A new report raises questions about Saanich’s recent spending habits.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), Saanich recorded the second-highest growth in operating spending per capita among the 20 largest municipalities of British Columbia in 2013/14 with a growth of 9.1 per cent.
Only Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley recorded higher growth in that category with a figure of 9.5 per cent.
Looking at the timeframe between 2004 and 2014, Saanich ranked fourth from the bottom among the 20 largest communities in British Columbia, 25th out of 34 Vancouver Island municipalities and somewhere in the middle for all B.C. municipalities, finishing 80th out of 152, with first being the best and 152nd being the worst.
“Our report shows that Saanich continues to have a significant operating spending problem,“ says Richard Truscott, CFIB’s vice-president for British Columbia and Alberta. “It’s operating spending in 2014 was 46 per cent higher than its population growth (of about one per cent).”
According to the report, a British Columbia family of four could have saved, on average, $7,445 in municipal taxes over the past 10 years if municipal councils had kept their operating spending increases in line with the benchmark for sustainability of inflation plus population growth. A figure specific for Saanich was not available by deadline.
Looking at the larger picture, the report concludes that increases in municipal operating expenditures at current rates “are unsustainable and municipal governments need to make significant efforts to control spending if they want to avoid large increases to taxes or fees in the future.”
CFIB’s report arrives as the current council – whose term lies outside the report’s parameters – gets ready for budget deliberations scheduled for early 2017. The report’s findings have already garnered attention from concerned Saanich resident Karen Harper, who presented portions of the report to the public during an open forum.
“I strongly recommend that each of you should be reading it, before you discuss your budget any further, because they are very clear about steps that could be taken to improve the situation,“ she said during an open forum last week. “As a Saanich taxpayer, I sincerely hope that you look at taking some of those recommendations seriously.”
According to Truscott, municipalities can control spending by distinguishing between core and non-core services, conducting regular service reviews and annual zero-based budgeting, a practice that sees any budget start with zero funds. Budget managers must then justify adding funds to the budget regardless of previous budget figures.
The report ranked municipalities exclusively by their operating spending by calculating a figure that equally weighs two different measures of operating spending: growth in inflation-adjusted operating spending per capita from 2004 through 2014 and per capita operating spending in 2014, taking into account population growth along the way.
According to the report, these “important and distinct” measures place “equal importance on a municipality’s long-term spending trend and its latest spending level.”
Generally, municipalities with large upward ticks in spending over time and high current spending levels will receive a low ranking, whereas municipalities with low spending levels and low and downward trending will receive a high ranking.
The report did not specifically address taxation levels, but does have implications.
“Our report focuses more on the business aspect, but the realities remain the same,“ says Truscott. “We are advocating for controlling spending in order not to create an unfair burden on Saanich businesses and residents.“
The report excludes spending on capital projects such as physical infrastructure. “Capital spending is a different animal,“ says Truscott. “And maybe we will look at those budgets in a separate report. This report is about analyzing the spending on the day to day operations of municipal government.“
According to its own website, CFIB has lobbied on behalf of small businesses for more than 40 years and currently represents 109,000 small business owners across Canada.