The 2017 municipal election is just a month away, and the term of the current City Council coming to an end. This seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the issues we've faced and some of our more significant achievements over the past four years.
Very early in our term in the fall of 2013, we faced two very important issues: the preservation of local ambulance dispatch services and the spectre of proposed oil drilling in west Lethbridge.
Ambulance Dispatch Consolidation
At that time, we were concerned about how the province's planned consolidation of ambulance dispatch to Calgary would impact the efficiency and effectiveness of those services here in Lethbridge. As Council, we advocated passionately and persistently to a succession of provincial health ministers that the course being pursued by the Province at that time would have detrimental effect on patient safety and ambulance response times in life-threatening emergencies.
After some very determined advocacy by City Council, our local MLAs, the mayors of our regional communities and local citizens, the province reversed course in early 2014 and committed to operating satellite ambulance dispatch centres in Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray. From that point, we saw a great deal of collaboration between our City staff and Alberta Health Services which later resulted in a new long-term agreement for the City to remain the local supplier of ambulance services.
An even more prominent issue during the first half of 2014 was urban oil and gas drilling. There was widespread concern among Lethbridge residents about GoldenKey Oil's plans at the time to drill oil wells on undeveloped land in West Lethbridge where future residential development is planned. City Council facilitated a community information meeting that year to help citizens get comprehensive, objective information on this issue.
It was a relief for our community in May 2014 when the company abandoned its drilling plans in Lethbridge, but the reality remained that municipalities like ours have no legal authority to block such activity under the existing regulatory framework in Alberta. That's why City Council proposed an emergent resolution on urban drilling which received 85-per-cent support from the Alberta Association of Urban Municipalities in September 2014.
ATB Centre-Phase 2
In August 2014, City Council voted to amend the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), expanding an aquatic centre project to include all remaining components of a multi-purpose leisure complex. ATB Financial was later brought on as a naming partner, and now construction of ATB Centre-Phase 2 is well underway and on schedule to open in 2019.
Our community has taken large strides forward in our approach to waste diversion during this term of Council. In the summer of 2015, Council approved a Waste Diversion Policy, which set a target of reducing overall community per-capita waste by 50 per cent by the year 2030. Later that summer, we approved an implementation strategy for meeting our community targets of reducing local business-sector waste disposal by 45 per cent by 2030. And in late 2016, despite some difficulty reaching agreement previously, Council approved a blue cart residential recycling program which will roll out in two phases over the next two years.
Welcoming Syrian Refugees
From the first days of 2016, Lethbridge truly came together and demonstrated how much it cared by collaborating to welcome more than 300 Syrian refugees as valued new members of our community. This was a tremendous effort, and we continue to provide them with the support they need to adjust successfully to their new home.
Henderson Pool Reopening
In July 2016, renovations and improvements to Henderson Pool were completed, and we saw people turn out in unprecedented numbers. This outdoor pool has quickly become a popular summertime destination for residents of our community and the surrounding region.
Whoop-Up Drive Twinning & Métis Trail Construction
To address growth pressures in west Lethbridge, Council voted in August 2016 to fast track by five years the twinning of Whoop-Up Drive and the construction of Métis Trail between Whoop-Up Drive and Walsh Drive West. As you know, these construction projects are well underway, and while they will help reduce traffic congestion in the fastest growing area of our city, they will also reduce Fire/EMS response times to neighbourhoods such as Garry Station and Country Meadows.
In 2016, Lethbridge was also recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum as a Top 21 Intelligent Community of the Year. An Intelligent Community is one that makes sure it has the broadband and IT infrastructure needed to be competitive in the broadband economy.
Downtown Redevelopment Incentives
In the current four-year Operating Budget, Council approved new incentives to spur new residential and commercial development in downtown Lethbridge. Downtown revitalization is a strategic priority for Council, and we have seen tremendous response in terms of new residential development. We're also confident that recent changes to the Targeted Redevelopment Incentive Program (TRIP) will have the desired effect of attracting new downtown commercial investment, either in the form of new construction or in significant renovations that add value to existing downtown buildings.
Legacy Park Construction
Construction of Legacy Park, the 74-acre regional park in north Lethbridge, has progressed well during the past couple of years and will open to the public next year. It will offer a tremendous array of new amenities to our community and will be an excellent addition to our local parks system.
Historic Cavendish Farms Investment
In a time of economic uncertainty in our province, our diverse economy helped us retain jobs and continue a steady pattern of growth. This of course is highlighted by the unprecedented $350-million investment recently announced last December by Cavendish Farms, which is building a new, state-of-the-art frozen potato plant in Sherring Industrial Park. This is the largest investment in our city's history.
Tourism: Destination Management Plan
Tourism has a heightened profile in Lethbridge, thanks to the Destination Management Plan, which Council approved in late 2016 as the guiding document for the development, management and marketing of our tourism industry over the next 10 years.
Community Response to Opioid Crisis
I am proud of the rapid progress of our broad-based community effort to respond to the growing opioid crisis. The province is backing our local application to establish Supervised Consumption Services in Lethbridge, and we are now awaiting approval from Health Canada. When it opens, this facility will help reduce overdose deaths, public drug use, petty crime and public needle debris.
A 10-year Community Reconciliation Implementation Plan received approval from City Council to guide the local community in responding to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The plan was developed by Reconciliation Lethbridge, which will be hosting the first-ever Reconciliation Week Sept. 18-23. I hope you'll take in the planned activities. A full schedule is available on the Reconciliation Lethbridge Facebook page.
Other highlights from our term on Council include:
- The launch of renovations to Spitz Stadium
- Hosting Tour of Alberta international cycling events in 2014 and 2016
- Responding to protect our urban forest from European Elm Scale
- Expanding Lethbridge Transit service to new neighbourhoods such as Garry Station and Blackwolf
- Adoption of the new River Valley Parks Master Plan
- Greater financial oversight through implementation of interim forecast reports to Council
- Launch of the LethRequests app
- Introduction of opportunities for community groups to request lighting of City Hall for special events
- $1 billion in announced construction for the first time the city's history
- First city to adopt a municipal response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In closing, I would like to thank my Council colleagues for their service and dedication to our community these past four years. I'd also like to thank the many community partners we've had the privilege of meeting and working with during our term as Council.
Mayor Chris Spearman
September 15, 2017