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Local governments 'fragmented', need control: Report

Suzy Hamilton
By Suzy Hamilton
September 18th, 2014

The relationship between local governments and the provincial government reached a new low this week, said RDCK area D director Andy Shadrack, when a provincial review on government wages was leaked to the public.  

The report prepared by Ernst and Young claimed that salaries and wages in local government are now higher than within core provincial government services, rising 38 percent as opposed to a rise of 19 to 24 percent for core government and public sector salaries respectively in the same time frame.

“I feel really insulted,” said Shadrack. “There wasn’t one representative of local government consulted.

“It is a sad day in BC when the provincial government feels that it has to “leak” a report that was written without a single local government being consulted about the collection of the data upon which it was based.”

The review looked at three levels of BC governmental wages: the core provincial government; the broader public sector, including teachers, social services, health care, and post-secondary education employees; and  municipality, which covered local and regional governments, fire and police.

The 88 page report found that municipalities’ approach to bargaining was “fragmented and highly inefficient,” while at the same time acknowledged that “data was not available to support robust and comprehensive analysis.”

Nonetheless, the data that was available managed to cite the village of Silverton in a list of BCs 10 worst performing municipalities, right above Sooke and below Hope.

Silverton’s mayor Kathy Provan was caught off guard by the analysis, which looked at the 2011 fiscal year.

“The only thing I can think of is that in 2011 we had some big capital projects, like the campground, arena and a $400,000 waterworks project.

“We are required by law to have a balanced budget.”

“It’s always challenging with such a small tax base,” she added. Silverton has a population of 200.

To save costs, the village applies for grants and has recently contracted the services of the Chief Financial Officer of Nelson to oversee some of the village’s financial duties, she said.

While Provan admitted she has not read the entire report, she questioned whether Silverton’s part time village staff are making more money than a ministry worker in Victoria.

“I don’t think I believe that.”

The report went on to suggest that the provincial government should centralize bargaining.

“The notion of us sitting down at the same bargaining table with Vancouver  or Surrey is just ludicrous,” said Shadrack. “That doesn’t take into account years of experience, training or complexity of the job.”

Shadrack suggested that if the provincial government wants to keep taxes down that it cease downloading services onto the local governments.

“They’ve downloaded hundreds of tasks,” he said. “For example, the regional governments are now responsible for emergency management and on the ground response.”

His opinion is shared by a report released September 18 by the Columbia Institute in Vancouver entitled “Who’s picking up the tab?”

It investigates the scale and scope of downloading onto local governments, using a new analysis of statistical and financial data, along with new information gathered from surveys of local leaders and senior staff.

“Local governments can – and do – efficiently deliver services, and are happy to take on expanded roles when given the right resources. But downloading without access to new sources of funding is stretching local government thin. It’s hitting us where we live.” said the Institute’s executive director Charley Beresford.

“Since the 1950s, Canada’s infrastructure responsibilities have shifted from the level of government with the largest and most growth-responsive revenue base — the federal government — to the level of government with the smallest and least growth-responsive revenue base — local government,” the Institute’s report stated.

“In 1955, the federal government accounted for 34 per cent of capital investment. By 2003, it had declined to 13 per cent. The municipal share increased from 27 to 48 per cent.”

Shadrack said he doesn’t know if the review and its conclusions will be on the agenda at the upcoming UBCM convention at Whistler next week (September 21-25).

But Provan said she has instructed Silverton councilors attending the convention to address the conclusions in the review.

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