Can We Cut “Frills” of Civic Finance?

The first article of a series, throwing a search-light on municipal extravagance.

J. HERBERT HODGINS November 15 1924

Can We Cut “Frills” of Civic Finance?

The first article of a series, throwing a search-light on municipal extravagance.

J. HERBERT HODGINS November 15 1924

Can We Cut “Frills” of Civic Finance?

The first article of a series, throwing a search-light on municipal extravagance.


taxation federal impost in gouging our pockets. Can we—should we—aÿord so much outlay on parks, playgrounds, schools which are “nurseries for parents,” and other paternalistic civic extras? This is not an attack, but a well-reasoned article which will make you think about some things you have been taking for granted.

THAT morning last September when I took Junior to school, I scarcely sensed—as I have since come to know —that I was entering upon a new phase of my citizenship.

My son’s start at schooi is not lightly to be dismissed. For his problems from now on become my problems, and my problems, as a tax-paying citizen, are the same as your problems. We are all units in the machinery of modern citizenry.

Problem number one arose when the school nurse announced that my son’s tonsils must be removed. That was all very well; if the lad’s future health were menaced, then the insidious things must be lifted. It meant, of course, that we would call in a throat specialist; that the lad would go to the hospital for at least one day and the expenses incidental to a private hospital bed, perhaps a nurse and anesthetist. Fifty dollars or more would be quickly expended.

Fifty dollars is no considerable sum of money to some folks. But to a moderate-salaried man, bringing up a family and, with inherent Canadian pride, trying to live up to that standard of living demanded of the individual who establishes his home in the sane, healthy, home districts of a Canadian city—fifty dollars is fifty dollars..

But a native-Canadian sense of the fitness of things told me that if my child were to be operated upon, the thing should be done rightly.

Moses Aronovitch’s father, however, feels differently— and so does Pietro Maelstraven’s father.

Moses and Pietro are part of that great melting pot into which we have thrown our lad—the Canadian public school. I do not consider for a moment that Junior will be any the worse for this point of contact, far from it. To my mind, a boy is the better in his later life for having rubbed over the bumps from the outset. However . . .

Moses and Pietro “had tonsils.” Did Papa Aronovitch or Father Maelstraven put their sons into the private pavilion at the General Hospital; did they engage Dr. Georges Broadus, “eye, ear, nose and throat”? They did not.

One morning at ten o’clock, Mama Aronovitch and Mother Maelstraven took their small sons to the public clinic. And the city paid the bill. All of which means, of course, that you and I, the normal tax-paying citizens, eventually paid for the removal of four abnormal tonsils from the Aronovitch and Maelstraven offsprings.

Mr. Aronovitch would probably resent your insinuation that he was a poor man because he thus leaned upon public charity. He has a little business of his own and on Sundays the family dresses up and drives out upon the public highway in one of those moderate-priced motordriven vehicles which are the boon of “downtrodden” individuals. And Mr. Maelstraven has graduated from the day laborer’s ranks and is now laying cement walks by private contract.

Capitalistic Mr. Aronovitch! Capitalistic Mr. Maelstraven! Bourgeois me!

The case is simply this: that, whereas, these two fathers of foreign extraction have no reluctance in letting the “state” pay for medical services to their sons,. I adopt the attitude of the normal native-born Canadian and hesitate to accept that which palpably smacks of charity.

The instance is by no means an isolated one. Were it so, it would have no place in this thesis. Rather it is because my experience is so typically the experience of the average Canadian home to-day that it becomes of compelling interest.

It is compelling because it is a concrete indication of the direction our cities are drifting; of the paternalism which is creeping into our civic life, as for instance when we discover the city of Toronto seriously entertaining the notion of embarking upon municipal business ventures in gasoline, milk and bread, to the ultimate menace of individual business enterprise —fads and frills for which you and I are paying, or will pay dearly, as we pay for all those things which enter into the luxury class or are unsound, economically, and must therefore come a-crash.

Trend Distinctly Paternalistic

ANADIAN communities are spending ^ a great deal, annually, in municipal administration. Where this spending pertains to the upbuilding of the community and to the general progress of all citizens,

these expenditures are sound, legitimate. But the trend of the decade has been distinctly paternalistic. The result is that many of our cities are extending community services to-day which in their immediate and ultimate burden means for the average citizen financial embarrassment. Not infrequently, too, they develop added problems of civic administration, as for instance, in one community

where it was discovered that the municipal coal supply cost fifty cents to a dollar, per ton, more than private consumers were paying. Not much wonder that Dr. Horace Brittain of the Bureau of Municipal Research has constantly stressed the vital need of inquiring cautiously at all times into civic purchasing, as a means of lowering administration costs.

Administrative costs of all governments are too high; the taxpayer is bearing the accumulated burden of excessive costs of federal, provincial and municipal government. Yet we find cities undertaking further cosily educational plans, elaborate attentions to public health and sanitation, and extensive recreation systems. •

The question is, how far should our municipalities go in catering to the whims of classes, in their demand for public services?

Take the city of Toronto, for instance: Ten years ago the city’s assessment was $509,366,151, which with a tax rate of 19Tí mills produced $9,865,068 from the taxpayers. This year the assessment reached an unprecedented $848,839,246; the tax rate is thirty mills and the taxpayers are called upon to contribute a record $24,414,972. In other words, the assessment has advanced sixty-six per cent., the tax rate fifty per cent, and the amount which the taxpayers pay, 148 per cent.

As a western instance, Winnipeg’s per capita tax collection increased seventy-seven per cent., from $20.51 in 1914 to $36.36 in 1921. In Winnipeg the realty tax absorbed practically the whole strain on the civic revenues, which has lead Prof. A. B. Clark of the University of Manitoba to declare that the present system of taxation is equivalent to “legal robbery of the unfortunate landowner.”

Winnipeg Land Problem

AN ACTUAL development of the past few weeks is T*illuminating evidence of the confiscatory nature of Winnipeg’s accumulating tax burden. Some few years ago an Englishmen invested one million dollars in Winnipeg real estate. He made this property productive, or thought he had made it so, by erecting a substantial block upon it. But the building has not proven a revenue success and the increasing tax duress has gradually crippled his resources. The result is that once desirable property has now lapsed to the city under tax sale procedure.

What is the result? In the first place the property owner is thrown into financial ruin. His is not the case of the absentee landlord. He brought his wealth to this country, became a resident citizen and was prepared to assist in the city and country’s upbuilding. But excesses of municipal administration, with its accompanying excessive taxation, brought about his financial collapse.

Who has gained? Certainly not the city, for the city has had thrown upon its responsibility non-productive property whose value is tremendously depreciated by an insidious system.

Since 1910, while Winnipeg’s population and assessment increased only about fifty per cent., taxes increased 300 per cent, and tax arrears, 500 per cent. Tax arrears now amount to more than $5,000,000, as against $750,000 in 1910.

Limited Class Suffers

“OLEASE understand that the city so far is perfectly

F solvent, notwithstanding this confiscation,” Arthur M. Fraser, president of Winnipeg Taxpayers’ Association, has stressed, “but a limited class of citizens, namely, the real property owners, who are practically synonymous w ith the taxpayers are, nevertheless, speaking generally, feeling the burden so intolerable that they are being compelled to abandon their properties and several whose all is invested in real estate are facing ruin. Real property, especially unimproved property, is, generally speaking, no longer an asset but a liability.”

C. J. Yorath, who, until recently, was city manager of Edmonton, and who both in Edmonton and previously in Saskatoon measurably contributed to the rehabilitation of municipal finances has found that twenty two cities and towns in Alberta in the period from 1915 to 1922 shoved up their debt from $51,577,465 to $68,023,329, an increase of thirty-two per cent, and in the same period increased their general tax rate nearly nine per cent.

In seven years these twenty-two Alberta communities increased their expenditures for education from $1,742,112 to $2,908,593, or sixty-seven per cent. Not much wonder that Travers Sweatman, K. C., president, Winnipeg Board of Trade, and invariably a constructive critic of municipal finance, exclaims: “The increased cost of education is a national problem.”

Educational costs, without doubt, are alarming items of almost every civic budget prepared in Canada. The following figures, compiled from data of the Citizens’ Research Institute of Canada, compare the per capita expenditures for education in various Canadian cities for the years 1917 and 1922:

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Can We Cut “Frills” of Civil Finance?

Continued from page 15

1917 1922 Victoria . . . $ 7.53 $14.30 Vancouver. 7.43 14.42 Edmonton. 14.04 21.78 Regina 8.22 20.95 Calgary. . 10.89 19.78 Saskatoon . 20.46 26.35 Winnipeg. . 7.11 16.18 Toronto. . . 8.65 17.14 Hamilton. . 6.57 13.17 Ottawa. . . . 8.16 12.59 London... 7.60 16.12 Windsor. . . 10.64 19.29 Montreal. . 6.18 8.82 Quebec. . . . 2.88 6.29 St. John. . . 3.49 9.50 Halifax . . . 6.07 11.30 Charlottetown . 1.64 2.64

Reckoning with Economic Necessity

QUOTING from the report of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the following seems to be in point and to be particuarly applicable to Canada: “The ability

of the public to support expensive forms of education has been sorely taxed. It is necessary to-day that those in charge of our agencies of education should realize that, generous as is the American public, the day is here when education must reckon with economic necessity.”

The annual_ expenditure of the School Board of Winnipeg, according to an analysis of Mr. Sweatman, has grown from more than one million dollars in 1913 to a little in excess of three million in 1921, but during that time the average monthly enrolment has increased from 20,000 pupils to more than 33,000. This means that the annual expenditure for each pupil increased ninety-three per cent., while the average monthly enrolment increased sixty per cent. The cost per pupil increased from $46.50 in 1913 to $86.65 in 1921.

Growth of the auxiliary services in Winnipeg’s educational system are significant. The following will give an accurate idea of what has taken place:—

Supervision .......$

Manual Training... Household Arts . . . Medical Inspection. Dental Inspection .

Control ...........

Janitors’ Salaries,

Night Schools .... Free Text Books . .

15,470.00 $ 32,525.00 28,580.72 71,905.38

6,814.07 12,635.95

9,434.53 34,305.87

877.00 10,632.47

30,715.66 73,405.77

77,925.93 169,991.81

33,093.18 50,334.29

........ 59,437.87

$202,911.09 $515,174.41

Toronto, too, has expanded its education costs approximately 175 per cent., as the following comparison discloses:

1914 1924

Public Schools ......$2,390,264 $5,644,472

General Administration of Schools .......... 368,735

Collegiate Institutes. 314,785 1,081,183

High Schools Commerce ............ 52,072 223,463

Technical Schools . . 185,242 595,852

Separate Schools .... 160,279 560,771

Industrial Schools . . . 12,641 14,228

Total .............$3,115,283 $8,488,704

Educational Costs

THE mounting cost of education throughout the Dominion has become a matter for concern and serious examination: it encounters the criticism of students of national economics not only because of the “fads and frills,” which have entered into the educational systems of our provinces, but because each province has its own fine university and provides practically a free university education, with the result as Mr. Yorath has expressed it, “each turns out every year, qualified professional men to compete with the already overcrowded professions, the members of which, owing to the small increase in population during

High Cost of Living Accompanies Tax Burden

Simultaneously as he accepts the responsibility and burden of the accumulated tax burden the head of every Canadian family has encountered the problem of the cost of living, which, although measurably below its “peak” of 1920, is yet at the present time vastly higher than prior to the war.

The Department of Labor Index Numbers of wholesale prices by principal groups of commodities—a total by the way of 263 commodities which enter into every family life—for the month of August compared over a period of eleven years follow:—

INDEX NUMBERS Groups Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. Aug. 1924 1923 1922 1921 1920 1919 1918 1917 1916 1915 1914 1913 I. —Grains aud Fodder .. 15 204.3 169.6 174.3 208.4 372.4 333.1 311.9 296.2 187.9 179.4 161.3 138.2 II, —Animals aud Meats 17 220.2 225.2 247.5 250.8 366.2 388.3 359.3 289.4 228.1 201.3 199.9 172.3 Hi.—Dairy Products..... 9 189.2 108.0 154.3 219.0 305.5 292.0 255.2 220.5 169.4 141.0 140.5 139.7 IV. —Fish ‘............... 9 106.7 181.5 182.9 160.0 241.3 240.6 249.2 201.5 1 57.7 143.8 1 54.8 150.7 V. —(a) Fruits and Veg's. 17 202.4 11)0.7 186.9 217.7 258.8 251.0 259.0 255.5 155.6 111.4 116.7 115.8 (6) Mise. Foods ..... 25 190.0 186.8 175.3 199.3 319.3 257.9 240.8 221.9 157.0 140.1 119.3 115.2 VI. —Textiles ............ 20 255.7 241.7 236.2 236.2 392.8 362.0 372.0 274.7 195.6 15G.8 138.7 132.0 VII. —Hides, Leathers, Boots .......... 11 154.1 153.3 171.7 106.1 282.8 425.7 285.7 279.7 234.8 179.0 171,3 100.1 VIII. — (a) Iron and Steel 11 184.9 200.8 192.1 202.7 282.9 201.0 278.8 285.1 150.5 108.8 100.5 103.0 (b) Other Metals 12 174.1 165.7 147.2 144.4 218.0 203.9 282.7 271.9 215.4 195.6 124.7 130.1 (c) Implements .. 10 225.2 226.7 227.8 250.5 256.8 240.7 232'.1 199.5 136.7 113.2 106.G 105.6 All .............. 33 196.5 195.9 186.5 190.0 251.4 214.2 260.1 254.3 169.9 156.8 111.5 113.9 IX. —Fuel and Lighting 10 232.2 238.8 303.8 242.9 352.7 235.5 242.4 218.2 126.1 105.8 10S.6 117.S X. —Building Materials : (a) Lumber ......... 14 334.3 315.6 324.4 348.5 510.2 308.4 275.5 225.5 182.2 174.1 1S2.1 182.6 (ft) Miscellaneous .... 2*0 221.3 221.2 207.9 231.0 273.3 221.7 233.0 217.3 154.0 120.0 109.8 112.5 (c) Paints, Oils and Glass .............14 270.0 278.3 273.2 301.0 443.3 417.7 318.0 267.2' 199.9 161.0 110.4 142.9 All ................. IS 268.5 274.0 200.9 285.7 393.3 304.2 271.6 234.2 175.0 147.9 139.8 141.9' XT.—House Furnishings 16 265.1 271.2 276.0 322.3 383.2 325.4 274.9 212.8 162.3 138.7 128.8 126.4 XII. •—Drugs & Chemicals 16 172.7 1S0.O 182.0 199.6 247.1 222.0 283.4 201.3 249.4 175.2 121.4 113.3 XIII. —Miscellaneous : (a) Raw Furs .... 4 571.8 638.3 652.1 510.5 8G8.2 1034.2 581.0 388.4 292.3 150.2 208.6 302.0 (b) Liquors and Tobacco ....... 0 269.5 264.1 267.4 269.0 315.1 286.5 221.7 163.9 139.0 134.7 128.3 134.4 (r) Sundries ..... 7 155.8 150.4 157.0 185.3 215.2 211.0 218.9 197.6 142.0 116.0 106.5 111.1 All ........... 47 293.8 307.0 312.4 291.3 40-1.1 431.0 305.1 230.6 170.0 130.0 138.2 104.3 All Commodities 263 223.2 222.7 223.7 230.4 330.2 301.1 284.3 247.3 180.7 151.5 136.3 134.1

the last ten years, find it difficult to make an adequate living.”

Are we educating our young men and young women for the purpose of serving some Canadian community; or do they find, after taking their university degrees that they must go elsewhere to earn a living?

Has our educational system absorbed too many free services? Travers Sweatman indicts the prevalent policy of erecting a great many large schools containing elaborate equipment. He declares that our “schools are nothing more than nurseries for parents.” He advocates raising the school age and reducing the school hours for primary grades. This, he maintains, would be a direct saving in teachers’ salaries and in school room and would permit of the economical “platoon system” of school attendance. The platoon system permits two sets of pupils to use one classroom—reducing school building costs.

“Education is being made too easy,” is Mr. Sweatman’s conclusion. “Luxury has always been the greatest brake upon the wheels of progress. Luxury has always been the cause of degeneracy and the downfall of some of the greatest empires the world has known. Will not luxury do the same thing to education?”

Free Medical Services

THEN take the health and sanitation services which civic administrators have come to regard as essential to the public’s welfare. Now-a-days we provide baths for certain elements of our communities. This community free service is paternalistic, in that it is “class” service. You do not send your child to the city bath house; I do not send mine. Yet, you and I pay taxes to maintain that “frill.” For 1924, Toronto appropriated nearly one million dollars for the health department. Ten years ago, the health department was financed on an appropriation of $277,958.

Then there are the free services at hospitals. Toronto’s hospital appropriation this year totals $850,000; ten years ago it was $313,435.

How far should cities extend their offer of health services, without the most rigid inspection of individuals who seek attention?

The other day a woman, a “new Canadian,” and child applied at the public department of a Toronto Hospital; the woman wanted surgical attention for the child.

“Where have I seen that woman’s face before?” the examining doctor enquired of his own mind, as she carefully explained that she could not afford to pay.

Suddenly he recalled. Three weeks prior, his coupe had been run down by the liveried chauffeur of a limousine. The expensively gowned woman of the motor

car was none other than the now plainly dressed woman before him.

“Oh, was that you, doctor!” was her unruffled rejoinder to his accusation.

The doctor had caught one of _ the vast army of “spongers” upon the city’s free services. But this was mere chance, for where one sponger gets caught in the net hundreds slip through—and you and I, as civic taxpayers, ultimately pay their

h°The3increasing freedom of expenditure for public health and_ sanitation measurably increases costs in Canadian cities. According to the Citizens’ Research Institute, Winnipeg, in 1917, was spending $1.66 per capita; in 1924, the per capita charge had risen to $4.69, an increase of nearly 200 per cent. In the same period, Hamilton, Ont., increased its per capita costs from $1.19 to $3.04; Edmonton, Alta., from $1.82 to $2.97; Regina, Sask., from $3.71 to $4.51; Saskatoon, Sask., from $2.89 to $3.63; Toronto from $4.04 to $6.44; London, Ont., from 37 cents to $4.13; St. Johns, N.B., from 81 cents to $1.56 and Halifax, N.S., from $1.22 to $2.98.

Again the question: How far should a community extend its health and sanitation services upon a free basis, particularly when these services favor the few at the expense of the many?

Financing Public Recreation

TF AS R. F. Armstrong, of the Citizens’ A Research Institute of Canada and recent town manager of Woodstock, N.B., has reminded, “the way the taxpayer s dollar is spent to-day will be a big influence upon the taxation of to-morrow. It may be that the students of civic spendings will find recreation costs an interesting sidelight. There was a day those simple minded days of the “good, oldfashioned past”—when we were content with the town park! To-day not one park, but many parks satisfy. Toronto has seventy-nine parks and playgrounds, with a land area of 1,566 acres and a water area of 400 acres. In connection with these parks there are twenty-eight equipped playgrounds, fifty-nine baseball fields, eight cricket fields, thirty-six football fields, 210 tennis courts, fourteen bowling greens with 105 rinks, two quoiting grounds of sixteen heads, two croquet grounds, four lacrosse grounds, fifty-five skating rinks_, forty-nine hockey rinks, two toboggan slides, twelve miniature slides, three bathing stations and two curling rinks.

Surely this offers ample choice to the public’s recreation whims!

But no! There is municipal golf. The municipal links has been the city father’s reply to the call for “poor man’s golf.” Fortunately for those communities which have tried out the experiment, it is the outstanding exámple of a civic recreation which pays its way.

With no intent wholly to discourage the civic trend to public playgrounds and parks, it may not be amiss to point out that while Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in 1922 was content with a per capita outlay for public recreations of seventeen cents, Calgary, Alberta, found itself confronted with a per capita expenditure of $6.79. Vancouver’s parks and playgrounds cost each citizen $1.54, according to the 1922 figures. Toronto expended in the same year $2.39 per person; Hamilton, $1.36, and Windsor, $1.42. On the other hand, Montreal kept its per capita costs down to 38 cents and Quebec City to sixteen cents.

Thrift a Civic Virtue

WITHIN the limits of a single survey it would obviously be impossible to diagnose and then completely to offer remedy for the economic ills of our towns and cities. One does not need to penetrate far, however, to determine the costly furbelows of education and social betterment.

The disciples of these no doubt will have their “comeback.” I am not disposed to argue. I KNOW this, however, that since I sent my lad to public school my “class consciousness” has been quickened. Its awakering has compelled me to a fuller appreciation of the expensiveness of many of the pretty theories of which previously I had been no more than a casual, even disinterested, observer.

Now the problem has come home to me, in the pinch of the family purse, than wthich there is no more vulnerable spot. Now, more than previously, I realize

j that my tax-pa>ing neighbors’ problems I are my problems.

The requirements of one’s family are too many and too urgent not to demand searching consideration of all personal expenditures. Therefore I have become vastly concerned over every dollar which the city shall spend for me. If need dictates, that I shall pare my family expenditures then why should I not insist that my city conserve those revenues, to which I am compelled to contribute, in an earnest effort to reduce the tax burden?

If my family prunes its luxuries, then why should not the civic luxuries which I am now helping maintain, be also carefully curtailed?

Thrift, in short, is the greatest of public -—as it is not the least of privatevirtues.