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November 2015 Mayor's Column

Once in the term of every Lethbridge City Council, we have the responsibility of developing and approving a capital budget that determines our spending priorities in future years for major transportation, utility and community facility projects.

We refer to this budget formally as the Capital Improvement Program, or CIP. The CIP is a 10-year plan in which only projects within the first four years receive Council approval with dedicated funding. As Council, we recently received a briefing to map out the timeline and process leading up to May 2017, when we will meet as Finance Committee to consider and debate which projects to include in the 2018-2027 CIP. Lethbridge is a growing city, and there is a wide spectrum of views on which projects should be our top priorities. Typically, the number of potential projects exceeds the amount of money we have available to pay for them.

The current 2014-2023 CIP was debated and approved two-and-a-half years ago by the previous City Council in May/June 2013. The thing about setting a 10-year capital plan is that decisions on which projects to include are based on the information and projections available to us at the time. Circumstances can and do change which can impact the timing of some projects.

A prime example is the growth pressure we're seeing on our road network in West Lethbridge. Based on earlier traffic projections, the current CIP doesn't contemplate (or allocate funding for) four-laning Whoop-Up Drive from McMaster Boulevard to Aquitania Road West until 2022. Residents of Copperwood and other areas of the west side who travel this corridor every day will tell you that it needs to expand to four lanes much sooner than that.

Similarly, the current CIP contemplates (and partially funds) the completion of the next sections of Metis Trail that will connect Whoop-Up Drive and Walsh Drive West sometime between 2020 and 2024. We recognize, however, that a second north-south connector is a pressing need sooner than that to provide more efficient access and fire response to the fastest-growing areas of our city. Another area where we see growth pressure is the southern section of 43 Street South, east of the Fairmont and Southgate neighbourhoods.

Our staff have accelerated the design work on these urgently needed transportation projects in order to provide City Council with options that might allow us to construct these new roads sooner than originally planned. The challenge, as it often is, will be to find funding. We are also receiving requests to expand the south end of University Drive to four lanes.

The City of Lethbridge operates on the principle that growth pays for growth. Accordingly, construction of new arterial roads such as the two I've discussed above is funded in whole or in part by what we call an Offsite Levy, which we collect from developers of new residential areas. The amount of revenue flowing into our Offsite Levy account fluctuates each year, depending on the number of new home lots that private developers introduce into the local market. Unfortunately, this account is depleted because the revenue flowing into it has not kept up with the demand for new arterial road and underground utility construction.

Discussion of our next CIP will begin in earnest about a year from now. In determining our next capital plan, Council will face the challenge of dealing with competing priorities and limited financial resources. A new performing arts centre and a new convention centre are major projects that many in our community want to become a reality. Many would also like to see a third river crossing built sooner than later. The reality is that local taxpayers can't afford to tackle even one of these projects without significant help from higher orders of government, and approving one of these projects would mean leaving others on hold well into the future.


At the end of this month, City Council will meet publicly as Finance Committee to be briefed on a draft Residential Waste Diversion Strategy for Lethbridge. This proposed strategy is intended to help achieve the waste reduction targets Council set for our community in the Waste Diversion Policy we approved last summer. Our goal is to increase overall per-capita waste diversion in our community by 30 per cent in the next five years.

As you may recall, we've already adopted and have begun to implement a waste reduction strategy for the non-residential sectors of our community – the Industrial-Commercial-Institutional (ICI) and Construction-Demolition (C&D) sectors.

On Nov. 30, Finance Committee will receive reports from independent consultants retained to explore the most cost-efficient systems and methods for curbside recycling as well as operation of a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). We'll also see in detail what a pilot project for residential curbside recycling, including organics, would look like.


I am interested to see how our business community responds to the recent provincial budget. The Alberta government devoted five pages in the budget to provide new business incentives, and I'm hopeful we'll see Lethbridge businesses take advantage of them to aid expansion of their operations. The budget also includes access to venture capital and financial incentives for new business and job creation.

Our city is seen as a leader in economic diversification. The provincial budget offers additional opportunities to diversify and grow our economy.


In light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis of Syrian people fleeing their homes and country due to the threat of ISIL, I am heartened by the collaboration happening in our city to prepare for the arrival of some of these refugees here in Lethbridge.

Key public-sector decision makers from housing, health, education and immigration services met earlier this week with our own municipal counterparts to begin forming an integrated community plan to receive these refugees. Lethbridge is a caring, welcoming, inclusive community. I'm proud we have the opportunity to demonstrate it to these refugees who are very much in need of a safe haven.

Mayor Chris Spearman
November 20, 2015