In Brief: AIMS Director of Research Ian Munro speaks with the Chronicle Herald about the release of the Interim Municipal Report Card for Nova Scotia. Munro emphasizes that the goal of the Interim Report Card is to highlight the knowledge gaps.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has combed through spending and service statistics for each of Nova Scotia’s 55 municipalities.

The institute’s biggest finding, so far, is that a lot of them don’t keep track of the most basic information.

“There are some other places that are simply doing a better job of putting lots of information, and useful information, out there, and in a more timely manner,” Ian Munro, director of research, said in a phone interview Thursday.

“If we can highlight some of these knowledge gaps, we hope that will cause citizens to ask their municipal administrations to provide new and better information in the future.”

Only 21 of the province’s 55 municipalities have basic crime statistics, with no rural areas keeping track.

The institute also had difficulty finding the size of each municipality’s staff, statistics on the amount of fire damage in each area, as well as numbers on building permits and construction.

The findings are part of the institute’s interim municipal report card, released Thursday. It compiles information on subjects like governance, police and fire service, taxation and recreation facilities.

AIMS used provincial government numbers gathered between 2004 and 2006. The final report will be released before this year’s municipal elections in November, and will have letter grades and rankings for each municipality.

The report hopes “to get information into people’s hands, so they have a better sense of how their own municipal governments are performing,” said Mr. Munro. “What they’re doing well, what they’re not doing so well.

“It also gives people an opportunity to see how the town down the road or in the next county is doing.”

Mr. Munro said a similar study would be much easier in a province like Ontario, where statistics on everything from snow removal speed to the number of sewer backups is mandatory.

The lack of information in Nova Scotia, coupled with the refusal of most municipalities to participate in the study, makes it difficult to judge performance.

“It’s always the case that when you’re shining the spotlight on people, some people don’t like to have the spotlight shone on them,” said Mr. Munro.

Researchers understand different municipalities have different priorities and spend accordingly, said Mr. Munro.

Things like demographics, affluence and education will be considered when communities are graded.

AIMS is considering not only how much money a municipality spends, but also the quality of service they get for their cash.

“Some towns may prefer to spend more on a particular service and receive a high level of service,” said Mr. Munro. “Other town’s citizens may choose to spend not so much on a particular service, but also keep their tax bills lower. And those are perfectly valid choices for both towns to make.”

The heads of some municipalities aren’t sure if giving letter grades and rankings are a good idea.

Pictou County Warden Allister MacDonald wonders if it’s possible to compare service in his rural county to a huge city like Halifax Regional Municipality.

“Each municipal unit has its own concerns and problems,” Mr. MacDonald said over the phone.