar populations to that of St. John's. It is important to note this is not a perfect comparison as there are many factors that contribute to fiscal priorities, including (but not exclusively) geographic size, proximity to another major centre, stage of development and age of city, focus of economy (resource-based, technology-based, tourism, etc.), and whether the city is a capital.

 

  • Regina (Population: 193,000; 2016 Budget: $418,800,000)
  • Trois-Rivieres (Population: 134,800; 2016 Budget: $256,900,000)
  • Kingston (Population: 117,000; 2016 Budget: $348,158,937)
  • Guelph (Population: 115,000; 2016 Budget: $216,000,000)
  • Lethbridge (Population: 89,000; 2016 Budget: $355,792,722)
  • Kamloops (Population: 85,700; 2016 Budget: $136,993,405)
  • Victoria (Population: 80,000; 2016 Budget: $220,948,785)
  • Saint John (Population: 70,000; 2016 Budget: $173,000,000)

 

While reviewing each of these cities, we looked for the following items for comparison: residential and commercial property tax rates; mil rates; arts grants and funding; public transit; community centres; sanitary operations; snow clearing; road expenditures; parks & recreation; parking revenue; and salaries. As different cities have varying levels of budget information provided online, not all items were available for comparison. We also tried to figure out how different cities handle their sports teams and convention centres, but that is especially complex and a bit beyond our volunteer time to research!

For each budget item that we found for each city, we calculated the per capita amount spent on that item - that is, how many dollars are spent per resident of the city for that item. Again, it should be noted that this is not a perfect comparison as different cities design and word their budgets in different ways. If you have corrections to these figures, please email them to admin@happycity.ca and we'll update this blog post!

The comparative analysis can be found below. We are hoping that this analysis will help to provide perspective and help to further inform the ongoing discussions regarding the budget.


Mil Rates and Property Taxes:

The first concern on many people's minds, understandably, is their property tax bill - whether for their home or their business. We looked at this in 3 ways: breaking down the total amount of taxes coming in by the number of people who live there, and looking at the "mil rate" - the number of dollars of tax you pay per $1000 of property value.  St. John's is pretty solidly in the middle of the "Taxes per capita" measure. Looking at the rates, we're third-lowest on residential rates, and second-highest on commercial.

 

City

Property Tax Revenue Per Capita     

Residential Mil Rate     

Commercial Mil Rate     

St. John's

$1,577.36

7.8

25.2

Regina

$1,042.52

9.2856

9.2856

Kingston

$1,783.69

9.87

19.54

Guelph

$1,853.52

12.45

32.98

Saint John

$1680.96

Unknown

Unknown

Trois Rivieres   

$1,411.68

11.9

23.4

Victoria

$1,555.11

7.1894

22.537

Lethbridge

$1,411.69

10.153

21.726

Kamloops

$1,157.81

5.39

14.05


Arts Funding:

This has been the flashpoint of the budget debate (UPDATE: A motion will be introduced on January 4th to restore the cut arts grants - albeit by redirecting money from other community grant or art procurement programs), so we tried extra hard to dig up some numbers on it - but it wasn't easy! Different cities present and manage their arts budgets in very different ways, and it wasn't always possible to figure out how much was going directly to artists, and how much was being spent on arts and culture overall. Different cities also include different kinds of facilities within "arts and culture" - public libraries, for example, which are provincially funded here. So take these comparisons with a grain of salt. That said, we do think it's worth a look. We also dug up a research paper that compared a bunch of Ontario cities on this measure, so we tossed them into the table, too (leaving out Ottawa and Toronto, which are in a different league in many ways).

St. John's comes in last, here, on grants and second-last on the (fuzzier) measure of overall arts and culture funding. It's worth noting, though, that some grants to arts organizations come from the city's community grants program and aren't getting captured here - still, our city has a pretty big hill to climb to overtake any of the other cities we looked at.

 

City                                                                               

Grants to artists/arts   organizations, per capita     

Total arts and culture budget per   capita                 

Notes

St. John's

$0.94

$9.43

The $9.43 is an estimate based on the different non-grant arts supports cited by the city in a recent news release.

Regina

$6.77

Unclear

 

Kingston

$9.20

$35.99

 

Guelph

$2.43

$52.82

 

Saint John       

Unknown

7.6453

 

Trois Rivieres

Unknown

$173.22

Includes libraries and other facilities

Victoria

$3.01

Unknown

 

Lethbridge      

Unknown

Unknown

 

Kamloops

Unknown

Unknown

 

Waterloo

$3.40

Unknown

 

London

$3.69

Unknown

 

Hamilton

$3.91

Unknown

 

Stratford

$4.70

Unknown

 

Niagara Falls

$5.00

Unknown

 

 

Public Transit:

The big note here: St. John's is very unusual, in that our public transit system isn't provincially subsidized. In almost every other case a significant portion of transit costs are assumed by the province. This table, though, shows only the municipal budget allocations. Note the intensely large number for Victoria - that includes money that goes into the ferry system.  Here, St. John's is towards the top of the scale, but not in any way an outlier - provincially subsidized systems like Regina spend more.

City

Public Transit Spending Per Capita

St. John's

$168.85

Regina

$186.01

Kingston

$121.71

Guelph

$121.22

Saint John

$98.38

Trois Rivieres   

$36.68

Victoria

$412.41

Lethbridge

$137.18

Kamloops

$199.55

 

Sanitation:

This is another one where different cities present the information very differently - so take this comparison with a grain of salt.

City

Sanitation Spending Per Capita

St. John's

$211.83

Regina

$110.91

Kingston

$64.13

Guelph

$92.04

Saint John

Unknown

Trois Rivieres   

Unknown

Victoria

Unknown

Lethbridge

Unknown

Kamloops

$114.72

 

Snow Clearing:

This is a perennial point of interest in St. John's, especially after the major public pushback and service changes over the last few years. Here are the numbers we could find (several cities spread the costs out across different budget lines, so we couldn't quite work out the total). It's also worth remembering that we're by far the snowiest of any of these spots!

City

Snow Clearing Spending Per Capita

St. John's

$163.03

Regina

$47.15

Kingston

$63.68

Guelph

Unclear from document

Saint John

Unclear from document

Trois Rivieres   

$106.13

Victoria

Unknown

Lethbridge

Unknown

Kamloops

Unknown

 

Parks & Recreation:

Since different cities break things down quite differently between their "Parks" and "Recreation" budgets, we combined them. Even then, we couldn't get numbers for everyone - some split it up into many more different categories.  St. John's is in the middle of the pack here.

 

City

Parks/Rec Spending Per Capita

St. John's

$216.44

Regina

$226.75

Kingston

$90.28

Guelph

$101.45

Saint John

Unknown

Trois Rivieres   

$59.15

Victoria

Unknown

Lethbridge

Unknown

Kamloops

$315.58

 

Parking Revenue:

Parking is a perennial topic of conversation in this city - so we thought we'd see how much parking revenue brings in for some similar spots.  Note that this is a per capita revenue comparison, not a spending chart. Here, St. John's is actually one of the cities where parking revenues are included in a larger budget line - so we're not sure where we land on this one.

 

City

Parking Revenue per capita.

St. John's

Unknown

Regina

$15.03

Kingston

$50.04

Guelph

Unknown

Saint John

Unknown

Trois Rivieres   

Unknown

Victoria

$ 188.96

Lethbridge

$15.02

Kamloops

$20.55

 

Salaries:

Another point of discussion in the St. John's budget debate has been salaries - with collective agreements driving a significant increase in overall salaries. Here's a chart showing (where we could find it) the per-capita expenditures on salaries that our group of cities make. We are, once again, in the middle of the range.

 

City

Salary spending per capita.

St. John's

$1037.73

Regina

$1,139.90

Kingston

$980.38

Guelph

Unknown

Saint John

Unknown

Trois Rivieres     

$682.48

Victoria

$682.35

Lethbridge

$1701.46

Kamloops

Unknown

 

Conclusions & Some thoughts on the consultation process

This blog post is by no means authoritative - just a couple volunteers digging through a lot of PDFs! Nonetheless, there are a few standout points.

First, we're pretty average - on most measures, St. John's hovers somewhere in the middle of the pack in the group of similarly sized cities we looked at. The one exception is on arts funding, where we do seem to be lagging, especially after the recent cut. Our overall tax burden isn't anything particularly out of the ordinary, though our business taxes are a bit higher than some. Our wage bill is also not extraordinarily high or low.

Given that we are so comparable to some of these other cities, it'd be great to see… more comparison! A few of the cities we looked at included these comparisons within their budget documents - maybe that's something we could think about here.  That said, going from province to province to compare these things is always full of difficulty - municipalities have very different fiscal arrangements in different provinces.

We're also not doing all that bad when it comes to consultation - a number of the cities we looked at had no formal consultation around their budgets at all; they used public input from other meetings and roundtables to get input to inform the budget. A few used online surveys, and a couple had more in-depth online tools. Our own budget consultation process, which included online and in-person engagement, stands up pretty well. There has been some concern raised here about these consultations being too general - asking people about broad priorities, not their views on specific issues or tradeoffs - and a quick look at the consultations in other similar cities finds this to be a pretty common dynamic. If we can figure out a better way to do it, other cities could definitely learn from us.

One thing that varied hugely in our look at municipal budgets was the level of detail in them. Ours, here in St. John's, is 26 pages. A couple of budget documents we looked at were upwards of 400 pages! While length doesn't alway mean usefulness, it was nice to have a chance to look at detailed reports from each of the units within a city (which was commonly the reason for the lengthy documents). A few cities also included performance reports for departments within the budget documents - defining metrics of success for that part of the city administration, and how well they did on those metrics. That wouldn't be a bad thing to see here - neither would the great use of infographics in some of them (Victoria, we're looking at you…).

So, there we have it - a bit of context, a few numbers, and a few thoughts. As the discussion around the impact of our new budget in St. John's continues, we hope this can provide some perspective. If you're feeling particularly brave (read: nerdy), dig on into each city's budget documents, and send us some more comparisons to add to this post - we'll happily update it.

On that note, have a safe and (of course) happy holidays, Happy Citizens!

Written by Happy City at 06:33
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1 Comments :

Brogan Bell said...
how can you be spending that much money on public transit, sanitation, and snow clearing, and still have one of the worst, and most under used bus systems in canada, some of the most poorly constructed roads, piss poor snow clearing, and garbage laws from the 1800's that rely on fishing nets as garbage receptacles?
December 24, 2015 12:38

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