In a national municipal performance report, Barrie ranked as one of the worst run cities in Canada. The first survey of its kind – published in Macleans magazine – had Barrie come in as No. 25 of 29 cities.
The city, however, has dismissed the findings.
“It was done by this outfit on the east coast. It’s an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation. You can massage numbers to say whatever you like,” said Barrie CAO Jon Babulic.
The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies examined an array of data for 31 major and regional centres; two were excluded from the ranking due to incomplete data.
The research went beyond population, socio-economics and taxes, to include spending on road maintenance, recreation and voter turnout, which highlights citizen engagement. AIMS examined efficiency – the cost of services contrasted with results; the study did not assess quality of life, but instead looked at the bang for the tax buck. Tops was Burnaby, followed by Saskatoon, Surrey and Vancouver. Among cities Barrie uses to compare itself, Guelph came in at No. 20 and Kingston, No. 28.
AIMS studied municipalities throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; it expanded its research to the national scale, and used provincial reporting programs, such as Ontario’s Municipal Performance Measurement Program.
“The initial reaction in a lot of cases is ‘we’re different, so you can’t really compare us.’ That would have been one of the roadblocks of this (research) happening sooner,” said Bobby O’Keefe, research director at AIMS.
“At the highest level, we compared spending and level of service,” he explained. “If any area is spending more, we can see if that extra spending is resulting in extra services. In a lot of cases for Barrie, what appears to be is a higher level of spending resulting in an average level (of service). It’s a case of the bang for the buck is not as great as others.”
Barrie, for example, got Fs on the effectiveness of its safety and protection spending. That means the city’s spending more than other similar municipalities, and getting the lowest results. “Spending is not showing up as a better level of service,” said O’Keefe.
That’s a sentiment many at a meeting last week on downtown crime could agree with. They claim downtown is rife with drugs, prostitution and violence; in the past month, there was a stabbing and a brutal sexual assault.
On the other extreme, Barrie topped the class with recreation and culture; there, citizens are enjoying good programs and top value for their tax dollar, as AIMS gave the city an A for effectiveness; this effectively supports last year’s study that looked at the services that make for a better quality of life: access to post-secondary education, an array of recreation programs, and arts and cultural amenities.
Last year, Barrie was quick to laud another study that ranked the city fourth nationally for quality of life. That study considered education, workplace training, social values and arts and recreation. It also concluded Barrie was a fairly cultured city, as it ranked fifth nationally for appreciation for the arts and heritage.
For more information about the survey, visit macleans.ca and search Canada’s Best and Worst Run Cities.