In an era when populations are dropping and municipal budgets are rising, there is one West Kootenay community that has managed to keep its spending in check.
In fact, the Village of Fruitvale has done so well, a recent report released from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business pegged the village as the fourth best in the province in operating spending per capita, with $670 spent per person.
That fact was a real feather in the cap of Fruitvale municipal politicians as they absorbed the accolades for their thrift. Coun. Patricia Cecchini — and now mayor-elect — said the reason for keeping spending in line was having projects and services “shovel ready” for the village.
“As a result, we have been able to do most of our projects with external funding,” she said. “We aggressively go after grant money, as a council and as a staff, and we are constantly looking for projects based on what we hear as a need for the community so that we are ready for them as they come out.”
On the operational end, council and village staff kept a tight budget. The village did not raise taxes in 2009 for its 2,012 residents, keeping its $6 million budget in check. But this isn’t a no-frills community, said Cecchini.
“You want to build your community and build your community spirit, and we do so by listening to the taxpayers and finding out what their needs and wants are, then we, in turn, can come up with the projects for that and go after the grant money.”
Over the last 10 years, Fruitvale has witnessed a drop in population of three per cent, while spending increased by 17 per cent, ranking it at 40th in the province. Close behind Fruitvale in 2009 spending was Montrose at $881 per person (15th) and Warfield at $890 (16th).
The report “B.C. Municipal Spending Watch report for 2000-2009” ranked all West Kootenay municipal governments with 153 communities across the province in per capita spending, as well as spending over the last 10 years.
Operating spending in the report represents spending on ongoing programs and services for residents, excluding capital spending.
For some the news isn’t so good.
At the head of the big spender list for the West Kootenay was the City of Nelson with $2,588 in operating spending per capita doled out in 2009. Nelson held the rank of second highest in its municipal ranking of populations between 5,000 and 9,999 — and 16th highest overall out of 153 B.C. communities — according to the report.
Right behind them on the West Kootenay short list was the City of Trail, with $1,888 spent per capita in 2009 in municipal spending (117th in the province). Castlegar kept their per capita spending down to $1,339 (73), while Creston was only $1,178 per capita for a ranking of 53.
But Trail chief administrative officer Dave Perehudoff cautioned against reading too much into the report, and the way the CFIB did its ranking.
He said it was questionable as to how it made its rankings, since a lot of city services were not dictated by population growth; there were a lot of fixed costs thrown into the mix.
“With that, costs are going to increase regardless of your population growing,” he said. “This isn’t totally indicative of measuring how well a community is doing or not doing because of numerous issues.”
Trail goes through an exhaustive process with their budget but there are costs — like the RCMP — that are out of their control. Despite a drop in population, there is no way to cut their costs to reflect a drop in the budget to operate.
“We have to absorb those costs and balance the budget from within,” he said.
The highest per capita spending community in B.C. was Whistler at $6,306 per person, while Coldstream was the least at $541.
Trail fared worse than its two river valley brethren in the last 10 years, however, with its spending increasing by 21 per cent, while its population dropped six per cent. That ranked Trail in 56th place compared to the rest of the province.
Down the road in Nelson, population grew by seven per cent between 2000 to 2009, while real operating spending growth increased by only 13 per cent. That meant a real operating spending per capita growth of five per cent in a decade, the 16th best ratio in the province.
Castlegar was 21st in the province in the same category over the last 10 years, with population growth of 10 per cent and a real operating spending growth of 21 per cent, giving it a 10 per cent operating spending per capita growth.
In most smaller centres in the region, population has been dropping but spending has risen, possibly to maintain the services it has historically enjoyed.
The Slocan Valley community of Silverton had the highest operating spending per capita in 2009 out of any West Kootenay community under 5,000 population at $1,848, which ranked it 113th out of 153 communities across the province.
Salmo came in at $968 (23), Kaslo was $1,031 (31), New Denver was $1,109 (42), Rossland $1,272 (67), Slocan was $1,476 (91) and Nakusp was $1,658 (98) in per capita spending in 2009.
Over the last 10 years, Kaslo was the eighth lowest in the province in its real operating spending growth per capita, spending growing by only nine per cent despite its population growing by 13 per cent.
Rossland also earned a tip of the hat as the ninth ranked community, with its population decreasing four per cent but reducing their spending by seven per cent. Montrose was right behind with a population drop of four per cent and spending growth of 16 per cent.
Warfield saw its population go up by one per cent while municipal spending leapt by 26 per cent in the last 10 years — putting the community at 49th. In the last 10 years, Silverton’s population dropped by 11 per cent, while municipal spending rose 14 per cent, for a 57th place in real operating spending per capita growth.
Nakusp’s population also dropped, by 10 per cent since 2000, and its spending rose by 17 per cent, ranking them 63rd out of 153 communities, for a 30 per cent operating spending per capita growth.
Salmo’s population dropped eight per cent while real operating growth rose by 24 per cent for a 36 per cent spending versus per capita growth percentage, 81st in the province.
Slocan was one of the few communities that saw its population grown, rising 16 per cent in 10 years, however, operating spending rose by 70 per cent in that time, giving it a 42 per cent spending growth and 99th place in B.C.
New Denver was 104th in the province, despite the population dropping five per cent in 10 years. Operating spending rose by 42 per cent in that time.