Last week I was delighted to have been invited to Mike Mountain Horse School to visit with Grade 3 students to see their ideas for city improvements. Councillors Rob Miyashiro and Belinda Crowson also attended, as did staff from our city planning department. We were shown displays of amusement parks, leisure activity centres, health clinics, petting zoos and other ideas for city amenities. Each student had written a description on their project, and they were all excited to discuss their ideas with us.
This week we invited our citizens to submit ideas for our city's entry into the Smart Cities Challenge. This is a federal government competition. Cities have been invited to submit proposals describing how they could use technology to enhance the lives of their residents. Prizes of $50 Million and $10 Million have been offered. I would like to thank everyone who submitted ideas.
Next week is the Greatness in Leadership event in our city. This is the fourth year that this event has been held in Lethbridge. The business and education community gathers to hear success stories from internationally renowned leaders. We learn about their leadership philosophies and how they overcame significant challenges to achieve great things. I would like to thank the organizers and the sponsors for making this event happen in our city.
These three events are all about ideas and creativity, a culture that we want to continue to support in our city.
On Monday, Economic Development Lethbridge will host a public event to announce the results of their research into our community branding initiative. We want to inspire community pride and a sense of ownership so all citizens can be community ambassadors.
This week, City Council members met as Finance Committee and had an excellent discussion about how we and members of our community might have a more robust role in the coming months in developing the new 2019-2022 operating budget, which will be approved by City Council by the end of this year.
Multi-year budgets allow us to avoid having many of our staff in a perpetual budgeting mode as is necessary when budgets are developed annually. In other words, departments dedicate a greater proportion of time and effort to service delivery rather than preparing budgets. This approach allows City departments to do more thoughtful, long-term planning to meet changing community needs and follow direction set by City Council.
The budget presents an opportunity to examine how we can maintain and enhance current service while exploring opportunities to lower costs. No direction has been set yet in this regard, but we plan to continue these discussions at upcoming Finance Committee meetings so we can provide direction to our administration as soon as possible.
One thing we do know as we enter this process is that we face upward tax pressure of 1.8 per cent from projected operating costs for capital projects that will be at or near completion heading into the next budget cycle. A one-per-cent tax increase generates $1.4 million in additional revenue for the operating budget.
Another area of pressure we've already addressed in our operating budget is the loss of grants in lieu of property taxes that we previously received from the province on provincially-owned seniors' facilities. Those provincial grants were eliminated a couple of years ago, resulting in the loss of nearly $1 million dollars annually in revenue in lieu of taxes.
One of the reasons Lethbridge maximizes provincial and federal grants for capital projects is to minimize the impact on local taxpayers for major capital projects.
Where does the municipal portion of your property tax dollars go? The bulk go towards the essential services that we need to be a safe, vibrant and healthy place to live.
- 22 per cent goes toward policing
- 15 per cent goes toward fire and ambulance services
- 20 per cent goes toward community services such as Recreation & Culture, the Lethbridge Public Library and the Galt Museum & Archives
- 8 per cent goes toward parks management
- 8 per cent goes toward Lethbridge Transit and ACCESS-A-Ride services
These five areas comprise 73 per cent of our annual tax-based operating budget.
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.
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.
We look forward to welcoming world-class curlers from around the globe a year from now for the world 2019 Men's World Curling Championships. This is another opportunity to showcase Lethbridge to the world and to demonstrate our community's ability to host major international events. I invite our community to participate as volunteers or spectators and be a part of making this a first-class event for all. The 2019 World Men's Curling Championship will be televised exclusively and extensively in Canada by TSN/RDS2, from the round robin through to the bronze-medal and gold-medal games. Thank you to the World Curling Federation and Curling Canada for choosing Lethbridge!
Mayor Chris Spearman
March 16, 2018