Saskatchewan is growing and needs to spend more money on things such as roads and sewers to accommodate more people.
Few would argue with that claim.
But given some of the huge tax increases municipalities are passing on to taxpayers, one can rightly ask – why are the tax increases so high? What are municipalities doing with all the buckets of money the provincial government has been giving them?
Consider that Regina recently passed a 5.88 per cent property tax increase and Saskatoon passed a 7.43 per cent increase. Look around the province and you will probably find similar, large increases by municipalities this year or within the past couple years.
Yet, both Regina and Saskatoon have benefitted from huge increases in funding from the provincial government. In fact, almost every municipality in the province is much further ahead than they were six years ago.
In 2007-08, Regina and Saskatoon received $15.7 million and $17.8 million respectively from the provincial government under the Municipal Revenue Sharing program. The program uses a formula to transfer the equivalent of one point of the province’s five per cent provincial sales tax.
As of 2013-14, the annual funding to both major cities has skyrocketed; $41.0 million for Regina and $47.3 million for Saskatoon. That’s an increase of more than 160.
Looking at the province overall, transfers from the Wall government to municipalities have increased by 108 per cent since 2007-08; well above the rate of inflation; even when you account for population growth. In total, the Wall government transferred $264 million to municipalities this year.
You’re probably wondering “what’s the catch?” There must have been a number of big losers from the arrangement right? After all, many municipal leaders routinely claim they don’t have enough money. But there isn’t a catch. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation looked at government data posted online and calculated that only seven of the 797 municipalities listed in the province’s data tables received less in 2013-14 than they did in 2007-08.
So here is where you come in. If your municipality has been hiking taxes substantially, or if it has been crying that it doesn’t receive enough money from the provincial government, go to the provincial government’s Municipal Relations page online and look up the numbers for your municipality. Then try asking your municipal politicians – “what have you done with the extra money?”
Have they used it to grow their bureaucracy? Big wage hikes? Have the funds been spent on something that isn’t really a necessity for the community?
Perhaps your municipality is one of the ones that haven’t bothered doing anything about the Municipal Employees Pension Plan problem. The amounts municipalities have had to contribute per employee (in dollars) skyrocketed by 51 per cent from 2010 to 2013. That’s the type of problem that needs to be addressed so that provincial funding doesn’t get flushed down the drain on pension costs rather than being used for infrastructure.
Conversely, if your municipality is a lean, mean operation machine and can point to recently paved roadways or a sewer system upgrade as examples of putting provincial dollars to good use, give your elected officials a pat on the back.
One thing is clear; municipalities can hardly blame the Wall government. When it comes to cutting them cheques, the provincial government has been more than generous.
Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation