Put your finger away.
Or, if you are going to do any finger pointing in reaction to the first AIMS Municipal Performance Report then please reserve your pointing for the good things to be found in every community. Even the city of Saint John, while having generally higher taxes and higher service costs in relation to the rest of the province still performs almost exactly where you would expect a city of its size to perform in New Brunswick. Now, perhaps doing just what is expected is not a standard to which you think a city should aspire (I would agree) but it isn’t a bad place to start. And starting is exactly what this first report is all about.
The interim report card issued in May of 2008 and the first performance report issued just this week lay the benchmark for what comes next. It is what comes next that matters most and it is what comes next that the people of New Brunswick should be primarily concerned with. It is what comes next that will give you, the taxpayer, the true measure of your elected officials and the public servants who report to them and work for you.
What comes next should be better, more timely, more complete and far more accessible release of information about how your money is spent and the quality of the services you receive (and that includes those people living in, or helping to deliver services to, LSDs).
What comes next should be frank and open conversations about what can be done better and what can be learned from the things that are being done well today. What comes next should be positive, practical and useful suggestions for improvements to public reporting and to our performance report (the blank columns in this year’s report are the areas we suggest for improvement, what about you?). What comes next should be improvement of your community’s scores in next year’s performance report and in the years that follow.
But before you start to work, and yes, the work ahead is for both public officials and everyday citizens, let me make the fundamental basis of the AIMS performance report as clear as I possibly can.
First, high taxes and high spending are entirely valid choices for a community to make. In my view, the evidence is overwhelming that such an approach will not deliver vibrant, sustainable growth for your community. But, nevertheless, high taxes and high spending is a valid choice for you, the citizen to make. You make that choice by moving to a community, by staying in a community and by voting for your council member and mayor (or by not voting for them).
The municipal performance report does not penalize such a choice. It says if you make such a choice you have a right to expect a return: higher than average or higher than expected costs and taxes should result in higher than average or higher than expected services. Only where high costs and high taxes are not matched to high quality services will you see an overall decline in a community’s final score.
Similarly, if you cut corners and try to deliver services on the cheap you do not get rewarded, unless the services you are able to deliver are also of reasonable, even exceptional quality.
This is the key concept underlying the municipal performance report, regardless of your size, your location, your service model or your accounting rules; you should seek to deliver to your residents the highest quality services at the lowest possible cost. It is the towns, cities and communities who best achieve that balance who get the gold star to take home to the voter.
Charles Cirtwill is the Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, an independent, non-partisan public policy think tank based in Halifax. Its Municipal Performance Report for New Brunswick can be found on its website at