Provincial scoring of municipal finances doesn't necessarily add up to reality, mayors say

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TRURO - They may all have a few red marks on their provincial report cards, but the mayors of Truro, Stewiacke and Colchester County each say there is no real cause for alarm.

Wendy Robinson

"It depends on how you are interpreting the numbers," Stewiacke Mayor Wendy Robinson said, of the online reports released by the province as a way to "help alert the public to financial difficulties" faced by local governments.

"So one of our red lines talks about whether we have money in the capital savings department," Robinson said, of the provincial score of 0 the town received under the five-year contributions to capital reserves category.

The zero score compares to a 13.8 average mark that towns received across the province, but Robinson said the scoring method doesn't really reflect an accurate picture for Stewiacke.

"We do have reserves but we put them in the operating side of things because it is easier to get at," she said. "So we have money saved, it's just in a different bank account."

The municipal indicator scores are shown through both numbers and colour coding, with green used to indicate that a given town or municipality meets both a threshold and a town average. Yellow means a given community meets the town threshold but does not meet the town average, while red means it does not meet the town threshold.

Stewiacke's total score includes seven red lines, five greens and three yellow.

"We always run a balanced budget," Robinson said, adding that while the town has a smaller commercial base than some communities, it is well poised for future growth and the existing commercial and residential base provides more than enough revenue to meet current demands.

"So we feel quite comfortable looking to the future," she said.

The County of Colchester received a score totalling nine yellows, three greens and three reds.

But as with Robinson's assessment, Mayor Bob Taylor said the scoring results don't necessarily translate into a true, up-to-date picture of the municipality's finances.

"I don't know how they extrapolate the figures," he said, especially given that the information used for the report cards is more than two years old.

"It's like a snapshot in time," he said. "Pretty well everything we had, there's a good explanation for it."

A case in point is Colchester's score for reliance on government transfer, for which it received a yellow. The rural municipality threshold for that category is below 15, with the rural municipal average for that category set at 4.9. Colchester received a 7.7 score.

"But that was the year we got the funds from the feds and the province for the civic centre," Taylor said.

While the scores may be useful to a point, Truro Mayor Bill Mills also expressed some skepticism about their overall accuracy.

"Truro's in pretty good shape and we're well aware of where we are as far as our debt levels are concerned," he said, of the town's 1.7 or yellow score for outstanding debt, compared to town average of 1.3.

"My first response is these are indicators and they are essentially about two-and-a-half, three-years-old," he said.

The town received nine greens, four yellows and two reds on its report card.

And while Mills acknowledged that Truro will have to "pull back in some areas" as far as major capital projects are concerned, "for the most part, all of our ducks are lined up."

"We are staying the course," he said. "The good thing is, the library's is the last town-owned building that will need attention on the scale that we have been dealing with over the years."

But at the end of the day, Mills said, quoting a favourite phrase of a former town CAO: "Things could be a hundred times better and a million times worse."

The full municipal scoring indicators are available online at: http://novascotia.ca/dma/finance/indicator/fci.asp .

hsullivan@trurodaily news

Twitter: @tdnharry

 

 

Organizations: Robinson's

Geographic location: Stewiacke, Colchester

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