The Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently released the findings of its B.C. Municipal Spending Watch for 2013.
The report found that a B.C. family of four could have saved $5,302 in municipal taxes over the past 11 years if city councils kept their operating spending to the rate of inflation and population growth.
The report also found that only 10 of 153 municipalities in the province kept operating spending in line over that time frame.
Municipalities cannot run deficits, so any increase in operational spending generally means an increase in taxes and fees in order to cover the shortfall.
Keremeos placed 79th overall in the report, which placed the community in roughly in the middle of the pack. The rankings are numbered from one – the worst – to the best, at 153.
It cost each Keremeos resident $963 per year to run village affairs in 2011. The average for the province was $945 per person.
Regionally, Northern B.C. residents paid the highest – $2,190 annually, while the lowest average cost of operating spending took place in the Thompson – Okanagan, where municipal operations cost residents $1,238 on average.
The municipality with the best operating spending record in B.C. was Kaslo, while the worst was Lytton.
Keremeos Chief Administrative Officer Laurie Taylor noted that services offered by different municipalites vary widely from community to community, especially between smaller and larger communities, a fact that may have an effect on the results.
Mike Klassen, Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, explained that the report used audited financial reports from each municipality to look at spending growth on an annual basis over the last decade. The report used population growth as a benchmark for each community to calculate real operating spending after adjusting for inflation.
“We measure operating spending, not capital spending,” Klassen stressed, adding “it is a method that compares apples to apples.”
Klassen said that almost inevitably, the factors leading spending growth in municipalities are related to what municipal workers are paid.
“Municipalities pay, on average, 30 per cent more for equivalent work than the private sector,” he said, “it creates a different class of employee, who is getting paid more, at higher levels than the taxpayer or business that pays the wages.”
Klassen said that the issue was a “matter of fairness.”
“We raise the issue as something that needs to be looked at,” he said.
On a more personal note, Klassen said that having visited Keremeos, several times, he had developed a “soft spot” for the village.
“I see great potential in Keremeos for agri-tourism opportunities,” he observed.
“There are many communities like Keremeos in the U.S. that have made their municipalities into tourist draws by investing in the main street to make it interesting for visitors.”
There are a number of interesting heritage buildings that could form the basis for a similar effort in Keremeos Klassen suggested.
“The idea would be to use the main street as a spring board for tourists to explore the rest of the region,” Klassen suggested, “I believe Keremeos has the raw materials to do that.”