The Cape Breton Post
[SYDNEY, NS] — A municipal score card released Wednesday by Halifax-based think-tank Atlantic Institute for Market Studies ranked Richmond County as the seventh best performing municipality in the province.
The second annual report gave the province’s 55 municipalities an overall letter grade score, its ranking, and graded each municipal unit based on seven factors of governance and finance, taxation, economic development, transportation, safety and protection, environment, and recreation and culture.
Municipalities found to be above average received marks of B to A+, average was rated B- and those below average were given a grade of C+ to F.
Despite the good news coming from the report, Richmond County Warden John Boudreau said he didn’t “give a hoot” about the AIMS study.
“We know where we are,” he said from Halifax. “We know our good points. We know that our taxes and our tax rate did not increase this year either for commercial or residential.
“We also know if we stay stagnant, with no growth, there’s no benefit to our tax base so we’re not going to do that, but it’s not because of AIMS.”
The think-tank, which says its focus is on social and economic policy, gave big marks to the municipality for its taxation effectiveness (A-, rank fourth) and taxation efficiency (B+, rank third).
At the top of the list were the municipalities of Stellarton, Parrsboro and Digby County.
On the other end of the spectrum, Port Hawkesbury was given an overall grade of C+ and rank of 47th.
It recorded a governance and finance efficiency grade of D and effectiveness of C-, and economic development and safety and protection were graded C+.
The town’s recreation and culture efficiency was also graded poorly with a D, landing it in 50th spot.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean said he doesn’t hold any respect for AIMS, stating his town has three per cent unemployment, the highest per capita income levels among towns in Nova Scotia, and has recently completed state-of-the-art water and sewage treatment facilities.
“The important factors we look at are based on the economy, the infrastructure you have,” said MacLean, who’s also the president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.
“If you realize we’re spending the highest per capita in recreation expenditures in the province, we’re tough staying within that level.
“And looking at our facilities for recreation from soccer to baseball to tennis and our civic centre, there would be very few communities that would ever match us.”
He said the UNSM has discredited studies by AIMS in the past, and this study is no different.
The remaining municipalities in Cape Breton — Inverness County (17th), Cape Breton Regional Municipality (30th), and Victoria County (39th) — each received a B- overall. Results in most categories for these municipalities were considered “mediocre” by AIMS.
The bottom three were the towns of Annapolis Royal, Shelburne and Oxford.
In fact, most municipalities received a grade of B- with AIMS saying the scores were a result of there “being no perfect municipality at fulfilling all of its responsibilities.”
In Richmond County, efficiency in governance and finance was graded a C for 42nd spot.
Boudreau acknowledged the municipality’s council is too large for the population it serves and said that will have to change during the next boundary review by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board in 2014.
The institute used a combination of information from the 2006 census, and the Nova Scotia municipal relations database from 2006 to 2008, said AIMS policy analyst Jamie Newman.
“We’re not saying communities are good or bad. We’re saying it’s about choices,” he said.
“It’s for citizens to say, ‘What do you believe is important?’ There’s a finite amount of tax dollars that are collected. Should we be paying more than all the other municipalities on recreation and culture, or should that be spent on filling in potholes in the roads or funding police and fire departments.”
Newman said if there is any incorrect data in the study it’s due to a municipality’s failure to report enough information to the department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
“If (municipalities) are claiming the data is faulty then it’s more of a transparency issue from their perspective that they’re not providing good data for these kinds of assessments to be conducted.”
Scores were adjusted in order to compare municipal units which ranged from the Halifax Regional Municipality with a population of more than 370,000, to the tiny town of Annapolis Royal with 444 residents, Newman added.
In releasing the data Wednesday, AIMS president Charles Cirtwell said a high bar for municipalities was set as they are expected to provide low cost, high quality services for citizens.
“With the best overall mark being a B, I think that says we have lots of room for improvement,” he said in a release.
The full report can be viewed at www.aims.ca.