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Hamilton's report card: How does the city stack up?

According to a new benchmarking report, the city is making strides in some areas but lagging well behind in some others. Here's how Hamilton stacks up.

New provincial benchmarking report paints comprehensive picture of city's performance

The Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative just released its 2014 Performance Measurement Report, which ranks Hamilton against other municipalities. (Shutterstock/Brian Goodman)

Hamilton is a city with a sagging existing public transit system and is lagging in investments in arts and culture — but it has decent roadways and is a social housing haven.

That's according to the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (OMBI), which just released its 2014 Performance Measurement Report that ranks Hamilton against other municipalities in a wide range of categories.

It show that in some areas, the city is doing well while in others it lags well behind other municipalities. Here's how Hamilton stacks up in some key measures:

Hamilton's violent crime rate rose slightly in 2014, with 915 incidents per 100,000 people — or 16 more than the year before. 

Only 62 per cent of violent crimes were solved within the calendar year, the report says, which was the third lowest rank of the municipalities measured. By contrast, Thunder Bay had the best violent crime clearance rate at 79 per cent within a year.

From 2009 to 2014 however, Hamilton's overall crime rate dropped 29.6 per cent. Still, the city still has the "highest crime rate, crime severity index, violent crime rate and violent crime severity index of our immediate comparator municipalities excluding Toronto," Chief Glenn De Caire said in a statement.

City councillors voted for the city's first major boost in arts funding in 15 years this year, and it shows. According to the OMBI report, the city only invested $4.27 per resident into arts, heritage and festival grants in 2014.

That's the second lowest such investment, behind only a stingy $1.10 in Windsor. Both came in well below the median of $8.96.

Thunder Bay, by contrast, invested $17.14 per person in 2014 — even more than Montreal, which is often seen as a cultural pillar in Canada.

Hamilton's water pipe infrastructure is much-maligned, but it isn't the oldest the OMBI report measured. The average Hamilton water pipe is 42.2 years old, and there are 20.9 water main breaks per 100 kilometres of pipe. 

Toronto had the oldest pipes at 59.1 years old, and the most water main breaks, too — at 29.6 per 100 kilometres of pipe.

Hamilton families created the most waste in any city the report measured last year at 1.05 tonnes. But that number isn't quite as nefarious as it sounds —  that measure includes organics, blue box, leaf and yard waste, municipal hazardous or special waste, and other recyclable materials such as wood, metal and tires, as well as construction and demolition materials.

When it comes to waste diversion (like recycling and composting) Hamilton ranked third overall, which means residents aren't just chucking out hordes of trash, at least. 

Hamilton does, however, have a problem with wastewater that is bypassing treatment. An estimated 2.34 per cent of Hamilton's wastewater was dumped in 2014 without treatment, which is the second highest measure in the report behind only Niagara.

That's well over the median of 0.45 per cent. It is an improvement over 2013 though, when 3.67 per cent of the city's wastewater bypassed treatment.

Hamilton has a problem collecting taxes, with 4.2 per cent of 2014's taxes still outstanding. Only Windsor was worse at 4.6 per cent.

Both cities topped well over the report's median of 2.6 per cent.

Hamilton's long-suffering transit system got a huge shot in the arm this year, when the province pledged $1 billion for a city LRT line and expanded GO service.

But for now, the city's bus system remains underwhelming, as ridership remains under the median at 45.4 trips per capita.

It's also cheaper to run a transit vehicle in Hamilton for each hour the vehicle is in service than almost anywhere else the report measured. It costs $108.51 in Hamilton, which is just slightly above $105.16 in Windsor.

The report's median is $150.68.

The number of households per 100,000 people who receive social assistance in Hamilton is dropping: it was 5,788 in 2014, down from 6,340 in 2012.

That's still above the median of 4,396, though.

The cost of policing in Hamilton continues to be relatively inexpensive. The total cost for police service per capita is $292.25, compared to the median of $333.04. 

As the city and the police service have sparred over budgets in recent years, they have stayed relatively stable and risen by just $2.11 per capita since 2012.

As the city studies expanding the Red Hill and the Linc to six lanes, Hamilton already has a traffic volume on main roads that's above the median, the report shows.

There were over 1.7 million vehicle kilometres traveled per lane kilometres in 2014, which is above the median of just over 1.5 million kilometres. 

The total cost to maintain those roads at $25,145 per lane kilometre is just under the single tier median of $25,913 — but that cost is rising.

The city is spending a significant chunk of change to maintain city hall. It costs $23.87 per square foot, which is well above the median of $14.03. 

Generally, the report says, all facility operating costs include four categories: internal and external facility repairs, as well as maintenance, custodial, utilities and security costs.

Burlington Street East aside (which is often crowned one of Ontario's worst roads by CAA), 69 per cent of Hamilton's roads are rated "very good" to "good" in the report, which is an increase of four per cent since 2012.

That also beats the median of 54 per cent, and bucks the median's trend downwards.

Hamilton is in the middle of a housing crunch. According to The Hamilton Community Foundation's Vital Signs report, rents have risen by over four per cent in a year, and rental vacancy rates have dropped to an "unhealthy" level of 1.8 per cent, which the foundation says foreshadows a "looming housing crisis."

But according to the OMBI report, Hamilton is ahead of some other municipalities when it comes to social housing. There are 64 social housing units available per 1,000 households, which ranks second per areas measured. That's also well above the median of 39. 

On top of that, 16.3 per cent of the social housing wait list gets connected with housing each year, which comes in above the median of 11.8 per cent.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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