Community Service Co-operatives

Community service co-ops meet a variety of needs, including health care, fire protection, funeral services, water systems, and adult education. Saskatchewan was home to forty-eight of these co-operatives at the end of the 1990s, with a total membership of nearly 33,000. This sector experienced a growth in numbers of more than 23% over that decade, mainly in health care and water systems; it is financially healthy, with significant increases in membership, assets, members' equity, number of employees, and capital investment.

Total membership grew by nearly 14% over the decade, while assets for the sector stood at $6.9 million, up from the $4.9 million reported in 1989. Member equity nearly doubled over the same period, from $2.2 million to $4.1 million, and the number of employees grew by 20%. With an increase in the wage bill of only 3.8%, however, the average salary actually fell from $24,693 to $21,369. Revenues increased by more than 28% during the 1990s - to $15.6 million - while capital investment rose even more impressively, from $279,000 in 1989 to $1.3 million ten years later.

There were thirteen health care co-operatives registered with the Department of Justice at the end of the 1990s, up from the eight reporting in 1989. Total membership grew from 24,845 to 28,658 people, most of whom were accounted for by the three largest community clinics - those in Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert. Revenues rose over the decade from $11.2 million to $14.1 million, while assets increased by nearly 19% - to $4.7 million - and liabilities decreased by 14% - to $2.2 million. At $239,000, the surplus in the late 1990s was 17% higher than that reported in 1989, and employment climbed as well, from 242 to 312 paid positions. With the wage bill remaining virtually unchanged over the decade at about $6.6 million, however, this resulted in a decrease in the average annual wage from $27,272 to just over $21,000.

The number of fire protection co-operatives remained small but consistent over the 1990s, dropping by only one - from nine to eight - while membership over the same period increased from 2,170 to 2,536. Revenues increased by 54% - from $112,000 to $173,000 - while the surplus dropped from $21,000 in 1989 to a $32,000 loss at the end of the next decade. The number of employees increased from six to seven part-time workers, and the wage bill rose from $12,000 to $19,000; the low average wage indicates that few working hours are necessary to maintain these co-operatives. Capital investment and liabilities in fire protection co-operatives remained extremely low over the decade, while both assets and member equity rose, by 29% and 28% respectively.

Never an area of high activity in the province, funeral co-operatives declined by 50% during the 1990s - from four to two - and membership fell by more than 70% during the same period. Wages, revenue, surplus, assets, and member equity all dropped significantly as well, indicating the low priority for this type of co-op in Saskatchewan.

Although water supply co-operatives are not numerous in Saskatchewan, their numbers increased significantly during the 1990s, from four in 1989 to seventeen a decade later, indicating growing interest in this area. Membership also increased, from 71 to 250 individuals. Assets held by the water system co-operatives during the same period at first increased dramatically, from $53,000 in 1989 to $919,000 in 1996, and then fell off to $681,000 by the end of the decade, while liabilities climbed from $47,000 to $87,000. Capital investment fell from $52,000 to a mere $1,000, suggesting minimal maintenance costs to existing systems purchased earlier in the decade. Revenue was reported at only $3,000 in 1989, but by the end of the 1990s that figure had grown to $73,000, and member equity increased even more significantly, from $5,000 in 1989 to $594,000 ten years later. Interestingly, these businesses operated throughout the 1990s with only volunteer labour.

Adult education organizations operate in a number of areas, including co-operative education and development, promotion of the arts, and preservation of culture. The number of adult education co-operatives in the province remained consistent at five throughout the 1990s, although membership decreased by 31% from 417 to 286. The number of employees increased from six to twelve, but the drop in the wage bill from $115,000 to $6,000 suggests that by the end of the 1990s the term “employee” was being used quite loosely and that these individuals were receiving honorariums rather than wages. Revenues dropped as well, from $308,000 to $268,000, while assets plummeted from $259,000 to $37,000. There was a corresponding fall in liabilities and member equity, which dropped from $199,000 to $31,000 over the course of the decade.

Other community services consisted of only three co-operatives at the end of the 1990s - a drop of one from ten years earlier - which provided support to those with mental disabilities as well as services to enhance the quality of life for disadvantaged individuals. Despite their small number, these organizations enjoyed significant increases in membership, revenue, assets, and member equity during the decade; but they also saw a large rise in liabilities. Membership rose by 31%, from 826 to 1,085 people, while revenue more than quadrupled, from $210,000 to $957,000. Assets grew almost five times - from $96,000 in 1989 to $463,000 at the end of the 1990s - and member equity increased from $91,000 to $373,000 over the same period. Although liabilities also increased significantly, at $90,000 they were still relatively low and did not adversely affect the financial health of these organizations.

Nora Russell

Further Reading

Fulton, Murray, et al. 1991. Economic Impact Analysis of the Co-operative Sector in Saskatchewan, Research Report Prepared for Saskatchewan Department of Economic Diversification and Trade; Herman, Roger and Murray Fulton. 2001. An Economic Impact Analysis of the Co-operative Sector in Saskatchewan: Update 1998; Ketilson, Lou Hammond, et al. 1998. The Social and Economic Importance of the Co-operative Sector in Saskatchewan, Research Report Prepared for Saskatchewan Department of Economic and Co-operative Development.