SAINT JOHN – The grades are in, and Saint John is wearing a dunce cap.

The province’s biggest city is wholly unlike keeners St. Martins and Grand Manan, two small local communities near the top of the class in a new report card on municipal performance in New Brunswick.

The study by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, an independent think tank in Nova Scotia, shows a wide discrepancy on how well local governments serve their citizens in the Saint John area.

The villages of St. Martins and Grand Manan scored fourth and fifth, respectively, out of 94 municipalities surveyed, good enough for a grade of B.

Scraping the bottom were the town of St. George (81st overall), the city of Saint John (82nd overall) and the village of Norton (88th overall), all earning a grade of C.

The AIMS report, officially released this morning, is meant to be a handy guide for taxpayers, grading communities based on how efficiently and effectively they delivered services over three years, from 2005 to 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.”

In general, the study found that smaller communities consistently delivered better results. Each of the top 10 had populations of less than 2,500.

Out of the three big cities, however, Saint John was still dead last, behind Fredericton (22nd overall) and Moncton (53rd).

Some municipalities, such as the town of Quispamsis and the village of Sussex Corner, did not receive a ranking or grade because the report’s authors couldn’t get enough data.

“Municipalities like to call themselves ‘special’ or different,” said AIMS executive vice president Charles Cirtwell in a press release. “They say you can’t compare them to others because they have different accounting practices, service demands or climate.”

However, the report’s authors – Cirtwell, Holly Chisholm and Rick Audus – tried to be fair by providing a grade based on a particular municipality’s overall, or ‘absolute,’ ranking and its unique, or ‘in context’, situation.

The ‘absolute’ rankings were based on how much municipalities paid, and what they received, for a variety of services. The ‘in context’ part took into consideration areas beyond a municipality’s immediate control, such as population and geographic size, debt levels and revenues.

By blending the two results, the authors came up with the overall ranking and grade.

Many communities surrounding Saint John scored above average, including the towns of St. Stephen, St. Andrews, Rothesay and Hampton, all receiving a grade of B-.

The town of Grand Bay-Westfield and the village of Blacks Harbour were closer to the middle, with a C .

Sussex also earned a C but was ranked much lower, 68th overall. The results indicate the town had a long way to go before it started cutting the tax rate heavily over the last two years, after the data was collected for this report.

Based on the report’s section ‘How to interpret the results,’ it appears St. Martins is a model community for how to deal with adversity, because it scored much higher on the “in context” measure.

Grand Manan would likely be an example of a community that “maximized its real potential” because it had good rankings on both measures.

Saint John scored below average no matter how you looked at it.