Grande Prairie’s population grew about 37 per cent between 2004 and 2014, but the city’s operational budget grew by 126 per cent. That’s caused some concern from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which recommends keeping spending increases to the rate of population growth. Director of Provincial Affairs Amber Ruddy says that kind of pace leads to higher tax rates.
“Taxes have to be paid to cover these increased spending priorities, and in many cases businesses pay a lot more than residents on the same assessed property value. Business owners are more than willing to pay their fair share, but at some point we have to assess what those dollars are going toward.”
She argues that’s often the wages, salaries and benefits of government workers. The CFIB recommends keeping spending increases to the rate of population growth.
“In Grande Prairie, it’s gone up 3.4 times faster than that, and that’s why this report raises some questions. We want to make sure that local governments are reviewing their core services, making sure that they’re focusing on the necessary features of a local government.”
Ruddy applauds the city for leaving some staff positions vacant, but says they should look at whether contracting out some services could save money. Its real operating spending per capita in 2014 was $2,016.
GP is ranked 130th out of 180 Alberta municipalities on sustainable spending. It was 124th in 2015 and 138th in 2014. Mayor Bill Given has previously criticized the report, as it bases the city’s population on 2011 numbers, when there was significant growth in the years following.
The County of Grande Prairie is even further down the list at 150th. Its population grew 30 per cent over 10 years, while spending increased 67 per cent. Per capita spending was $2,558.
96 per cent of Alberta municipalities are considered to be overspending. Spirit River is the highest ranked spot in the Peace region at 17th. In 2015 the Town of Sexsmith was named as one of only three municipalities in Alberta to keep spending on operations at or below population and inflation growth. It has dropped to 44th.