One of Council's strategic priorities is to demonstrate financial stewardship. We want city residents to have confidence that their local government is allocating our city's financial resources responsibly and appropriately for the community's current and future priorities.
Two specific things we're doing to help us achieve this strategic objective is to increase the frequency of financial reports to Council and to begin developing performance measures that we can use to monitor how well the City of Lethbridge is doing in delivering the array of municipal services to our community. We just passed the halfway point in the first year of our four-year operating budget, and the early indications from our Finance department are that we're positioned to enter 2016 on a very solid financial footing.
At our Aug. 31 City Council meeting, Council members received a mid-year operating forecast indicating that our General Fund operations are projected to finish the year with a small surplus. These are attributed in part to higher-than-expected growth in residential and commercial properties (which add to our municipal tax revenue base) and lower-than-expected fuel costs for Lethbridge Transit.
Small surpluses are also projected for most of our Utility-funded operations, particularly our Water and Waste Water utilities which are each projecting year-end surpluses of more than $500,000 due to higher water consumption this past summer as well as higher-than-budgeted revenue from industrial sewer customers. An exception is our Electric Utility which is forecasting a year-end deficit due to unexpected shortfalls in distribution and transmission tariffs.
As a result of directives from Council in our budget deliberations last fall, this operating forecast for the first time included a report from our administration on innovations and efficiencies that are being achieved across our organization. The full report can be accessed at http://www.lethbridge.ca/City-Government/Mayor/Pages/City-Council-Highlights-August-31-2015.aspx , but I would like to highlight several in today's column:
- Applications can now be submitted electronically for residential electric, gas and plumbing permits using a new eApply online permitting system. eApply allows customers to complete business with the City at their convenience and eliminates the need for paper and travel as well as unnecessary data re-entry for City staff.
- Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services has obtained a rapid deployment flood barrier system which allows portable flood barriers to be erected in a fraction of the time and using far fewer people than it would take to deploy traditional sandbags. Funded with a provincial grant, this new system provides is with a flood barrier one metre high and up to one kilometre long that can be erected in one hour by two people.
- In Lethbridge's integrated Fire/EMS model, fire truck crews can provide first medical response and assist ambulance crews at most medical emergencies. Fire and Emergency Services analyzed medical emergency response data and identified several types of medical events for which fire trucks were not warranted and could be removed from the existing medical response plan. The elimination of unwarranted fire truck medical responses reduced the workload by more than 300 calls in 2014 and increased these fire crews' availability to respond to calls where they could truly make a difference.
- Building Management Systems (BMS) have been installed at several City facilities to control mechanical and electrical systems automatically. The most recent installation monitors the operation of the refrigeration plant at the Enmax Centre. These systems also allow facility maintenance staff to monitor and troubleshoot building operations remotely via computer, which limits the frequency of physical building inspections and reduces time lost to travel.
- Technology upgrades at Lethbridge Transit now help riders to plan transit trips, see where their bus is in real-time and see scheduled as well as real-time departure information for their stop – all from a desktop computer or mobile device. The installation of the digital wayside signage at the downtown transit terminal now provides real-time bus departure times for customers and a more user-friendly experience, particularly for casual transit riders or tourists.
- Our Parks department's Central Irrigation Control system has been expanded to include 52 irrigation systems in the city, an upgrade from previous semi-automatic or stand-alone time clock systems. The central control system can detect problems with the irrigation cycle and shut down a particular system until it is repaired so that water is not wasted. In addition, the control system can shut off the entire irrigation network much more quickly than before in the event of heavy rain.
- More than 600 parks and pathway lights have been replaced with energy-efficient LED fixtures which use approximately half as much energy as the older lights they replaced.
The City will be hosting open houses Sept. 22 and 23 to offer citizens a closer look at the design layout and planned features of Phase 2 of the Crossings Leisure Complex, one of the most anticipated recreation facilities in the city's history. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about the layout and features of the facility, to view floor plans and architectural renderings, and to ask questions of the project team members who will be on hand.
The first open house is scheduled Tuesday, Sept. 22 from 5-8 p.m. in the foyer of City Hall, 910-4 Avenue South. The second is the following evening Wednesday, Sept. 23 from 5-8 p.m. in the Chinook High School cafeteria, 259 Britannia Boulevard West.
Our Helen Schuler Nature Centre was recently awarded LEED Gold certification by the Canada Green Building Council. This designation recognizes the various sustainable design features employed in the renovation and expansion of this popular and well-loved facility. These sustainable features include a green roof, solar panels, locally-sourced building materials and energy-efficient building systems. One of the benefits is that this facility uses less energy than a building of comparable size built to regular construction standards.
We're only six weeks away from the 2015 Skate Canada International event when Lethbridge will welcome the world's top figure skaters from Oct. 30-Nov. 1. It's hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Lethbridge last hosted this event in 1990, the year Kurt Browning swept four titles. Ticket packages are available now at www.enmaxcentre.ca. I hope to see you there when this world-class event comes to our city.
Also, I'd like to remind you that we have a local Tourism Strategy Committee working with community partners to identify ways to improve tourism. If you would like to participate in this initiative, please go to lethbridgetourismdmp.mindmixer.com and submit your ideas on what our city's most significant challenges and opportunities are for improving tourism.
Mayor Chris Spearman
September 17, 2015