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December 2020 Mayor's Column

​Well, this year was certainly unlike any other.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an entirely new set of challenges in 2020 and some will continue to have effects for years to come.

City Council understands the hardships this has put on everyone. We are very aware of the economic uncertainty that many in our community are facing. The economic impacts of the required public health measures will be widespread and significant.

But we need to continue to be vigilant in following the public health orders and we will need the continued support of our community. The health and safety of our community and establishing a safe environment to keep businesses open remain our top priorities.

It's essential that we find ways to support local businesses. Many rely on this time of year for their livelihood, so I encourage all Lethbridge residents to find ways to support local businesses. Use the takeout or delivery options from local restaurants, find curbside pickup options from local retailers, and provide positive reviews on social media.

We know that Christmas will not be the same this year. We encourage families who can't be together physically to try to come up with a list of shared activities that can be done virtually. Please try to make the best of the situation.

Lethbridge City Council on Monday voted to adopt the Finance Committee's recommendations to amend the City of Lethbridge 2021-2022 Operating Budget.

Finance Committee met in November to deliberate the Operating Budget with the goal of reducing spending to see a 0% property tax rate increase for the next two years and a 0% utility rate increase in 2021. With the Operating Budget approval, the 2021-2022 average annual change in municipal tax rate is 0% per year. 

In 2019, there was a 1.82% municipal tax rate increase – which was the lowest in 20 years. For 2020, we adapted and created a 0% municipal tax rate increase – and now that will continue for 2021 and 2022.

Early in the pandemic, Council also passed a Temporary Financial Fees and Utility Penalty Waiver Bylaw and Extended Tax payment deadlines in 2020.

A full recap of the Operating Budget Review can be viewed here: https://www.lethbridge.ca/NewsCentre/Pages/2021-2022-Operating-Budget-Review-daily-recap.aspx

I was recently on hand as Lethbridge East MLA Nathan Neudorf officially announced $11 million in provincial funding for airport pavement rehabilitation and for lighting upgrades, as well as $900,000 for new development of a Festival Square Market Plaza.

It is an ambitious strategy to create jobs soon with these shovel-ready projects in Lethbridge. The financial commitment ties directly to positive economic development for a post-pandemic world and it also speaks volumes to the importance of the Lethbridge Airport as a catalyst for other projects and partnerships.

City Council is also investing in airport terminal improvements to improve accessibility and enhance security. Investing in the airport means we are investing in our ability to grow our economic potential. Air travel has been severely impacted by this pandemic. City Council and our Provincial Government see the value in positioning the airport as a more convenient option and gateway for travel to residents in our city and in our region. The opportunities for future development and renovating this facility as a major economic driver for southern Alberta are exciting and we're thrilled to be moving forward on these improvements. From the City's perspective, we remain focused on supporting municipal infrastructure and attracting investment to our city. We are well positioned for all the emerging growth opportunities that will accompany this project.

Another positive recent announcement from the governments of Alberta and Canada will provide about $3.4 million through the Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement to a new affordable 64-unit seniors housing project.

The development addresses the need for affordable seniors housing in Lethbridge. The mixed-income development will include 32 units with rent set at 20 per cent below market rates and the other 32 at market rental rates. More than 90 jobs will be created.

Lethbridge City Council is thrilled and appreciative of this funding commitment. Safe and affordable housing for our senior population is of the utmost importance. This partnership is a creative idea and one that will have many benefits to the senior residents of Lethbridge.

Other major positive events in 2020 included:

  • New City Manager Craig Dalton joining the City on May 19
  • New Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh joining the City on August 31
  • Working with partners, introducing a cohesive Downtown Lethbridge brand
  • Construction underway for new Fire Hall in West Lethbridge
  • Started major reconstruction project for 3 Ave. S. replacing infrastructure and creating a more walkable, inviting space in the heart of Downtown Lethbridge
  • Supported bid for 2022 Brier

This year had its share of ongoing challenges with homelessness, addictions, mental health and many more areas. We will continue to advocate for funding and long-term solutions to help everyone in our community who are struggling.

The AHS decision to remove local EMS Dispatch will significantly impact how we provide our integrated Fire and Emergency Services in Lethbridge. The City of Lethbridge also discovered the first case of Dutch Elm Disease in Alberta, which we will be watching closely.

And, notably again, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a myriad of concerns. The City had its longest-ever Local State of Emergency from March 18 to June 18, which included temporarily relocating our homeless shelter to another City facility and establishing isolation locations for our vulnerable populations. We also had many City facility closures and re-openings and closures again.

But there is reason to be optimistic for 2021. The vaccine rollout has started in Alberta and we will get through this pandemic. The health and safety of our community will always be our top priority.

Happy holidays and here's to a Happy New Year, Lethbridge!