Canada is awash in reports on the fiscal health of provincial and federal governments, but putting together a full picture of the balance sheets of the country’s cities is next to impossible.
Now, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Prairie-based think tank, has begun collecting financial indicators for 30 cities. It has found that the average city raises 49 per cent of its revenue through taxation. User fees account for 23 per cent, and grants from other governments account for 16 per cent of revenues.
As for spending, the average municipality favours operational expenditures to capital expenditures by a margin of three to one. Debt is generally well under control, with the average debt position at 2.9 per cent of median household income. Still, the range is wide, with six out of 30 cities debt free, and the most indebted – Montreal – carrying $8,274 per household in long-term debt.
Toronto is the biggest spender among large cities, but property taxes per household were slightly lower in Toronto than Ottawa and Montreal. Grants from other governments help fill Toronto’s revenue gap, more so than in any other city.