No Lower Mainland cities have come even close to limiting their spending to a growth rate deemed sustainable by a small business lobby group.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business released an analysis Monday that found overall municipal operating spending in the province has soared at nearly four times the combined rate of population and inflation over the past decade.
Mission – which the CFIB credits with one of the best cost-control records – still saw its spending grow at double that rate from 2000 to 2009 and almost every other city in the region increased its spending at least three times as fast.
"Municipalities are spending more than ever and faster than ever," said CFIB B.C. director Shachi Kurl. "Taxpayers can only bear so much. Things are on track to become unsustainable."
The Union of B.C. Municipalities has previously argued cities are struggling to pay more costs that are being downloaded onto them by senior government, and have little control over some escalating costs, such as policing.
But the CFIB discounts that argument, noting cities are also receiving much more in grants and transfers from Ottawa and Victoria, while also raising much more revenue directly in local fees and charges.
"We are by no means suggesting communities should sacrifice public safety," Kurl said. "There are far more places for cities to look at trimming spending and holding the line than cutting policing."
She said the CFIB would like new councils elected Nov. 19 to try harder to contain the wage and benefit demands of unionized municipal workers.
Municipal contracts are coming up for renewal and the previous bargaining round led to pre-Olympic deals that gave civic workers across much of Metro Vancouver wage hikes of at least 13 per cent over four years.
According to the BC Municipal Spending Watch 2011 report, the biggest cities in the province spent on average $1,290 per person on operating costs in 2009.
It does not include capital project spending.
The large Lower Mainland cities that spent the most per capita were West Vancouver at $1,850 per person, New Westminster at $1,697, Vancouver at $1,586, North Vancouver City at $1,466 and Delta at $1,448.
The most frugal Lower Mainland cities on a per capita basis were Surrey, which spends $856 per resident, Chilliwack at $939, followed by Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Mission, Abbotsford, Langley City and Burnaby in a range from $1,000 to $1,200.
When adjusted for inflation, those per capita spending numbers increased by at least 25 per cent over the last decade in most Lower Mainland cities and by more than 50 per cent in Abbotsford, Langley Township and Chilliwack.
The report also ranks cities on a combined measure of spending per capita and the growth in inflation-adjusted spending from 2000 to 2009.
Those rankings show Mission has performed best in keeping costs under control in the Lower Mainland, followed by Port Coquitlam, Surrey, Burnaby and Langley City.
Kurl said bigger cities have some advantages in spreading out their costs.
And she credited Burnaby council – even though it's left-leaning and labour friendly – with achieving one of the better scores.
"They're pretty hard core about defining what a core service is," Kurl said, adding it shows fiscal discipline can be achieved regardless of the political stripe of the council at city hall.
Had local city councils restrained spending to the growth of population and inflation in the last decade, the CFIB report said, a family of four would have saved $3,000 to $5,000 in most Lower Mainland cities and around $8,000 on the North Shore.
It estimates B.C. residents overall would have saved more than $4 billion over the last decade had spending been held to the recommended level.
How BC’s Largest Municipalities Spend
(population 25,000 and above, listed from Worst to Least Worst)