Northern Economist 2.0

Showing posts with label sudbury. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sudbury. Show all posts

Friday, 17 March 2017

Fire Services in the North: The Case of Sudbury

Sudbury is in a bit of a tizzy over proposed changes to its fire and paramedic services.  The proposed plan will see nine of the current 24 fire halls closed and a move to reduce the number of volunteer firefighters and hire more full time firefighters. The staff report estimates that the full-time compliment would go from 108 to 166 within the next decade, while the volunteer ranks would be almost cut in half from the current staffing level of 350.

Sudbury is a very large and dispersed municipality with the central core area served by full time firefighters and outlying areas served by volunteers who are paid part-time employees. Under the new plan, Sudbury's municipal government maintains that firefighters would be able to reach 90 percent of Greater Sudbury within nine minutes, as opposed to the current 69 percent.  Part of what is planned is an equalization of services to standardize and improve coverage and response times.  However, part of the plan also involves composite stations staffed by both full-time and volunteer firefighters, as well as increases in taxes in the areas currently served by volunteer firefighters.

It is useful to see where Greater Sudbury stands in its fire service costs relative to other cities in Ontario.  Figure 1 uses data from the BMA Management Consulting 2016 Municipal Study to plot the net per capita fire service costs (including amortization of any capital assets) for cities in Ontario with more than 100,000 of population as well as the Northern Ontario Five (N5) – Thunder Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste Marie, North Bay, and Greater Sudbury.  The results show quite a difference in per capita costs ranging from a high of $273 in Thunder Bay to a low of $102 in Milton.  Sudbury’s costs are quite modest coming in at $149 – the lowest among the N5 – and placing 22nd among the 27 cities in Figure 1. 
Of course, one can understand the concerns of ratepayers in Greater Sudbury that the proposed changes will raise costs and therefore raise taxes. The costs of fire fighting according to the BMA Municipal Study 2016 Report can vary as a result of a number of factors, which include:

1. The nature and extent of fire risks: The type of building construction, i.e. apartment dwellings vs. single-family homes versus institutions such as hospitals
2. Geography: Topography, urban/rural mix, road congestion and fire station locations and travel distances from those stations
3. Fire prevention and education efforts: Enforcement of the fire code, and the presence of working smoke alarms
4. Collective agreements: Differences in what stage of multi‐year agreements municipalities are at and also differences in agreements about how many staff are required on a fire vehicle
5. Staffing model: Full‐time firefighters or composite (full‐time and part‐time)

Costs in the end are an interactive function of the geographic area that must be served as well as the population base in that area that is available to cover the costs as well as its compactness - in other words, population density is a factor.  The importance of population density as a determinant of fire service costs is highlighted in Figure 2, which plots the net costs per capita of Figure 1 against population density (population per square kilometer) and reveals an inverse relationship when a linear regression is fitted to the data.  It of course does not control for any other variables and there is a fair amount of dispersion (the R-squared is also very low) around the fitted relationship but if Sudbury’s population density is plugged into the relationship, all other thing given, the per capita cost of its fire services rise to 181 dollars per capita.  Thus for Sudbury to be at 149 dollars per capita it must mean there are other factors affecting its costs or it is doing something to keep its costs well below – nearly 20 percent below - what is predicted by its population density alone.
It is the volunteer staffing model which has probably been a factor in keeping Sudbury’s fire fighting costs per capita relatively low given the large land area that must be served and the accompanying low population density.  Moving away from this model will probably bring Sudbury’s per capita costs more in line with other major Ontario municipalities.  No wonder ratepayers are upset.  At the same time, making the changes needs to weigh the improvements in service and response time that are expected to emerge against the expected additional costs.  It is an important cost-benefit analysis and should make for an interesting City council meeting in Sudbury on March 21st.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Economic News Around the North: January 20th, Edition

Here is a listing of some stories around northern Ontario over the last few days of economic significance for the region. Congratulations to Thunder Bay International Airport and Laurentian University for their milestones. Enjoy. 

Thunder Bay Airport Sets New Passenger Record, Tbnewswatch, January 16, 2017.

Sudbury businesses question if labour law changes are necessary. Northern Ontario Business, January 16, 2017.

Carbon bill hits city hall. Chronicle-Journal, January 16, 2017.

Good news for Sudbury on jobs front. Sudbury Star, January 13th, 2017. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Housing Prices in Sudbury and Thunder Bay: The Boom is Over

A key feature of housing markets in Canada over the last decade is the sustained price increases particularly in larger urban centers such as Vancouver and Toronto.  Despite a relatively flat economy and stagnant population growth, even northern Ontario has seen a price surge in its two largest urban housing markets: Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay.  However, while Ontario’s housing price surge especially in the GTA shows little sign of abating, it appears that economic reality may have finally caught up with northern Ontario’s largest housing markets as prices appear set to level off.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

2011 Census Results for Population In: Northern Ontario Declines

Statistics Canada released the first set of 2011 census results today dealing with population and dwelling counts.  Canada's population is up 5.9 percent from 2006, Ontario's is up 5.7 percent while within Ontario, the North is down overall by 1.4 percent.  As the accompanying table shows, the Northeast stayed stable in terms of its overall population while the Northwest showed a decline of 4.7 percent.  As for the major urban centers of the North, Greater Sudbury posted a 1.6 percent increase, North Bay a 1 percent increase, and Timmins a 0.4 percent increase.  The Sault and Thunder Bay both saw declines in their populations of -0.4 and -1.1 respectively.

The Northwest during the period 2006 to 2011 worked its way through the aftermath of the forest sector crisis with the region outside of Thunder Bay bearing the brunt of the employment and population adjustment.  Employment and GDP in Thunder Bay shrank by about 10 percent during the forest sector crisis and its population has been remarkably resilient given the decline.  Employment in the region outside of Thunder Bay shrank by almost 30 percent.  Employment numbers over the last year have been showing increases in Thunder Bay and the Northwest and these population results are hopefully a lagging indicator.  The Northeast has been buoyed by its mining sector though there is a redistribution of population towards the major urban centers.  Evidence from the Northeast suggests that should the Ring of Fire mining development successfully proceed, the Northwest can also expect to see stabilization and even some growth in its population.

What will be interesting is the additional sub-regional breakdowns in population with the Northeast and the Northwest.  For example, between 2001 and 2006, while the Northwest declined in population, the Kenora District actually saw increasing population.  As well, the aboriginal population increased substantially in the Northwest between 2001 and 2006.  Further results and analysis on whether these trends have continued since 2006 to come.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Investment Activity and Trends in Northern Ontario: Part Three – Thunder Bay and Sudbury

In this third installment on investment activity in Northern Ontario as illustrated by building permit data, I am going to focus on the roles of Thunder Bay and Sudbury.  These are the two largest urban centres in Northern Ontario with CMA populations of 122,000 and 158,000 respectively accounting for about 38 percent of Northern Ontario’s population of 745,000.  As the largest urban nodes, one would expect them to be major drivers of economic activity and new investment and the data suggests that they are indeed major economic contributors but are not exactly punching much above their population weight.

Figure 1 shows the total nominal value of building permits (and the linear trends) issued in Thunder Bay and Greater Sudbury over a 20-year period and reveal that Thunder Bay has stayed relatively flat over this period whereas Sudbury enjoyed a pronounced boom from 2003 to 2009 but has since cooled off somewhat.  More interesting is Figure 2, which plots Sudbury’s share of Northeastern Ontario’s permits, Thunder Bay’s share of the Northwest’s permits and then their combined share of all of Northern Ontario.  On average, over the period 1989-2011, Greater Sudbury has accounted for about 34 percent of all building permit values in the Northeast and Thunder Bay for about 60 percent of the values in the Northwest.  Both of these are in line with their respective population shares with Thunder Bay somewhat more dominant in its region and together they account for an average of about 41 percent of Northern Ontario’s building permit activity.  This share has been trending down slightly over the period 1989-2011 generally as a result of weaker performance by Thunder Bay given that the trend for Sudbury has been pretty constant.

While Thunder Bay and Sudbury are important economic drivers for the region, these results suggest that they are not overly dominant and that new investment activity is dispersed throughout Northern Ontario.  The other towns and cities of the North – particularly Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and North Bay – are also important drivers.  Thunder Bay and Sudbury’s share of new investment activity in Northern Ontario is approximately the same as their combined population share of the region.