By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
A new online tool from the province aims to provide insight as to how municipalities compare with each other.During a telephone press conference with members of the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association, Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard discussed the recently launched Municipal Measurement Index.
Announced on Dec. 14, the MMI aims to help improve local decision making and allow Albertans to see how municipalities spend their money.
“The index is really, just compiling the data that was already available publicly, but it wasn’t put together in one clear and simple interface that would be easy to use,” said Allard. “This tool is for Albertans. It’s for access to anyone in the province who would like some information either on the municipalities that they live in, or the municipalities that they’re considering living in, and also for municipal leaders across the province. So, if you’re a mayor, a councillor or a reeve, you can pull this tool up and it gives you information, it gives you comparators to other jurisdictions.”
The MMI allows Albertans to view and compare financial and statistical information, including property tax rates, major revenue and expense categories, and assessment and debt values for all of the province’s 338 municipalities. The municipalities can be compared according to population, size and equalized assessment, to allow Albertans to make educated and accurate comparisons.
“I think it’s hopeful to see where you stand in real time and also year over year, for municipal leaders to see what direction they are trending in. Very helpful to see, at least if you are going in the direction that you intend.”
When asked about the limits of the data, Allard noted for the majority of her career, she worked under metrics, and one of the challenges concerns where the metrics is limited or what conclusions you should be cautious about drawing from what the metrics show us.
“I have been in the restaurant business for the majority of my career, and the measure of customer experience is not necessarily just the service you receive, but sometimes it comes down to that. Somebody will decide this is measurable, so this is what we’ll look at, but it doesn’t really capture the outcome that’s intended. Sometime, if you’re not aware of that, people end up serving the metric to make sure the metric is trending in direction they want, but they abandon site of the outcome.”
Additionally, when comparing communities, using the example of Grande Prairie versus Calgary or Edmonton, Allard noted that obviously, while they are all larger urban cities, there is quite a difference in population and geographic location. The MMI will flag if a municipality is a poor comparator with another municipality.
“When you talk with municipal leaders, I would encourage you, if you are using to do a reporting piece, I would encourage you to find what you find on the index and then speak with the local leaders, if it gets flagged or if there are questions, because there may be some more data that is not easy to measure that would help provide some context and understanding around the differentials that are existing.”
When asked how much it cost to create the index and it’s operating costs, Allard said she didn’t had an “absolute figure”, but they didn’t contract out the index and it was done in-house. With the exception of IT maintenance, she believed the cost to operate it would be “negligible”, as the framework is already there for the software side.
The MMI can be viewed by visiting https://www.alberta.ca/municipalmeasurement-index.aspx.