We’re not the best-run city in Canada, but we’re far from the worst, according to a study released this month by a Halifax think-tank. Winnipeg ranked 19th among 31 cities and scored a C+ grade in the study by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, which looked at how effectively and efficiently municipalities are spending their tax dollars.

“We consider a C+ to be an average grade for the survey, so that kind of puts Winnipeg in a big pack in the middle with a large number of cities,” Bobby O’Keefe, the institute’s research manager, said. The study, commissioned by Maclean’s, considered seven categories: governance and finance, taxation, safety and protection, transportation, environmental health, economic development and recreation and culture.

“For each of the seven categories of city services that we looked at, we looked at both spending — that’s the efficiency measure that we used — and effectiveness, which is the service level,” O’Keefe explained, noting the study was based on data from 2005-2007. “A higher grade on the spending side means your city spends less than other cities, while a higher grade on the effectiveness side means your city is providing better services.”

The best-run cities — Burnaby, B.C., Saskatoon and Surrey, B.C. — received their high scores because citizens got a bargain for their buck, O’Keefe said. “In terms of balance between spending and services, they always were on the lower end of spending and were almost always on the better end of services,” he said. “They were either spending an average amount, but still providing better services, or spending a bit less and providing average services.” Winnipeg is doing well in some regards, O’Keefe said.

In the category of environmental health, the study measured spending against the number of watermain breaks and water boil orders, plus the diversity of solid waste programs offered. “That’s actually a bright spot looking at Winnipeg,” O’Keefe said. “You’re spending a bit less than others, but (are) around average for the effectiveness side.” Winnipeg also scored third in the category that measured the administrative costs of running the city.

O’Keefe said Winnipeg is having trouble with transportation, scoring a C- in both spending and services. “That would indicate that Winnipeg is spending a bit more on transportation, for both the roads and winter clearing and (public) transit, but on the effectiveness side they’re not seeing many people using transit.”

O’Keefe cautioned that people should take the study’s finding with a grain of salt, since there’s a certain degree of subjectivity. For example, some may applaud Winnipeg’s F grade for cultural spending per capita as a sign the city is taking the arts seriously, while others may bemoan the investment and suggest the tax dollars could be spent elsewhere. “For the most part it’s up to people to decide whether they’re willing to accept lower taxes for a lower level of services, or willing to pay more to get better services.”

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said he didn’t see the survey. “One, two, three, four and five are much better than 19, and I guess 19 is much better than 27, 28, 29 and 30. What can I tell you?”