FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The City of Fort St. John presented its annual report in a public meeting on Monday. The report noted the improving position of the city’s finances after the pandemic’s effect on 2020 and presented a breakdown of the municipal government and its finances in clear language for citizens.
The report includes an examination of the city’s financial situation and a statistical section that analyzes the work done over the past year.
“It’s a method of showing our transparency, our accountability, our integrity,” explained Chief Financial Officer David Joy, who presented the annual report. “[It] provides perspective on why our budgets are different from the prior year and what our expectations are for the future years. The annual report really just ties things together in a bow and looks back at the prior year.”
Financial conditions indicators, a system of 14 measurements that assess a municipality’s risk and creates an accurate snapshot of a city’s fiscal situation. Indicators are split into three categories: revenue, budget, and debt and capital.
Reliance on transfers from federal and provincial governments was a high-risk area for the city last year, but Joy characterized the number differently.
“That’s a red,” he said. “But it’s a good red.”
“We are very fortunate in this municipality of only 21,000 to receive $32 million in provincial and federal grants,” Joy said. Though it makes up a large portion of the city’s revenue (over a third, at $32.74 million), net municipality property taxes make up for an almost identical portion, at $32.55 million. Another 13.51 million is coming from the sale of city services.
The city’s largest expenses last year were transportation-related, at $16.36 million; protective services (like policing and firefighting), at $15.96 million; and recreation and culture, at $13.85 million.
Joy notes that recreation and culture is an important expense that improves quality of life in the city.
“It’s a big piece of the pie, but a necessary one. Council wants to build a city that people want to live in and enjoy,” he explained.
Other risks recorded on the “report card” of financial conditions indicators noted a shrinking tax base and three deficits reported in the last five years.
“What it’s telling us is that, when we’re setting our operating budgets, there’s no fat in them,” Joy explained. While that means that landowners are taxed as little as possible, it also means that those deficits, though they have been small, come out of the next year’s budget.
Overall, the city’s financial report card looked good, with 12 conditions marked low risk and three marked high risk.
The city’s finances, according to the report, are moving in a positive direction. Long-term goals include a more diversified and vibrant community.