Running Government Like a Business
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THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO - July 13, 2018 (LSN) Charles Marohn, one of America’s leading thinkers about municipal government and the President of Strong Towns, notes in a recent article that “the goal of a city isn’t to grow; that is sometimes a happy side effect, but it’s not the objective. The goal of a city is to endure. To survive. To be around tomorrow and the day after that.”
In that article, titled “Running Government Like a Business” he makes the case that private sector principles can be brought to bear on government operations, but there is a difference:
“In the private sector, we need people who are willing to take great risks, to run the chance of failure in a competitive effort to grow. That benefits us all. In the public sector, we need people who are obsessed with stability, who shun risk with the recognition that local government is a platform for people to do good things, that the role of the city isn’t to grow but to provide the stable environment necessary for prosperity to emerge.”
In my view, therein lies the essential problem with our current city council. They are gamblers, not custodians of the public purse. They’ve spent $60 million betting our waterfront is going to be a draw for tourists from far and wide, a project that remains incomplete and with a doubtful future. Councillors spent four million dollars planning an event centre that never came to fruition. Now they want to spend millions more on a waterfront art gallery as another tourism bet of dubious benefit.
Meanwhile, these distractions left the city vulnerable. We had a flood that caused major damage to our sewage treatment plant. Our insurance company will only pay half the $60 million repair bill. Now we’re having to sue them without having a proper paper trail because we failed to hire someone to look after our interests in the repair project.
Councillors have also failed to pay attention to the stability of the city as an organization. Spending is out of control. A new study by BMA Consultants Inc. discovered that the per capita cost of running Thunder Bay’s city hall is almost double that of the average city in Ontario and much higher than Sudbury or Sault Ste. Marie in the North. You can find the numbers on the city’s own website on the ‘Performance’ page.
Meanwhile, we have some of the highest property taxes in Ontario.
2017 Municipal Study BMA Consulting Inc.
With mill closures, we’ve largely lost our industrial tax base. Our population is shrinking. Despite these obvious problems and the implications for future stability as a city, councillors have repeatedly passed budgets with tax increases above the rate of inflation. This is unsustainable. We have to bring stability back to our budgets. Wishful thinking for a different outcome isn’t good enough.