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Think tank says Metro Vancouver cities have spending problem

Protective services – including police – is the top category for Metro Vancouver municipal spending, according to a Fraser Institute report.  - Black Press file photo
Protective services – including police – is the top category for Metro Vancouver municipal spending, according to a Fraser Institute report.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

A new report by the Fraser Institute argues Metro Vancouver municipalities have enough money – they just spend it too fast.

The right-wing policy think tank tracked spending over 10 years and found total spending by the region's 21 member cities soared from $1.9 billion in 2002 to $3.3 billion in 2012.

That 74 per cent increase was more than double the combined rate of growth of population and inflation. Civic revenues grew 86 per cent over the same period.

“If Metro Vancouver municipalities feel like they’re experiencing a fiscal squeeze, it’s certainly not from a lack of revenue," said study co-author Charles Lamman. "The real problem at the municipal level is poor control of spending."

The report notes municipal spending in the region has grown much faster than that of the B.C. and federal governments.

Lamman said residents should question the value they get for municipal spending as the big increases often may not translate into more or higher quality services.

While property taxes have grown relatively slowly, the study noted other sources of revenue have climbed quickly, including transfers from other governments.

One source the report said has climbed considerably are fees charged to developers, which it said could – if passed on to homeowners – artificially jack up the price of housing in Metro Vancouver.

A big part of the increased spending reflects the growing population and services required in the region.

The report shows that on a per capita basis, civic spending per person in Metro is up from $1,088 in 2002 to $1,384 in 2012, but has been relatively unchanged since 2009.

As of 2012, it found nearly 31 per cent of the average Metro municipality's budget went to protective services like fire and police, 21.5 per cent went to solid waste and utilities, 20.5 per cent was for parks, recreation and culture, 12.7 per cent went to general government, 8.7 per cent was for transportation and 5.6 per cent went to other items.

The study examined only civic governments, not the Metro Vancouver regional district itself or TransLink spending.

Municipal representatives have taken issue with similar reports before, saying they are simplistic and fail to reflect the reality of challenges like government downloading and rapidly rising costs in areas cities have little control, such as policing.

Metro cities spending | Create Infographics
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