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Campbell River among B.C.’s best for spending, but don’t get too excited

Fiscally average is just fine with Andy Laidlaw.

In terms of spending and taxation, our community sits somewhere in the middle of other comparable municipalities, according to Campbell River’s city manager.

“It’s always good to be on the good side of a list…but we’re pretty average,” he said Tuesday.

The list Laidlaw refers to is the sixth edition of the B.C. Municipal Spending Watch compiled by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The fiscally-conservative group is advocating for “responsible spending” and has compiled a best-to-worst list in B.C. which it released Monday.

For the period ranging from 2000-2011, Campbell River – drum roll please – had one of the best ranks in the province for B.C.

Using spending and population data, and creating an inverse scale of 1-to-153 (153 ranked communities, with 1 being worst and 153 best), Campbell River was ranked at 130, or fifth best in the province for large municipalities. That’s also a 10-point improvement over last year’s report.

By comparison, Nanaimo and Parksville are among the leaders province-wide with respective rankings of 143 and 152. The “worst” was Langford with 18 and next on the list was Penticton at 41.

As Laidlaw said though, it’s nice to be on the good side of the list, but he’s not doing cartwheels in his city hall office.

Here’s what he had to say about the criteria used to generate the federation’s results, “Very highly suspect.”

Laidlaw, who’s well-familiar with the annual report, then took a “wild guess” and said West Vancouver and North Vancouver are also among the so-called worst in the province for municipal spending.

He wasn’t far off as the two affluent communities ranking fourth and sixth respectively for worst in B.C. Rounding out the low-five were Langley and Kelowna.

Laidlaw said the report can be used as a sort of benchmark, but it’s really about choice. For instance, he pointed out, West Vancouver chooses to have its own police, fire and bus services, because it can afford to do so, and the same goes for other affluent communities.

By contrast, small communities on Vancouver Island are also among the worst. In descending order from worst to best in B.C.: Sooke leads the way at sixth worse; Tahsis, seventh; Sayward, 14th; Zeballos, 17th, Port Alice, 32nd; Port Hardy, 75th; Victoria, 85th; Gold River, 87th; Cumberland, 89th; Comox, 116th; Courtenay, 136th; Port McNeill, 147th; and Qualicum Beach, 151st.

“The vast majority of B.C.’s municipalities have charted an unsustainable course over the past decade,” said Mike Klassen, the federation’s B.C. director, in a news release. “While some city councils are working hard to get their fiscal house in order, the rest seem to be oblivious to today’s economic challenges.”

While Campbell River may be on the “good side” this year, it could take a step back in 2014, because of the infrastructure work going on downtown and other projects.

However, Laidlaw said a better benchmark for municipal spending is currently underway by the provincial government and the Municipal Auditor General. In fact, Campbell River is participating in two spending studies by the auditor general’s office and results are expected in 2014.

“The look at more precise costs,” he said.

For instance, Campbell River’s purchasing and project management will be scrutinized and compared to like-sized communities such as North Cowichan, Vernon and Mission. These results, said Laidlaw, will provide a better benchmark for communities to compare spending.

The federation’s full report is posted at www.cfib.ca/bc

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