City Council members gave final approval today to a new four-year operating budget which addresses several strategic priorities, while building in financial accountability and limiting the tax impact on residents.
After several months of discussions and deliberations, City Council formally approved the 2019-2022 Operating Budget which preserves existing City services while allocating funds to important community needs. This includes the City's response to safety concerns resulting from the community drug crisis.
"This has been a particularly challenging budget process," says Mayor Chris Spearman. "From the start, Council's focus has been on maintaining existing service levels while absorbing inflation and community growth pressures. We've strived to hold true to these objectives while still addressing the most pressing community needs. I'm confident the new budget, along with the mechanisms we've put in place to evaluate and monitor spending will create the balance we need."
The new budget includes an average increase to the municipal portion of residential property tax of 1.82 per cent annually for the next four years. The increase works out to an average of $3.50 per month ($42 per year) on an average single-family residential home with an assessed value of $267,300.
To start the formal budget deliberations, City Council directed the City Manager to undertake an independent fiscal performance review over the next three years. During budget deliberations, funding approvals of many initiatives were reduced from four years down to one or two years asking for a report back and/or more information from the fiscal performance review before further funding is considered.
"Finance Committee members probed the budget in great depth to gain a more thorough understanding of the scope of City services that residents receive for their property tax dollars," said Deputy Mayor and Finance Committee chairman, Ryan Parker. "Within this budget we've looked at many different funding options and ways to control costs. I'm optimistic that we've developed a plan and a process to ensure taxpayers get maximum value for their money."
Within the budget, Council has made significant investment in public safety by approving a downtown ambassador program and adding special constables/peace officers. These initiatives provide an additional $1.1 million in 2019 and $1.2 million in 2020 to address increased demand on Lethbridge Police Services.
Key highlights of the 2019-2022 Operating Budget
- Fiscal Performance Review
The City Manager will conduct fiscal performance reviews over the next three years to identify opportunities for council to consider in fiscal decision making.
- Committee of Council Carry-Over Funding
Any funding remaining for the Committees of Council at the end of the operating budget cycle will be transferred to the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserves (MRSR) rather than being carried over.
- Elimination of Environment Committee Funding
Removed $80,000 per year from base budget for Environment Committee of Council.
- Special Constable/Peace Officer | $1.66 million in 2019 and $1.37million in 2020
This program will seek to hire 15 fully trained but less experienced staff within the Lethbridge Police Service as either Peace Officers or Special Police Constables. This proactive policing model has proven to be effective in other communities. Council will hear a report back after the first two years before considering an additional $1.4 million in 2021 and $1.44 million in 2022.
- Downtown Ambassador Watch Program | $554,272 in 2019 and $601,722 in 2020
Modeling a successful program from Winnipeg, the Downtown Ambassador Watch will use a combination of trained staff and volunteers to provide a presence in the downtown helping address concerns and improve the perception of public safety. Council will hear a report back after the first two years before considering an additional $761,802 in 2021 and $768,202 in 2022.
- Recreation and Culture Security | $42,500 in 2019 and 2020
To provide safety and security of the downtown public spaces such as Galt Gardens and public building such as SAAG and Casa.
- Library Public Safety Security | $82,064 (2019)
To increase public and employee security and the perception of public safety at the downtown branch.
- Syringe Collection Program | $155,000 (2019)
Accessibility and Inclusion
- Reconciliation Lethbridge Committee | $50,000/year (2019-2022)
To support the work of the committee and the Reconciliation Implementation Plan.
- Blackfoot Confederacy and Reconciliation Lethbridge Flags | Up to $150,000
Installation of up to four permanent flag poles in front of City Hall to permanently fly the Blackfoot Confederacy and Reconciliation Lethbridge flags and provide additional space for community groups.
- Lethbridge Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD) | $26,046 (2019)
- Accessible Playgrounds | $834,800 (2019-2022)
- Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Support Staff and Technology | $200,000/year
Provide staff, contractors and software to implement surcharges and disposal bans at the landfill.
- Environment Lethbridge | $270,000 (2019-2022)
Funding to maintain staffing levels in order to continue engaging Lethbridge residents in environmental sustainability.
- Energy Efficiency Master Plan and Strategy |$300,000 in 2019
- Climate Adaptation and Environmental Sustainability Specialist | $97,000/year
To support corporate sustainability ensuring the City of Lethbridge meets environmental goals and targets.
- Airport Governance and Operations | $1,000,000/yr (2020-2022)
To establish funding for the development of a governance model and the operations of the Airport when the City of Lethbridge takes over in 2020.
- Adaptive Reuse Initiative – Heart of our City Committee | $900,000 (2020 - 2022)
To create an incentive grant program that would facilitate the continued use of existing downtown buildings.
- Lethbridge Destination Management Organization (LDMO) | $40,000 (2019-2020)
To support this critical start-up phase when the LDMO is unable to access grant funds due to the infancy of the organization.
- Agrifood Corridor Strategy | $5000/year (2019-2022)
- Foreign Direct Investment Program | $7500/year (2019-2022)
- Lethbridge Brand Implementation | $45,000 in 2019
Tara Grindle, Communications Consultant Media Contact:
City of Lethbridge