The 2016 Budget in Perspective

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 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.



Property Tax Revenue Per Capita     

Residential Mil Rate     

Commercial Mil Rate     

St. John’s
















Saint John




Trois Rivieres
















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.

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