Being among the biggest cities in the province apparently means nothing when it comes to efficiency and effectiveness, according to the scores compiled in a first-time report produced by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ (AIMS).

Entitled New Brunswick Municipal Performance Report, the document concludes none of the province’s top three communities have more than 900 residents.

The province’s largest city, Saint John, came in 82nd among 94 measured municipalities in the province, with an overall C grade.

Fredericton landed 22nd with a B- and Moncton came in 53rd with a C .

Moncton and Fredericton may have beat out Saint John, but the province’s big three have nothing on Florenceville, Cambridge-Narrows or Port Elgin, finishing one, two and three; all with overall B grades.

“We recognize, though, that context is going to be different,” says AIMS Executive Vice President Charles Cirtwill.

“A big city is going to have different cost drivers than a small town so we actually also report what we call an ‘in context grade,’ which adjusts for geographic size and population.”

The AIMS report is meant to be a guide for taxpayers on how efficiently and effectively their community delivered services between 2005 and 2007.

“The final overall grades and rank do not tell the whole story and must be viewed within a wider context,” the report warns.

“Ultimately, only you can decide if you are happy with the balance between what you pay your municipality in the form of taxes and user fees, and the services you receive.”

On that account, it would appear Saint John is paying far too much for far too little.

“When you look at the ‘in context’ scores “” in other words adjusting for the size of Saint John “” its level of fiscal capacity, the socio-economic status of the people who live there, and those kind of factors “” we actually saw that almost across-the-board, Saint John achieved exactly what you’d expect of a community that size,” Cirtwill says.

“Of course, then the question is, ‘is that all you want from your community?’ Do you just want them to achieve what they’re expected to be able to achieve or do you want them to achieve more?”

The problem for Saint John, Cirtwell says, came on the absolute scores, the assessment against the raw provincial average.

“In several cases they’re either spending considerably more than the provincial average on services “” for example safety and protection and economic development “” or they’re achieving considerably less than what other communities are able to achieve for the money spent.”

Saint John Mayor Ivan Court says city staff is taking a closer look at the survey to determine how the municipalities are compared and what the results really say about the Port City.

“How do you compare a municipality of 325 people with a municipality of 68,000?” he asks.

“In the smaller communities a lot of the service delivery comes from the province of New Brunswick, and when you’re dealing with cities it’s a different can of worms all together.”

The bottom line, says Cirtwill, is that taxpayers should know how much money is collected, how much money is spent, what services are provided and whether those services are effectively and efficiently delivered.

“Municipalities like to call themselves ‘special’ or different,” he says.

“If Saint John has bought into the full belief they can never learn anything from anybody who doesn’t look like them “” which I think isn’t true “” but if they do believe that, then all they need to do is look at the inputs, figure out who looks similar to them.

“That’s going to be of course Moncton or Fredericton “” and then realize even on the absolute scores they’re not doing that much better than their friends and maybe they do have some suggestions to make.”

Saint John received a D for the cost efficiency of its economic development efforts and a C for effectiveness.

That’s compared to Moncton’s B for efficiency and B- for effectiveness, and Fredericton’s C for efficiency and A- for effectiveness.

Mayor Court is baffled by the analysis.

“I can’t understand how they came up with that number when Saint John is taking off like no other city in the country is,” he says.

“Our Enterprise Saint John has been out there pounding the bushes trying to improve the situation for Saint John and we’re very pleased with the work they’re doing.”

Cirtwill says Saint John’s particularly low score for the efficiency of its economic development is due to the fact it is spending more but achieving less than the other cities.

“Quite frankly if you’re spending a considerable amount of effort, if you’re being creative, you’d hope to see a little bit better results than just average,” he says.

“So, while the economy is growing in Saint John, it’s not growing as fast as some other jurisdictions, for example Moncton.”

Cirtwill says he understands how painful it can be receiving this type of report card if your municipality does not come out on top.

“No one likes having their work graded. No one likes having to take a hard look in the mirror.”

The biggest question now, he says, is what do the mayors and administrators do next?

“Do they complain about it? Do they push it off and say it’s not true? Or do they have an honest conversation with everybody and say look, here are the things we think we need to fix, here are our plans and let’s look at where we are 12 months from now.

“I think this is a benchmark to grow from and it shouldn’t be used as an exercise to point fingers and lay blame.”