The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Municipal Performance Report compares the efficiency of cities, towns and villages on a level playing field. Some of the towns and villages come out on top – and among New Brunswick‘s major cities, Saint John gets slammed. Out of 94 communities, the port city ranked 82nd.


The report card backs up what Saint John residents have been saying all along: council has a lot to learn about value for money.


Perhaps council could take lessons from the leaders of smaller jurisdictions. According to AIMS‘ survey, three of New Brunswick‘s best-managed municipalities have fewer than 900 residents. The top 10 communities all have populations of less than 2,500.


These jurisdictions have learned it’s possible to deliver effective services while living within one’s means.


In Saint John, being the province’s oldest incorporated city, its largest city and its top economic performer seems to have gone to politicians’ heads. Without a second thought, successive councils have accepted a sprawling workforce and paid out top dollar for services that are no better than those offered in other cities.


The high cost Saint John pays for policing, fire fighting and other services has helped push its municipal property taxes to the highest in the province. So much has been invested in inflating the cost of labour, that it has become routine for managers to complain they can’t cut costs without reducing services.


That’s not a refrain heard as often in smaller centres, where limited budgets pressure councils to deliver real value for money.


The leaders of a municipality with 900 residents can’t fly by the seat of their pants. They can’t borrow the money to build oversized public structures. They need to plan for every major improvement and budget precisely for every priority.


Saint John isn’t alone when it comes to loose management. Some municipalities didn’t provide researchers with enough data to evaluate, including Quispamsis – the fast-growing community in Atlantic Canada. But there is a lesson in these statistics that every growing community should heed.


Taxpayers don’t care whether you’re the biggest. They want services that get the job done, at a price they can afford.