Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day to formally acknowledge and celebrate the contributions that the Blackfoot people, and all Indigenous peoples, have made to our city, past, present and future. But given Lethbridge is located in the heart of traditional Blackfoot Territory, we should strive to celebrate Indigenous peoples in our everyday life, not just once a year. By celebrating the many and diverse contributions of Indigenous peoples in Lethbridge and elsewhere, we create space for dialogue, partnership, and reconciliation in our communities.
For many, National Indigenous Peoples Day is a cause to celebrate culture and community, but we must also acknowledge the oppression and discrimination that Indigenous peoples have experienced for centuries, and continue to face. We are actively partnering with our neighbours to advance meaningful dialogue in the spirit of reconciliation, to build a brighter future for everyone.
If you have been past City Hall as the light starts to fade in the evening, you may have noticed it is sparkling in a rainbow of colour. Pride Week in Lethbridge is a celebration that gets bigger and brighter every year and I am delighted to be taking part in the Pride Parade again this year as it makes its way through our downtown on Saturday. As a City, we are proud to be a community that values inclusivity for all and supporting events like Pride Fest is a privilege and honour to be a part of.
The ATB Financial Lethbridge Rotary Dragon Boat Festival kicks-off today at Henderson Lake and continues on to Sunday. This event is always a great way to spend the day by one of our most picturesque locations in the city and take in the all the action from the water.
On the other side of the coulees you'll catch some of the PGA Tour pro's in full swing at the Lethbridge Paradise Canyon Open until Sunday. Attracting events of this magnitude to our city continues to be a source of pride and a boost to our local economy, so thank you to all of those who work to bring these events to our city and to those volunteers who give up their evenings and weekends to ensure a wonderful experience for all who attend.
The end of June also signifies another, definitely less colourful event in the City calendar, property taxes. The City of Lethbridge property taxes are due on June 28 this year and I think it's timely to revisit how your tax money is spent.
Typically, I hear from some residents who want to pay less in property taxes without sacrificing any municipal services or others who want greater levels of service with no increase in taxes. This illustrates the challenge City Council faces in seeking what's best for the entire community while respecting that the community's capacity and tolerance for tax increases is limited.
Your overall property tax bill includes two other components besides your municipal property tax levy. One is the provincial education levy which this year accounts for almost 22 per cent of the overall bill. The other is the levy for the Green Acres Foundation, which helps fund seniors' housing in our community, and which accounts for one per cent of your overall tax bill. That leaves around 77 per cent of each tax dollar that goes to providing tax-funded services.
Unlike provincial and federal income tax revenues, municipal tax revenues are not indexed, which means they do not rise automatically with your income. Although provincial and federal tax rates (the percentage of your income withheld as income tax) may remain the same from year to year, the actual tax revenues increase annually as incomes increase. As our costs rise annually with inflation and other cost pressures, we must adjust tax rates accordingly.
We only collect sufficient tax revenue to meet the approved budget set by City Council to run the City. We allocate taxes to homeowners based on the market value assessment of their properties.
This year, the overall tax increase is the lowest in 20 years. Further to this, the City Manager is conducting a series of operational reviews to minimize or eliminate tax increases in future years.
The money collected each year in property taxes is used to provide important public services such as police and fire protection, road maintenance, public transit, parks, public libraries as well as cultural and recreation facilities.
The municipal tax-funded portion of the 2019 City of Lethbridge operating budget is $180 million. Here's a breakdown of the major budget areas:
- Community Services 21 % $37 million
- Police 20 % $36 million
- Fire/EMS 16 % $29 million
- Streets & Roads 8 % $15 million
- Parks 8 % $14 million
- Transit & ACCESS-A-Ride 8 % $14 million
- Debt & Pay-As-You-Go Capital 7 % $13 million
- Corporate Services 6 % $11 million
- Governance & Community Development 3% $6 million
- Infrastructure Services 3 % $5 million
Cities have two assessment bases from which they draw taxes to help fund their annual operating budgets: residential and non-residential (commercial). When residents ask me why residential taxes in Lethbridge aren't lower, I point out that in Lethbridge, our commercial assessment base makes up a smaller proportion of our overall property assessment base than other mid-sized and major Alberta cities. Most are around 25 percent, while in Lethbridge it's only 19 per cent.
By working hard to attract new business to Lethbridge, we want to gradually increase our proportion of commercial assessment base, which would allow us to shift some of the tax burden from residential taxpayers.
For local seniors who find tax time financially challenging, I encourage them to consider the provincial Seniors Property Tax Deferral Program. Details are available from Alberta Health at 1-877-644-9992 or at http://www.seniors.alberta.ca/seniors/property-tax-deferral.html.
If making a lump-sum tax payment is difficult, you might consider enrolling in our convenient monthly Tax Instalment Prepayment Plan (TIPP). Visit www.lethbridge.ca/tipp for details or stop by City Hall to enroll.