As the year 2018 comes to a close, I have been reflecting on the accomplishments of the past year – the opening of Legacy Park, the completion of Metis Trail, the extension of Whoop-Up Drive, the acquisition of the Lethbridge Airport and the hiring of a new City Manager are a few of the things that were completed at the direction of City Council.
At the same time, social issues and safety have also been on the minds of many residents who have been directly and indirectly affected by the drug crisis impacting our city. City Council has been tirelessly advocating for more funds and more services for Lethbridge to address these issues.
This year we heard the public concern over needle debris, panhandling, downtown safety, loitering, petty crime and illegal activity in our parks. While our residents and businesses were sharing these concerns, we were listening carefully, meeting with our partners in other levels of government and advocating for Lethbridge. What we heard confirmed our belief that our city has been under-served for many years. I can assure you that City Council has worked tirelessly to make sure our city gets the resources it needs to respond to the drug crisis.
For decades our city has struggled to manage social issues. For the most part, the reason for that is because mental health, addiction, rehabilitation and supported housing are not within the jurisdiction of the city. While we have some of the highest needs in the province, the historical funding model to health regions has caused us to be under resourced based on our needs. We know we needed a facility for addicts to transition to after detox. Without an intox facility to transition to, addicts will most likely relapse and not rehabilitate.
On December 7th, 2018, we welcomed the Government of Alberta announcement of much needed funding for Lethbridge, including a new supportive housing complex for 42 adults who are experiencing homelessness and have complex issues such as substance abuse, and 30 new intox spaces. The province is also expanding an option for people to receive opioid agonist therapy (OAT), such as methadone and suboxone in Lethbridge and other areas. Thank to you to our provincial partners for this much needed support.
The $15 million in announced funding support is unprecedented and will address our top four community priorities in responding to the drug crisis in our city. Our immediate priority is to work with Alberta Health Services to implement these programs and services.
City Council members also gave final approval on December 10th to a new four-year operating budget, which addresses several community and strategic priorities, while building in financial accountability and limiting the tax impact on residents. The new operating budget preserves existing City services while allocating funds to important community needs. This includes the City's response to safety concerns resulting from the community drug crisis. Within the budget, Council has made significant investment in public safety and addressed increased demand on Lethbridge Police Services, which includes:
- Special Constable/Peace Officer
This program will hire 15 fully trained but less experienced staff within the Lethbridge Police Service as either Peace Officers or Special Police Constables. This proactive policing model has proven to be effective in other communities. Council will hear a report back after the first two years before committing to additional funding.
- Downtown Ambassador Watch Program
Modeling a successful program from Winnipeg, the Downtown Ambassador Watch will use a combination of trained staff and volunteers to provide a presence in the downtown to address concerns and improve public safety. Council will hear a report back after the first two years before committing to additional funding.
- Recreation and Culture Security
To provide safety and security of the downtown public spaces such as Galt Gardens and public building such as SAAG and Casa.
- Library Public Safety Security
To increase public and employee security and public safety at the downtown branch.
- Syringe Collection Program continuation
Funds will be used to supplement provincial funding to address needle debris in our city.
Significant new provincial and municipal funding, coupled with our community-based drug strategy puts us on the right path for 2019. Four facilitated sessions were held October 10th and 11th where stakeholders, business people and interested community members could discuss how the drug epidemic is affecting them and share ideas and constructive solutions. A total of 288 people participated. Residents can look forward to an update in early 2019.
As I reflect back on 2018 and the challenges that we have faced as a community, I am encouraged by the fact that we are strong, resilient, vibrant, passionate, hardworking and unwavering. It is those qualities that have helped us rally together, focus on what is important to us and ensure that Lethbridge comes out the other side better than ever. I want you to know that I have worked tirelessly this past year for the community that I love and will continue to do so in 2019.
In closing, on behalf of City Council and everyone at the City of Lethbridge, I want to wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all residents. Be safe, and enjoy this special time with your family and friends.
Mayor of Lethbridge