‘Leading the charge’

The City of Red Deer may have been the top capital spender per household among 88 Canadian cities in 2008, says a senior policy analyst.

David Seymour of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

The City of Red Deer may have been the top capital spender per household among 88 Canadian cities in 2008, says a senior policy analyst.

David Seymour of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy told more than 20 Central Alberta politicians and municipal staff on Tuesday that Red Deer is a “major, major capital expenditure city.”

He also touted Red Deer as being one of Canada’s best when it comes to the reporting and disclosure of financial statements.

Seymour unveiled in Red Deer the centre’s third annual Local Government Performance Index, a report he authored that compares each of 88 municipalities’ revenues, expenditures, and capital and financial assets with regional averages.

To account for the different sizes of communities, the figures were normalized on a per household basis.

The city’s capital expenditures were 51 per cent above the regional average.

“The Prairie average is very high compared with the rest of Canada — this shows that Red Deer is one-and-a-half times the Prairie average and so even though we don’t do comparitive rankings, I would suspect Red Deer would be the largest capital expenditure municipality in Canada for 2008,” said Seymour of Regina.

City manager Craig Curtis said 2008 was a big capital year for the city because that’s when it built its large civic yards.

“If you went this year, we’d probably be one of the lower ones,” Curtis said. “As (Seymour) was also saying, it changes year to year.”

Seymour said Red Deer is also a major user of contracted services by outside bodies.

“It’s one of only a few cities across Canada which contracts out its planning department,” he said.

Red Deer’s use of contracted services run 48 per cent above the national average. A national average was used because due to varied reporting methods, it was difficult to construct a regional average.

The Prairie region includes Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, St. Albert, Strathcona County, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (includes Fort McMurray), Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon.

Red Deer contracts its planning services to Parkland Community Planning Services.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said some discussion on planning services will come forward to council on Monday.

“It’s one of the issues that is being reviewed,” he said.

While Red Deer was higher for contracted services and capital expenditures, it performed well in other areas.

The Prairie average for net taxation is $3,113 per household, so Red Deer’s net taxation is 72 per cent of the average.

“If you are in favour of low property taxes, then Red Deer would be one of the better cities in the Prairies,” said Seymour.

Red Deer also ranks better than the regional average in attaining government grants. Its long-term debt is slightly below average.

The city tied with Richmond, B.C. and Calgary for ninth spot out of 75 Canadian cities on the reporting of audited financial statements. Annual reports were studied for completeness of accounting, additional useful accounting information and general reporting on non-financial activities.

“We believe Red Deer is one of the cities that is leading the charge of Canadian cities in getting this right,” Seymour said.

Councillor Larry Pimm was impressed overall.

“When Red Deer does well, that is very encouraging,” Pimm said.

“They are fairly objective,” said Flewwelling, regarding the Frontier Centre data.

Seymour said the report isn’t meant to indict cities, but to open up discussion.

“We understand there are extreme and variable conditions that municipalities face,” he added.

The report is available online at www.fcpp.org

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

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