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May 2020 Mayor's Column

This week was the start of stage one for the Provincial Government's COVID-19 Relaunch Strategy and we are happy to announce that a number of City amenities are now available for use, as long as residents can adhere to the current public health orders.

After evaluating the provincial guidelines and receiving various mitigation plans from community organizations and City departments, the local Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC) has approved the opening of the following:

  • Disc Golf at Nicholas Sheran Park
  • Fenced dog enclosure at Peenaquim Park Dog Run
  • Tennis Club at Henderson
  • Community Gardens (that have ECC approved plans)
  • Skate Parks across the city
  • Mountain Bike Park in the river valley
  • Horseshoe Pits across the city
  • Lawn Bowling at Ted Petrunia Park and Bocce at Redwood Park
  • Other outdoor courts (for recreational use only) including:
    • Tennis
    • Basketball
    • Pickleball

It is important that residents understand that these amenities can only be used if participants can properly follow the provincial public health orders of: no groups larger than 15; physical distancing of at least two metres at all times from anyone outside of your household; and washing/sanitizing your hands well and often.

All other City amenities and facilities remain closed until further notice. These include: City Hall, playgrounds, park benches, picnic shelters, outdoor washrooms (with the exception of Galt Gardens), pools and arenas. Even though the province has identified some of these amenities in stage one (such as playgrounds), the local ECC is still working to determine how these can safely open for the community.

With the Relaunch Strategy, each stage will require careful evaluation in consultation with health experts. With many measures still in place such as mass gathering and social distancing restrictions, the City of Lethbridge continues to exercise caution to protect the health and safety of the community.  For more information of the City of Lethbridge's response to COVID-19, as well as any new updates, please visit www.lethbridge.ca/covid19.

This week, City Council directed the City Manager to update the 2020 operating budget on a one-time basis to eliminate a 1.82 per cent tax rate increase.

This amendment was introduced because we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on residents and business owners. We believe removing the tax increase comes at a time when residents and businesses need some assistance to help get them through these unprecedented times.

All 2020 property tax notices will be mailed out at the end of May and property owners who can pay all or part of their property taxes by June 30 are asked to do so. Understanding that some residents may not be able to pay all of their property taxes by June 30, City Council has also recently approved changes to the 2020 property tax penalty dates where penalties will not be applied to unpaid tax balances until Oct. 1. This is to help residents impacted by the financial effects of COVID-19.

Maintaining essential municipal services is necessary to keep the community moving forward through to our recovery. Municipal property taxes are required to pay for services like police and fire protection, transit, streets and roads, community services and infrastructure. City Council reviews the tax rate annually.

Freezing the tax increase for 2020 was an important first step. Next week, Council will be discussing a resolution on future operating budgets. In addition, the second phase of the operational review is ongoing and we are considering all options to identify opportunities, offset costs and improve efficiencies.

Property tax bills are coming at a time when some businesses are just beginning to re-open and residents may be returning to work. By extending penalty dates, we believe this will give businesses and individuals more time to get back on their feet and make payments toward their bill without being penalized.

Last week, the provincial government launched a new website providing workplace guidance and supports to help businesses and non-profits begin to reopen and resume operations safely. The City will be reviewing these guidelines and applying them to City operations, if applicable. More information can be found at: https://www.alberta.ca/biz-connect.aspx.

In my recent article in the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce newsletter letter I said we want Lethbridge to re-open for business. But it has to be done safely and prudently in order to help the public and minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.

This weekend is Victoria Day weekend. The traditional summer kick-off will not have the same feel in 2020 as it has in the past. We know this is typically time to get together with friends and family to start enjoying the nicer weather. I would encourage you to make Victoria Day 2020 a little bit different by enjoying these activities with only those in your own household.

As our Fire Chief Marc Rathwell said this week: "We can't stress enough how important it is to continue to wash your hands, stay home when you are sick and stay two metres from others. We are going to have to take slow and cautious steps in the reopening of services in our City and that will require the collective efforts of everyone."

Lethbridge: we will need the continued support of our community as we move forward through the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all in this together. And we know we will come out of this stronger than ever.

I'd like to end my column with a recognition and a salute to Nurses Week. Now more than ever, we all salute you and other front line workers for all that you do.

We are also excited to announce Mr. Craig Dalton as our new City Manager. He will be formally introduced on Tuesday.