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July 2016 Mayor's Column

Growing up and looking forward

Lethbridge is growing up. Our official 2016 census results show a population of 96,828, an increase of 2,024 (2.13 per cent) over 2015. As we inch ever closer to the 100,000 mark, we are reminded of how much Lethbridge has changed and how important it is that we plan for our future. What will Lethbridge need in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?

Our census numbers over the last several years have shown a consistent, healthy rate of growth. This predictability is important because it helps us in plan effectively.

A big part of a sustainable future is a strong and viable business community. I am proud to say that Lethbridge has recently been recognized on both a provincial and national level as being a great place to do business.

In June, Alberta Venture Magazine ranked Lethbridge number two just behind Edmonton as the best community in Alberta to do business. In a time when much of the province saw an economic downturn, Lethbridge is being celebrated for its diverse economy, steady growth and stability. Alberta Venture credits our agricultural sector, postsecondary institutions and thriving network of entrepreneurs and technology as the key factors to our success.

Another exciting recognition came just yesterday when Canadian Business magazine and PROFITguide.com announced Canada's Best Places for Business 2016. Lethbridge was ranked number four overall and also received the number two ranking as the most business friendly community. This is another great accomplishment for our city and I commend the work of Economic Development Lethbridge as they continue to support business growth and diversification in Lethbridge.

The City's role is to maintain a positive investment climate. We must be receptive to investors and minimize red tape. Investment takes the form of new business, expansion of existing business and newly developed small businesses such as those that get started in the tecconnect business incubator. 

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Another way in which the City of Lethbridge plans for the future is through our Capital Improvement Program or CIP. This is a plan that recognizes upcoming capital projects, provides a planning schedule and identifies options for financing the plan. We are currently in the process of planning for the next CIP cycle (2018-2027).

The reality is, this CIP will be much more limited in the funds available for community projects. In the last several CIPs Lethbridge has been very successful and fortunate to access significant provincial and federal grant money. These allowed us to complete projects like CASA, phase one of Crossings Leisure Complex and the redeveloped Nature Centre.

Given the changes in the economy, grant money is not as readily available, particularly in the next four years. Given this new outlook, we need to stretch our thinking further into the future. The CIP can support our planning for what our community will need not just in the next four years but the next ten years and beyond.

The forecasted available CIP funds to 2021 is $53 million with three projects identified but not yet approved from the last CIP totaling over $48 million. If these projects moved forward there would be just under $5 million unallocated for future community projects.

Ultimately, Council will make the decision on what projects are included in the CIP. We recently approved prioritization criteria to guide the project evaluation process. Using this criteria, City staff will work with community groups over the next several months to help them prepare CIP requests. This is always a difficult decision for Council as we balance how to take care of what we already have with what we need in the future.

One option for increasing funds in the CIP is a tax increase to residence. A one per cent tax increase would equal $15 million in borrowing capacity. To put it in perspective, funding a project like the construction of a third bridge would require about a 10 per cent tax increase. This would have a significant effect on our residents and Council is very sensitive to how tax increases impact our community. Again, it really is about finding that balance that works for everyone.

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I would like to congratulate Trevor Stuart - our latest recipient of the Key to the City. Trevor was honored at our July 11 Council meeting for his efforts to end family violence. Over the last 18 months, Trevor challenged himself to take on numerous climbing expeditions including his latest goal of summiting Mt. Everest all while raising funds for the Lethbridge YWCA.

Trevor was raised in an abusive home and saw first-hand the pain it causes children and the struggles of women trying to escape. To address this issue, he launched "Elevating Lives One Peak at a Time". His goal was to complete three major climbing expeditions to raise money and awareness for YWCA Harbour House. He summited Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina in January 2015. He conquered five peaks (each over 17,000') in Bolivia in June 2015 and on May 21 of this year, Trevor successfully summited Mt. Everest. To date, his campaign has raised over $38,000 for the YWCA.

Trevor truly is "elevating lives" with his inspiring climbs and dedicated fundraising efforts.

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Today is the day many local residents have been waiting for. We are excited to be opening up the doors and diving into the newly renovated and upgraded Henderson Pool. I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy this top-notch facility that will be the envy of communities across western Canada. With waterslides, spray park, climbing wall, drop slide and more it will be a great community space for people of all ages. I look forward to the official grand opening celebration July 28 at 11:00 a.m.