Halifax – Size doesn’t seem to matter for municipalities in Nova Scotia. Big or small; there are some good and some bad.
The Nova Scotia Municipal Performance Report released today by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) shows the top 10 municipalities range from 650 to almost 370,000 people; the bottom 10 from 450 to 14,000 people.
None are great; no municipality receives an overall grade of “A”. But then none are terrible; no municipality receives a failing grade. (To view of summary of results, click here.)
However, there’s a lot missing. For some municipalities the grade is simply due to a lack of information. The data may be collected somewhere, by someone, but it isn’t considered public information even though it reflects how our tax dollars are spent.
Research for the AIMS Municipal Performance Report was, in part, made possible with support from the Nova Scotia Chambers of Commerce.
“Commercial tax rates help to support the municipal governance structure in Nova Scotia and we are fortunate to have many dedicated citizens engaged in this vital public service,” says President Dan Fougere. “It is our hope that the information set out in this performance report will provide benchmarking information to assist municipalities in sharing best practices.”
AIMS Executive Vice President Charles Cirtwill says the provincial government should be congratulated for requiring municipalities to report indicators. However, such reporting is inconsistent.
“Before AIMS began asking for the information, the Municipal Indicators had not been updated on the provincial website in three years,” he says. “After we sent letters requesting information, the index was updated, but many of the indicators are still missing.”
This missing data reflects the weakness of current public reporting. There are no penalties for a municipality that fails to report, much of the data isn’t current and we were told because all municipalities did not agree, some information would not be made public.
The top municipality is Lockeport which obtained the only “B” in Nova Scotia. Middleton, Inverness, Kings and Shelburne (Town) rounded out the top five municipalities taking 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places sharing an overall grade of “B-“. The majority of the grades for all municipalities fall into the “C+” range. There is still plenty of room for these municipalities to make improvements.
“The answer to improvement is not always in the amount of money spent but where and how it is spent,” explains Cirtwill. “In Nova Scotia there is a lack of public information for residents to determine whether they are getting value for their money.”
The final grade and rank on the Performance Report do not tell the whole story and must be viewed within a wider context. Interpreting these results requires considering all available measures and a comparison of absolute performance versus performance adjusted for context (the environment within which the municipality operates).
This context is determined by ‘Input measures’, which are factors that will influence the policy and strategies of the administration but are generally outside of the municipality’s control. We have broken these inputs into three categories: People & Place examines items like population and geographic size; Financial History considers prior fiscal performance and support coming from outside the municipality; Socioeconomic Status is an index of things like employment, unemployment and education levels, telling us about the kinds of challenges and opportunities the people in the community face on a daily basis.
The AIMS Performance Report grades municipalities based on the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery using a three year average (2005, 2006 and 2007). Efficiency examines how the municipality spends tax dollars and effectiveness examines the extent to which a service or policy achieves its intended result. These measures are further broken down into absolute, in-context and total. The absolute grades measure the performance of each municipality relative to the rest of the municipalities in the province. The in-context grades measure performance relative to reasonable expectations based on that municipality’s Input measures (explained above). In context, municipalities are expected to do at least as well as other municipalities have done in similar circumstances.
The final grade is calculated for each municipality by averaging the overall efficiency grade and the overall effectiveness grade. We do publish all available data for municipalities for which we were not able to secure a complete dataset. They are listed alphabetically at the end and are not given a final overall grade.
AIMS is an independent, non-partisan public policy think tank based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
To read the complete Nova Scotia Municipal Performance Report, click here.
To read a summary of results for Nova Scotia municipalities, click here.
To access the guide to the report, click here.
For further information, contact:
Charles Cirtwill, AIMS Executive Vice President