By Cole Parkinson
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is hoping municipal councils in the area take note of the rising labour costs.
In their Municipal Labour Cost Report released in late June, the Municipal District of Taber came in with the fastest-growing labour costs with a 56.1 per cent increase for mid-sized municipalities (30,000 or fewer residents) while the Town of Taber came in at number five with a growth of 44.5 per cent.
“The CTF Municipal Report is based on data that is published by the Alberta government and it highlights labour cost growth between 2014, which was the beginning of the oil price collapse and 2018, which is the most recent data for municipal governments,” explained Franco Terrazzano, Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta director. “We’ve seen Alberta’s municipal government labour costs have increased by about $873 million or about 17 per cent. But in Taber and around the Taber area, labour costs for municipal governments have been even higher. So the Municipal District of Taber, which actually saw the highest labour cost growth in medium-sized municipalities at 66.1 per cent and (the Town of) Taber wasn’t too far behind with cost increases of 44.5 per cent. The key issue here is these labour cost increases are out of touch with the reality facing taxpayers who are paying the bills. During that same time, total compensation for Alberta employees declined by six per cent. With this report, we are calling on all municipal governments to take some air out of their ballooning labour costs.”
Other municipalities in the area are also ranked including Vauxhall (35.3 per cent growth), Barnwell (33.7 per cent growth), Bow Island (13.9 per cent growth) and Coaldale (41.4 per cent increase).
With two rankings in the top five for mid-sized municipalities, the CTF report highlighted the need for change, according to Terrazzano.
As for why both the M.D. and town ranked so high in the report, Terrazzano explained residents need to ask councillors why the cost increases have been so vast.
“That is on councillors to explain to their taxpayers because I can tell you what doesn’t account for those labour cost increases. It cannot be explained by population growth, both the population for the M.D. of Taber during that time period was relatively flat, it barely increased. And for the Town of Taber, it didn’t go up by very much either during that time. It also cannot be explained by inflation because inflation in Alberta between 2014 and 2018 was only about seven per cent.”
And while the oil collapse within recent years has no doubt played some part, Terrazzano didn’t see it as a reason to let the data slip by taxpayers.
“It certainly can be (a factor) but the problem with that is you can’t let councillors off the hook from that because we have been struggling through a downturn for about five years now. During the downturn, you have had many people outside of government, families and businesses struggling, so council and costs needed to reflect the realities and struggles facing their taxpayers. Albertans really need meaningful tax relief right now and that means councillors need to do their part and cut spending because the more money council spends, the less money struggling families and struggling businesses have to weather this economic storm. For city and municipal councils across Alberta to provide truly meaningful tax relief, they have to address the cost elephant in the room and that is labour costs,” he said. “One of the reasons we put out this report is for educational purposes. We hope all taxpayers in the area are able to look at the report, they are able to see labour costs between 2014 and 2018 in these municipalities are completely out of touch with the realities outside of government and we hope these numbers and data allow taxpayers to hold their council and government accountable.”
Out of the 14 cities in Alberta with over 30,000 residents, Leduc ranked number one with a 33.3 per cent growth while Edmonton ranked number nine (17.8 per cent), Lethbridge ranked 10 (17.2 per cent), Calgary ranked 13 (12.9 per cent) and Medicine Hat was 14 (five per cent).
Looking at the data, Terrazzano hopes councils across Alberta realize what needs to happen to bring the labour costs back down to a livable range.
“It’s time for councils to do what everyone else has been doing for years — tighten their belts. It has to come with difficult decisions because labour costs make up such a huge portion of municipal budgets. Looking at the M.D. of Taber, it is about 37 per cent and Taber is about 41 per cent. These are huge portions of their budget and if the municipal governments are going to provide meaningful tax relief, they have to tackle labour costs. It’s a difficult conversation but so many workers outside of government in Alberta have been taking pay cuts for years now. So many businesses have been having to do more with less and it’s time for councils and governments to start sharing in the burden and living within their means.”