An overwhelming majority of Calgarians are interested in knowing how their tax dollars are being spent, according to a new survey, but only a minority feel the municipal government does a good job of providing this information.

Those advocating for lower taxes say it’s hard to know exactly why that is, and outlined some possibilities, but they say city council owes Calgarians a solution due to this lack of transparency.

In the survey, which was commissioned by the City of Calgary and conducted between Aug. 16 and Sept. 10 last year, 92 per cent of participants agreed they want information on how their tax dollars are being spent.

However, only 60 per cent believe the city does a good job of providing them that information and that number has been declining since 2014, when it was 67 per cent.

Colin Craig, Alberta’s director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says it’s difficult to determine the reason for that dissatisfaction.

“Are [Calgarians] concerned that budget information isn’t being disclosed well enough? Are we concerned that certain projects are mired in too much secrecy? Are we concerned about council discussions taking place behind closed doors? We don’t know what exactly is driving that,” says Craig.

“Citizens could be concerned with a number of different things when it comes to [government] transparency.”

Moreover, Peter McCaffrey, former research director at the Manning Centre and current president of a new think-tank, the Alberta Institute, believes taxes are difficult to accept because the results are often intangible.

“Whenever someone else spends your money for you, it’s much harder to see the benefit, and people question, much more, whether there is a benefit or not.”

McCaffrey says that could explain why some taxpayers aren’t satisfied with the city’s budget transparency.

He also adds that if you “control for population growth and you control for inflation, [the]government is still vastly bigger than it was a few years ago.”

As a result, Calgarians might be noticing the unsustainable growth rate of their local government and questioning the spending decisions of city council, especially if Calgary entertains an Olympic bid.

In a recent discussion about the Olympic bid, a couple of reports weren’t provided to council and these reports were critical to bidding on the Olympics according to Craig.

Furthermore, Calgarians are finding out about city council’s spending decisions after the fact, McCaffrey says.

Craig claims the decline in budget transparency satisfaction may be because Calgarians aren’t seeing enough spending restraint from city council.

Craig suggests that future citizen satisfaction surveys could include more open-ended questions and do more research, which could contribute to a possible solution.

“Ultimately, the city could investigate what’s causing that drop and look at possible remedies.”

gbalanko-dickson@cjournal.ca

Edited by: Omar Subhi Omar | oomar@cjournal.ca