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May 2016 Mayor's Column

​A topic top-of-mind to Lethbridge residents this time of year is property taxes. If you haven't seen it yet, your property tax bill should arrive in the mail shortly. May is the month when City Council gets lots of questions about how taxes are calculated.

Council approves the budget so that we know how much we need to collect in taxes in order to run City operations. As part of the Municipal Government Act we can only collect the tax dollars we need. That's why setting a solid budget is so important. Through the budgeting process we listen carefully to residents to hear what's important to them so we can budget accordingly. Knowing the total amount we need to collect in taxes is an important part of calculating your individual tax bill.

The City of Lethbridge calculates taxes the same way most cities in Canada do. It is done using a mill rate which simply put, is a way to make sure everyone is paying for their fair share, based on the value of their property. There is good information and further explanation of taxes on the City website at www.lethbridge.ca/taxes. I encourage you to have look or ask myself or another member of council if you have questions. There are also details on how your home is assessed, how Lethbridge taxes compare to other cities and a breakdown of where your taxes go.

We ensure fair taxes for residents through financial stewardship and oversight. One of Council's strategic goals is to be fiscally responsible which is why we are very conscious of our budgeting decisions, how they will impact your taxes and how we can get the best value for every tax dollar. We challenge City administration to demonstrate efficiencies and savings and report those back to council three times a year. This helps us achieve our goals and make sure we are doing everything we can to be resourceful and responsible with your tax money.

A common question we often get asked is what tax money is used for. The majority of your property taxes (76 per cent) will go to the City of Lethbridge to run programs and services. This includes essential services like fire, police, transit, road maintenance and debt servicing but it also includes all those extras that make Lethbridge a great place to live like our parks, recreation, culture and social services. These are investments in our community and the way we keep Lethbridge safe and vibrant.

Other communities boast low or non-existent taxes but the trade-off is a much lower level of service to the community. It really is a balancing act to meet the needs and wishes of the community with a tax rate that is fair and reasonable.

There are many factors to consider in order to make an accurate comparison between residential property taxes from one city to another. One factor is the ratio of commercial (non-residential) tax assessment base to residential. Lethbridge has a smaller commercial assessment base than most Alberta cities. Our commercial assessment base is 21 per cent of the overall tax base, while the average is 26 per cent among all Alberta cities.

The second factor is a higher proportion of government-owned facilities in Lethbridge that pay little or no local property tax. Last year, the provincial government eliminated their grants in lieu of property taxes on government-owned seniors' residences and affordable housing. This created a shortfall of $900,000 for the City of Lethbridge which must be made up by remaining local taxpayers. This is a decision that I have repeatedly appealed to the provincial government to reverse and I will continue to do so.

Thirdly, the cost of a home in Lethbridge compared to other urban centers is often lower. It's unfair to compare the taxes on a home in Lethbridge to a home of the same price in Calgary for example. A comparable home in a big city will cost more money therefore, you will be paying more taxes.

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Last week we had the pleasure of putting shovels in the ground to mark the official groundbreaking of phase 2 of the Crossings Leisure Complex. On May 28 we will celebrate the grand opening of the City's new Multicultural Centre and the home of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association and with the warmer temperatures, we are all  excited for the grand re-opening of Henderson Pool. Plan to attend some of these great events to celebrate all Lethbridge has to offer.

The Southern Alberta Summer Games will be held July 6-9. I encourage everyone to participate, volunteer or just come out and enjoy the games. This is a wonderful grassroots community event that will welcome visitors from across southern Alberta.

The Tour of Alberta will return to Lethbridge September 1. This cycling race is an exciting event that gets international attention. Council recently approved a change in the format of the race and instead of the prologue, Lethbridge will now be home to the first leg of the race. This will make for even more racing and we expect the cycling teams to be in our city four to five days prior. It will be a great opportunity to meet world class cyclists and promote cycling in our own city.

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The events in Fort McMurray over the last couple of weeks have been a frightening reminder of the power of Mother Nature. Our hearts go out to our neighbors to the north who have been impacted by this tragedy. I know Lethbridge is a community that cares and if you can provide support to the people of Fort McMurray I encourage you to make a donation through the Red Cross. This will ensure your generosity is used in the place that it is needed most. I thank everyone who is helping to make the stay of evacuees in Lethbridge as warm and supportive as possible.