by David Shipley
MONCTON – A new interim report on cities, towns and villages in New Brunswick may prompt voters to ask tough questions about the quality of service they receive from their local government.
The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies report, obtained exclusively by the Telegraph-Journal, gathers a range of measurements – from average tax burden to average fire and police expenses as well as recreation and culture spending – together in a series of easy to understand tables.
Titled, Having Your Say, the report shows Sackville has the highest average residential tax burden in the province at $2,194, followed closely by Dieppe at $2,000.
The lowest average residential tax burden was in Belledune at $490.
The provincial average residential property tax burden is $1,078.
Charles Cirtwill, executive vice-president of the Halifax-based think tank, said it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that a community like Dieppe could have the second-highest average tax burden in the province.
“It may well be that what you find in Dieppe are all the high-end houses. So if you’ve got a centre point of say 200 homes that average in price around $500,000, well then your average tax burden is going to be higher,” he said. “You would expect to see bedroom communities like Dieppe, if in fact that’s what that they’re doing, serving as bedroom communities, to have a little bit higher tax burden.”
Understanding what the average tax burden is in different communities will help citizens judge the services they’re receiving for the money they’re paying, he said.
“The question for the people living in those suburbs is ‘What are we getting for all that money?’ “
While the report will help voters ask questions about the value they receive for their tax dollars, it provides few indications on the efficiency of municipal services.
“We were surprised with how few effectiveness measures there are,” said Cirtwill.
“There’s a lot of information in New Brunswick around how much things cost and that’s good. But it’s an awful lot harder to answer the question ‘What are we getting for that money and are we getting value for that money and are other municipalities getting better value?’ “
Cirtwill said he’s confident municipalities in the province know or have a pretty good idea about the quality of the services they provide, information he’s hoping they’ll provide to the think-tank to help complete the final report card.
Voters, he said, may be able to help encourage their local government to provide such information.
“One of the objectives of this exercise is to speak to average New Brunswickers about what is available to them about their municipalities. It may well be that voters look at this and say ‘Well, that’s all I need to know.’ It may well be there are other voters who say ‘That’s nice to know how much, but I want to know how much I get for it and are you or are you not Mr. or Mrs. candidate, going to tell me?'”