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Index must be kept up-to-date, say mayors

"Albertans now have the ability to grade the performance of their local government," says Municipal Affairs minister
MVT Carstairs mayor Lance Colby
Lance Colby, Carstairs mayor, says the new online municipal measurement index will be useful in providing general information about towns and other municipalities. File photo/MVP Staff

CARSTAIRS - The province’s new online municipal measurement index (MMI) dashboard will only be useful to residents and businesses if it is kept up-to-date and current, says Carstairs' mayor, Lance Colby.

The MMI is a new provincial tool that contains and displays data from municipalities for such things as audited financial statements, financial information returns, statistical information, residential and non-residential taxes, debt levels, surpluses, and other information.

“If you’re going to have something like this it would be nice for them to keep it up to date,” said Colby. “If you are only going to update it once a year it is going to be obsolete in no time.

“As a quick snapshot it is fine, but the hard part is going to be keeping it up to date so people can actually look at it and say it is up to date information that I can rely on.

“All it takes is for a big business to come into a community or if there is a building surge, then that is going to change some of the dynamics, change the taxation, have more taxation for commercial.”

The MMI will be useful in providing general information about towns and other municipalities, he said.

“If you are out scouting around looking for a place to move to or want to know more about a town or area that will work for you,” he said. “It’s something you probably could have gotten before from government websites, but this gives you a good overall view.”

Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard said the MMI will help improve local decision-making while showing residents where their tax dollars are being spent.

“Have a tool Albertans can use to view and compare data for municipalities across the province will increase accountability and transparency, while, helping improve local decision-making,” said Allard. “With this tool, Albertans now have the ability to grade the performance of their local government.”

During a press conference with rural newspaper editors last week she was asked by The Albertan if rural and urban municipalities were consulted in preparing the MMI. She said yes.

“One of the things we ran on was transparency and accountability in government,” said Allard. “Provincial politicians and federal politicians are held to a really high level of transparency and accountability, and that was part of what we said in our election platform, was that we said in our election platform, that that should extend to the local level as well.

“RMA and AUMA (Rural Municipalities of Alberta and Alberta Urban Municipalities of Albert) knew this was coming. Some of the members had concerns about the metric chosen, but I will reinforce that this data was already all readily available.”

Other area municipal leaders also commented on the new MMI following its release on Dec. 14.

Didsbury’s mayor, Rhonda Hunter, says the MMI may be useful but not as a complete overview of any particular municipality.

“It can compare money and finances, but it can’t compare service levels that each municipality offers,” said Hunter. “The information is interesting, but residents have to be cautious in how they use that as a measurement because it doesn’t speak for all that the municipality has to offer.

“It’s pretty hard to believe that a tool can be put together that compares apples to apples per capita and for every value of every tax dollar. I don’t know if the intent of it met the target that they were after.”

She said she agrees with mayor Colby’s comments regarding the need for the MMI to be kept up to date.

The town’s administrative team will be providing a report on the MMI to council on Jan. 12, she said.

Bruce Beattie is reeve of Mountain View County.

“There is certainly a lot of information that has been put together,” said Beattie. “Some of the concerns that have been expressed by both RMA (Rural Municipalities of Alberta) and AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association) is it is very, very hard to make a comparison because of the very different aspects of some of the counties,” said Beattie. 

“Municipalities are very different and varied from small towns to counties and how to you make a fair comparison between them? It’s difficult, I think.”

If the MMI isn’t kept up to date is will not be useful, he said.

“Any website looks great when you start it out, but if you don’t maintain it carefully then it can get out of date very quickly,” he said.

In response to the release of the MMI, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) said its member municipalities are already accountable and transparent. 

“It is universally known and accepted that municipal governments are the most transparent level of government, as every spending decision is deliberated in open public meetings,” the AUMA said in a media release. “In addition, municipalities are the strongest financial stewards of public dollars, as they are required to balance their budgets every year. 

“Despite this, the provincial government continues to call on municipalities for greater transparency and disclosure. This is questionable when the Alberta provincial government faces its own challenges in transparency and disclosure.”

The AUMA is currently reviewing the MMI and plans to report back to its members on the findings.

“Looking ahead, one of AUMA’s concerns is whether MMI will lead to the spread of disinformation and new red tape for municipalities,” the release states. “As such, AUMA is currently reviewing MMI to make sure it is fair and accurate. 

“Any opportunities to improve the tool will be shared with the provincial government and AUMA members.

AUMA member municipalities include all the towns and villages within Mountain View and Red Deer counties.