05/30/2012 10:27 EDT | Updated 07/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Metro Vancouver spending outpacing other governments

Municipal spending in Metro Vancouver has far outpaced other levels of government and it's local taxpayers who've had to pay for it, according to a provincial business group.

The Business Council of B.C. says local spending in the region rose 32 per cent between 2000 and 2010, when adjusted for population growth and inflation.

The report, released Tuesday, says spending in the 22 municipalities that comprise Metro Vancouver outpaced that of the provincial government, which has increased real per capita spending 10 per cent over the same period.

BCBC spokesman Jock Finlayson said that in addition to the high spending increases, he was also surprised by the differences among municipalities in terms of level of spending per resident.

“There’s more variation than we expected to see as you go from city to city, given that we’re all living in an integrated urban region that has similar services,” Finlayson said.

In 2010, Surrey spent about $750 per person for municipal services, which was the lowest in Metro Vancouver. West Vancouver’s spending was highest, at $2,043 per person.

Finlayson blames rising labour costs and growing revenue from property tax for the steady increase in city spending.

“Continuous increases in property tax in Metro Vancouver over the last decade have provided a reliable stream of revenue, sparing metro area municipalities from much of the fiscal restraint pressures experienced by other levels of government.”

While overall tax revenue has increased in many municipalities due to rising property values, the tax rates in those same municipalities have remained static or even decreased over the last 10 years.

Offloading from other levels

However, Simon Fraser University urban studies Professor Patrick Smith does not share the BCBC’s view of the spending increases.

“Part of it is just groaning from the ‘We need less government’ crowd,” Smith said. “Municipal governments spend less than 10 cents of every tax dollar in our governing and they’re pretty efficient.”

Smith views the increases in spending as a product of offloading from the provincial and federal governments.

“Municipalities have to take on things that citizens feel are important and that senior governments have simply abandoned in their quest to balance their budgets,” he said.

Smith points to issues like chronic homelessness and the recent Kitsilano coast guard station shutdown as examples where municipalities are being forced to step in for other levels of government.

“Cities are now providing what many would consider essential services,” Smith said. “In many instances they haven’t formally downloaded [the responsibilities] onto municipalities — they’ve just abandoned it.”