Municipal Council Gets Top Marks for Handling Taxes and Finances

Media Appearances, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

As city council prepares to tackle a draft budget with a 10.9-per-cent tax hike, a Winnipeg think-tank has given Edmonton high marks for its financial management.

“The citizens of the city of Edmonton benefit from a very solid local economic base and receive well-funded core services at modest levels of property taxation,” states a new report from the Winnipeg-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

The city’s low debt burden impressed authors Larry Mitchell and David Seymour in their examination of Canada’s 30 largest municipalities. Mitchell is a senior fellow with the conservative think-tank, Seymour a policy analyst with the organization.

Using 2005 statistics, they calculate Edmonton’s long-term debt at $1,496 per household, 46 per cent lower than the average for the eight largest cities in Canada.

“Significant municipal debt capacity is available for future investment in public infrastructure,” states the report.

Calgary, while also praised by the report for good financial management, has much higher long-term debt, at $3,843 per household.

“Municipal debt levels in Calgary, if allowed to increase further, may begin to challenge the upper limits, leaving limited scope for future investment,” warn the authors.

The most indebted city in Canada is Montreal, with a debt load per household more than five times that of Edmonton, according to the report.

The think-tank gives high marks to both Edmonton and Calgary for sticking to core services and not spending much on “niceties.” Toronto and Ottawa, it says, spend a lot on non-core services.

It estimates average property taxes in Edmonton at $1,838, which is 23 per cent lower than other large cities in the country. Calgary’s average taxes, at $2,394, are on a par with other large cities.

City council begins its budget-cutting meetings next week. The final tax rate is expected to be lower than 10.9 per cent.