Grill local candidates about spending

Colin Craig,
Canadian Taxpayers Federation

If a municipal election candidate knocked on your door today, have you thought about what you might ask them?
If you’re frustrated by municipal taxes going up, or if your household could do with some savings on your property tax bill, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recommends asking local candidates about the following issues:
First, Albertans regularly shop around for goods and services to find the best deal. Will the candidate who knocks on your door commit to the same? Will they see if a local company or contractor could provide a municipal service for less than what the municipality pays to have staff do the work?
For example, could a local lawn care company cut the grass in a local park for a lower price? Could a local accounting company do some of the municipality’s accounting work for a lower price? When Winnipeg hired a company to handle garbage collection back in 2005, costs went down by 36 per cent and complaints dropped by 20 per cent. Will your local candidate look for similar savings?
The next question is probably the most important one to ask. Will the candidate you speak to bring municipal salaries in line with the private sector? It’s well known that people in government tend to earn more than what people make in the business sector for doing similar work. The situation is anything but fair for taxpayers.
Will your local candidate vote to scale back existing salaries? Will they vote to reduce the salaries for future hires? This would allow the government to replace expensive employees with more reasonably paid employees when current employees retire. Does your local candidate have a different idea?
Pensions are worth asking about as well. Although complicated, the Coles Notes version of what’s going on is that taxpayers have had to pay more and more money for golden pensions for government employees, pretty much across Canada. This is why your neighbour, who works for the government, will likely retire a couple years before you and with a lot more in pension benefits.
Will the candidate who knocks on your door put municipal employees in a less costly type of pension known as a “defined contribution” pension? This would mean employees would keep whatever benefits they’ve already earned, but going forward the pension benefits they earn would be more reasonable.
Another question worth asking concerns how to incent employees to come forward with really good ideas to save taxpayers money. Several government bodies in the United States have used an incentive rewards tool known as “gainsharing” to save money. What it does is allow government employees to come forward with an idea to reduce expenses and share in some of the savings (provided that output is maintained or increases).
Thus, if an employee finds a more cost-effective way to provide a government service, they now have the incentive to speak up! Would a candidate who knocks on your door look at this type of innovative idea to reduce costs?
There are lots of ways for municipalities to reduce costs and alleviate property tax pain for taxpayers. Will your local candidate pursue such ideas? Now is the time to ask.


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