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April 2021 Mayor's Column

As the current third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it's more important than ever for everyone to do what they can to prevent further spread of this virus in our community.

I strongly encourage all residents who are eligible to get vaccinated. After a short delay and re-scheduling due to supply, I was able to receive my first dose of vaccine last week. Vaccines are proven to be safe and highly effective at preventing COVID-19. Getting vaccinated will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in community and will allow our economy to get back on track.

To help this process as supply arrives, the Alberta Government recently announced new large-scale immunization clinics that will be used to rapidly increase immunization appointments. They are now operating in several major cities, including at Exhibition Park in Lethbridge. The City of Lethbridge, working closely with Alberta Health Services and Exhibition Park, aim to ensure all residents can get vaccinated as quickly and easily as possible.

Our staff at Lethbridge Transit have altered two routes in order to better service the COVID vaccination centre at Exhibition Park and to ensure everyone has access, when it is their turn, to this critical and important next step. For the latest on COVID-19 immunization requirements and booking information visit: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/topics/Page17295.aspx

The Government of Canada recently announced a commitment to doubling the Gas Tax Fund – an overall investment of $2.2 billion that will enable cities and municipalities to better plan local infrastructure projects and create jobs in our communities. The Gas Tax Fund, which the Federal government proposes to rename the Canada Community-Building Fund, is a permanent source of funding that supports municipalities to invest in local infrastructure priorities.

Communities can direct the funds to projects that fall under 18 different categories, including public transit, wastewater infrastructure, local roads and bridges, broadband and connectivity, and disaster mitigation. Municipalities can also pool, bank and borrow against this funding, providing significant financial flexibility. We don't yet know the exact dollar amount for Lethbridge, or what City Council would allocate those funds for in the future, but I believe we will know more when the Federal budget comes out April 19.

Last week, I spoke with the Honourable Jim Carr, Special Representative for the Prairies, to discuss the importance of this funding in Lethbridge. Municipalities have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, and our local government needs support to keep planned capital projects on track. These types of projects are important as they add to the value already in Lethbridge and become catalysts for further development.

One of the next big tasks for our Council, who will meet as the Economic Standing Policy Committee (SPC), and City of Lethbridge Administration, will be the week-long Capital Improvement Program (CIP) deliberations set for May 10-14.

A variety of project proposals have already been presented to the Economic SPC and more will be presented at the April 21 and April 28 meetings. All of the presentations are for information purposes only and no decisions will be made on those dates. There is limited funding currently available and many projects to consider, so any recommendations that stem from the CIP deliberations will be forwarded for City Council's consideration at the May 18 City Council meeting.

City Council also welcomes public input on the proposed projects. The opportunity for engagement can be found at the Capital Budget engagement site here: https://getinvolvedlethbridge.ca/2022-2031-capitalbudget. The site will be open for input until April 28. A link to proposed CIP projects can be found on the City of Lethbridge website here: https://www.lethbridge.ca/City-Government/Financial-Documents/Documents/CIP/2022-2031CIPWorkingDraft.pdf

Last month, Council had a long Public Hearing where a re-zoning proposal to allow for a dry shelter to be operated by the Mustard Seed was ultimately defeated. Many issues arose at this meeting. Notably and positively: our residents acknowledge the need for further support systems in our city to address crime, housing, mental health and addictions issues, among others; and many presenters from the business community offered to be a part of the solution process.

This type of community-driven response will provide better opportunities for a path forward with a collective impact. Enhanced community wellbeing and safety within our community is win/win for all.

Other communities in Alberta have received further Federal and Provincial funding for permanent housing and for social programs. Lethbridge City Council has strived repeatedly for our share to help address our ongoing issues. But, as we wait with jurisdictional issues aside, someone still needs to steer our collective local strategies moving forward.

Next week, members of the Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy Advisory Committee will submit to Council with various options including the idea of leveraging the existing Committee to transform into an action-oriented Task Force, the Community Wellbeing Task Force, that would perform the following:

1. Develop a Task Force Terms of Reference that includes a mandate to develop a community governance model and implement the Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy – Phase II, to generate community-wide collective impact.

2. Review Task Force membership that includes, but is not limited to, the following stakeholder perspectives: Business Community Including the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone and Chamber of Commerce; Urban and Regional Indigenous Community; Lived and Living Experience; Secondary and Post-Secondary Education; Key Government of Alberta and Canada Representatives; Community Funding Organizations; Faith Communities; Social Service Providers and Community Service Organizations; and the General Public.

3. Continue to be at arms-length from Council.

City Administration provided a CWSS update to the Community Safety SPC on March 11 in regards to this concept. Since then, Administration has presented to a number of stakeholder groups including the Police Commission, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown BRZ, Reconciliation Lethbridge, Alberta Government representatives in Community and Social Services and Mental Health and Addiction, and social service providers. All of them support its implementation and agreed that the strategies are strong.

Depending on what Council directs next week, a draft model could be presented to the Community Safety SPC on May 26. Further research and stakeholder engagement will continue to ensure the work is evidence-based and supported by the community. Again – enhanced community wellbeing and safety within our community is win/win for all.

I also want to thank Lethbridge Police Chief Mehdizadeh for the honesty and forthrightness revealed in his open letter to residents this week and for his commitment to the completion of an action plan in a timely manner. Please visit https://www.lethbridge.ca/NewsCentre/Pages/LPS-Action-Plan.aspx for links to the full letter and the action plan.