Metro Vancouver municipalities vary wildly in how much they spend and tax, according to an analysis released by the Fraser Institute as local election campaigns intensify.
The report found West Vancouver, New Westminster and Vancouver are the cities that spent the most per resident in 2012, while Surrey, Maple Ridge and Port Coquitlam spent the least.
The disparity ranged from a high of $2,118 per person in tony West Vancouver to a low of $951 in Surrey.
Charles Lammam, lead author of Comparing Local Government Finances in Metro Vancouver, said the aim is to make it easier for voters to compare their city to others as they decide which candidates should represent them for the next four years.
“We’re trying to shed light on what is otherwise a black hole when it comes to comparing local government finances,” he said.
Lammam acknowledged there are many reasons for the differences – some cities simply decide their residents want different service levels from their neighbours and are willing to pay more for them.
“People will vote with their feet,” he said. “They’ll move to jurisdictions that have local governments that align with their preferences.”
Average spending per resident by each city in the region ranges from a low of $951 per person in Surrey to a high of $2,118 in West Vancouver. Image: Fraser Institute.
Delta is one of the municipalities Lammam points to as having much higher levels of spending and taxation than Surrey, despite being right next door.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, who has been acclaimed for another term without challenge, said Delta’s stand-alone police department is a key difference from Surrey that her residents would never give up.
Delta has long outspent Surrey on policing, delivering “no call too small” service.
“Our people want to have the best emergency services we can provide and we are doing that,” Jackson said, who cautioned against “apples and oranges” comparisons.
According to the data compiled by the Fraser Institute, Delta spends $567 per resident each year for protective services – fire and police – while Surrey’s cost per person is $347.
But Surrey’s $220 relative savings per capita on fire and police may shrink, however.
Most candidates for Surrey council are promising to hire dozens more officers after a string of violent murders over the past year pushed crime to the top of the civic agenda.
The report shows West Vancouver spends twice the Metro average on parks and recreation at $570 per person versus $284 regionally and just $153 in Surrey.
Vancouver spends the most on general government – $270 compared to a Metro average of $176 and $81 in Surrey, while solid waste and utilities spending is highest on the North Shore.
The per person spending statistics don’t mean that’s how much each resident is actually taxed for services.
In fact, taxes are spread out over business and industry as well, and revenue comes into city halls from other sources too.
Surrey has by far the lowest taxes on a per resident basis ($574 compared to a Metro average of $900.)
That’s been enabled in part because Surrey’s revenues have been supercharged by growth, with $1.2 billion flowing from development fees over the 10 years to 2012, a period that saw the city’s population leap by 113,000, absorbing a third of Metro’s growth.
Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and Langley Township have also relied more heavily on development fees, according to the report, which cautioned that can drive housing prices higher and reduce affordability.
Other user fees and sales of civic services also add up – New Westminster generates more from those fees, which include pay parking charges, than it does from property tax.
The findings flag Burnaby as having the highest reliance on business taxes in the region – 52 per cent of its property tax come from business.
But that could mainly indicate Burnaby is a popular place for businesses to locate, with its central geography.
Burnaby’s businesses are not the most highly taxed in the region – the city ranks close to the Metro average, although its industrial property tax rate is the second highest after Port Moody.
Businesses pay the highest property tax rates in Coquitlam, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, and the least in Surrey and Richmond.
Residential tax rates are actually highest in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Langley City – where they are applied against relatively low assessed home values compared with other parts of the region – while rates are lowest in the priciest areas: West Vancouver, Richmond and Vancouver.