Should we demand report cards on local government?

Local governments, we’re told, are close to the people and accountable to the taxpayer. Compared to what, exactly?  Of the 27 municipal governments in  Fraseropolis, which ones do best for their citizens at  earning public support for their programs, designing livable neighbourhoods, or investing for infrastructure  replacement?  Which ones do least?

In the United States, a consortium of organizations is developing a “sustainability index” that will allow communities to “benchmark their performance over time, or compare their results to those of other communities.”  It has taken two years of public process to develop the components of the Star Community Index; they include measures related to green infrastructure and green transportation as well as educational opportunity, housing affordability and arts and culture.  Local governments will enter this program voluntarily; a pilot run, with ten jurisdictions on board including King County (Seattle), is to begin in autumn 2012. Continue reading

Business location and residential taxes

We’re a week away from local elections in B.C.  There are complaints everywhere about rising residential property taxes, and political challengers pushing for a tax freeze.

The incumbents respond by calling this a long-term challenge: to flatten out the tax curve, cities must work to attract more business and industry, because businesses pay higher property taxes than residents.  In most municipalities, small businesses pay three or four times times as much as residents for each $1,000 in property value; the tax multiplier for major industry goes as high as 14.8 (City of Vancouver) or even 18.4 (Burnaby).  Continue reading