"In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes," Benjamin Franklin once wrote.
As much as we all may not love the prospect of a tax increase, it is an inevitability, as well as, for the next four years, a necessity in order to maintain the high level of services provided to the community.
Next week, Lethbridge City Council will potentially approve the City of Lethbridge's 2023-2026 Operating Budget. From November 14-18, we met as Economic Standing Policy Committee to deliberate the budget and we unanimously voted to send our recommendations to the Council level for approval. Detailed daily recaps of the proceedings can be found at lethbridge.ca/NewsCentre.
Having now been through several budget cycles as a member of City Council, I must commend my colleagues for the professional, congenial and collegial nature of last week's deliberations. We were faced with very difficult decisions and entered the process with a forecasted average annual municipal property tax base increase of 3.77 per cent for each of the next four years in order to maintain service levels.
If we would have approved every new proposed item, that number could have risen as high as 6.06 per cent. With the new initiatives we have recommended, the increase is now proposed at 5.10 per cent for each of the next four years. This is equivalent to a $129.93 per year per single family residence, based on an average market value of $285,800.
In 2019, there was a 1.82 per cent municipal tax rate increase – which was the lowest in 20 years. The City of Lethbridge then maintained a zero per cent increase to the municipal portion of residential taxes for the three years of 2020, 2021 and 2022 to minimize the financial impacts of the pandemic to property owners.
Unfortunately, due to all sorts of factors on our planet we are all too familiar with, a zero per cent tax increase is simply not sustainable for maintaining our existing levels of service. The City's Operating Budget involves the day-to-day costs of delivering municipal services and programs such as police, emergency services, streets and roads and parks.
More background on the City's finances and documents can be found here. A breakdown of value added life in Lethbridge (including tax rate increase trends of the past 20 years) can be found here.
One of the larger items in this proposed budget is an increase to funding the Lethbridge Police Service. I again commend this Council for showing a unanimous front and support on this initiative. Community safety has been the No. 1 topic people have approached me about during the past several years and this funding will go a long way to addressing some of the issues in our city.
Many of the ongoing issues in our city are also not going to be solved through police action. Earlier this week, I was very proud to help announce a new one-of-a-kind partnership between key stakeholders to try and tackle the health and social challenges of the city and surrounding areas. The creation of the Intergovernmental Health Table is a proactive step in bringing together invested partners to look at key issues effecting members of the Blood Tribe and Lethbridge communities.
One area I often hear from residents on is, how are we working with local Indigenous partners to tackle the health and social issues some experience in the city. The creation of this health table allows us to have open conversations and bring matters of importance to the people and organizations that can make change happen.
Members of the Intergovernmental Health Table include Blood Tribe Department of Health (BTDH) Charles Weaselhead, Deputy Premier, Minister of Infrastructure and MLA of Lethbridge East, Nathan Neudorf, the Alberta Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction, the Alberta Ministry of Seniors, Community and Social Services and myself. We will meet on a regular basis to review matters of relevant importance to each community with a solid understanding of respect, inclusion and collaboration.
The Intergovernmental Health Table stems from a resolution at Lethbridge City Council meeting on July 26 this year which outlined the creation of a local community task force. The Official Business Resolution also directed that City Council write a letter to the Ministries of Seniors, Community and Social Services and Mental Health and Addictions requesting the formation of a provincial/City of Lethbridge working group to allow for collaboration on medium- and long-term housing and homelessness solutions that will ultimately address encampments issues.
As we rapidly approach the holiday season, the need at our local food banks will become more and more apparent. This weekend, I will do my part to help raise donations by again hosting a team of Lethbridge community partners and a team of City staff for the Mayor's 2022 Community Hockey Challenge.
It will take place on Sunday, November 27 at 4 p.m. at the ATB Centre's east/blue arena. The game will benefit the Interfaith Food Bank and the Lethbridge Food Bank. Those wanting to attend are encouraged to bring donations of non-perishable food, while monetary donations will be also accepted. We had such a great event last year and raised about $4,500 in food donations and financial contributions. Our community continually impresses me with their dedication to important causes, so we encourage people to come out this weekend to support our food banks. Read more here.
I was honoured to recently be named as one of more than 200 community members from across the province set to receive a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medal. The commemorative medal was created this year to mark the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the throne as Queen of Canada.
Congratulations this month to:
- Acting Mayor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel for her recent appointment to the Premier's Advisory Task Force on Ukraine
- Ron Sakamoto whose legacy and ongoing commitment to Lethbridge was honoured with a recent unveiling of a dedication wall at the ENMAX Centre. He is a true champion of our community and this is a well-deserved recognition to bestow upon him. Sak will also be recognized at the 2023 JUNO Awards in March
Please be safe and kind to one another.