In Brief: This article in the Cape Breton Post takes a look at the AIMS Interim Municipal Report Card. It points out that the combined transfer payments from all levels of government are highest in the province’s three amalgamated municipalities.

SYDNEY — Comparing Nova Scotia’s 55 municipalities on a variety of factors, a Halifax-based conservative think-tank suggests the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s financial situation isn’t unique when compared to other regions in the province.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies released its interim municipal report card with a message from its vice-president Charles Cirtwill that municipal amalgamation just isn’t working.

“It shows that amalgamation was a bad idea,” Cirtwill said from Halifax, Monday. “If you’re a taxpayer in Yarmouth and your tax money is being spent in Sydney or Halifax, yeah it is a bad idea.”

The report found that direct federal and provincial transfers without conditions ranked the CBRM third, behind the Region of Queens and Halifax Regional Municipality. The average transfer per capita between 2004 and 2006 was $488 in the CBRM. In Queens it was $774 per capita and transfers to Halifax was recorded at $566 per capita.

Those figures are suspect to the CBRM, according to its economic development manager John Whalley. Whalley said Halifax, being the richest municipality in the province, doesn’t receive transfers from the province.

“HRM is not receiving municipal equalization transfers at all. God only knows how they’re calculating that figure,” he said.

Whalley points to the average total revenue per capita after equalization is factored in as an example. There is a $924 per capita in the CBRM (ranked 38 among municipalities), while the figure is substantially higher in Halifax at $1,543.

“The stated purpose of equalization is to ensure equal capacity (and) with comparable tax rates you should have a comparable ability to spend on goods and services publicly,” said Whalley, who noted AIMS has a long history as an opponent to the system of equalization.
“This chart is showing . . . that there is a $600-per-capita difference in revenue annually (between CBRM and HRM), which is a $60-million gap. It suggests that the current equalization system is not working.”

The CBRM’s average debt load per capita between 2004-06 is $316 — ranking it in 24th place.

Nova Scotia’s first municipal report card, which will be released later this summer, will compare all of the province’s municipalities across a range of factors that include governance, taxation, police and fire services, transportation, water, sewage, waste disposal, economic development and recreation and culture.

AIMS, which calls itself “an independent, non-partisan, social and economic policy think-tank,” expects the final report card will also grade and rank municipalities.

“This kind of adjusted exercise that we’re doing will allow people to have a fair comparison to look at Sydney, to take a look at the special circumstances, whether it’s a struggling economy, whether its distance from major urban centres and adjust for those things and decide, based on the numbers that we have available to us, whether or not the taxes and the transfers and the other service levels are appropriate,” Cirtwill said.