City's spending direction draws commendation

A small-business advocacy has heaped a degree of praise on Prince George in its most recent survey of municipal efforts to contain spending.

In a report the Canadian Federation of Independent Business issued Wednesday - and less than six weeks before the general voting day for the province's civic elections - the city was singled out for reducing spending on a per capita basis during the 2015-16 fiscal year.

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While the city's population declined by 1.4 per cent, its spending when adjusted for inflation declined by 1.8 per cent, the CFIB found. In contrast, Burnaby and North Vancouver increased spending despite declines in their populations.

"Prince George's ability to decrease spending indicates they may have better practices in place to control spending growth than Burnaby and the City of North Vancouver, and should be commended," the report's authors said.

The comment is in marked contrast to the assessment given to Prince George in last year's report, when the CFIB ranked Prince George as the worst performer among the province's 20 largest municipalities for 2014-15.

While population was recorded to have fallen by three per cent, spending rose three per cent. That prompted Coun. Garth Frizzell, who chairs the city's finance and audit committee, to question the CFIB's methodology, noting it was using out-of-date population figures.

Reached Wednesday, Frizzell gave a measured response to the most recent outcome.

"The CFIB, the way it does its analysis, leaves a lot of questions - it always has so I wasn't ready so say we had an atrocious problem when they said that and I'm not ready to scream success when they say we have made all of these advances this time," he said.

"But there is good news. Maybe their system is showing the indications of what we've seen - with the utility rates staying at zero per cent for so many years and with the tax rate this time being under the rate of inflation, plus paying down all that debt over the past five years, maybe the real numbers that we've got are affecting how they do their analysis and the process they use."

The trend for 2015-16 helped improve Prince George's ranking among the province's 20 largest municipalities when spending over a 10-year period, from 2006 to 2016, was taken into account. The city placed 10th best, up from 16th in last year's report.

However, only eight out of B.C.'s 152 municipal governments have kept operational spending at or below levels of inflation plus population growth over the decade examined and no major municipal government with more than 25,000 residents made the list.

Among B.C.'s largest municipalities, Port Coquitlam remained the top performer, as real operating spending per capita grew by 7.6 per cent during 2006-16. In contrast, Prince George's grew 14.6 per cent.

As well, the city's per capita spending in 2016 stood at $1,810, up by $16 from the year before, or 0.9 per cent before inflation is take into account.


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