October 2nd, 2014

ocal issues taken to Alberta gov’t

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on April 18, 2014.

April has been another busy month.

On April 2, we had meetings in Edmonton with Energy Minister Diana McQueen as well as Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Robin Campbell to discuss the urban drilling issue, the provincial government’s proposed urban drilling policy, and the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan’s direction for land and water use.

Those meetings were followed by two days of meetings with mayors of mid-sized Alberta cities to discuss more than 20 issues of common concern. I find that these meetings provide extremely valuable opportunities to discuss issues we have in common with other mid-sized Alberta cities and to collaborate strategically.

The issues I brought forward on behalf of Lethbridge residents were ambulance dispatch, urban drilling, cost containment for municipalities and funding for Family and Community Support Services (FCSS). There has been no increase to provincial FCSS funding since early 2009, and under the most recent provincial budget, no increase is planned for at least the next two years. This means that by the end of 2015, provincial FCSS funding will have been flat-lined for eight years. Not surprisingly, this is creating substantial cost pressures for the local agencies that provide preventive social services in our community and many others around Alberta.

According to the Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta, more than half of the 320 Alberta municipalities with FCSS programs have resorted to filling the funding gap themselves and now contribute far more than their required 20-per-cent municipal share. This effectively amounts to an off-loading of provincial costs onto municipalities. The Family and Community Support Services Association of Alberta is appealing to Alberta Human Services to provide sustainable funding for this program, which provides vital services to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I hope they are successful.

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As you may have heard by now, Lethbridge will be having a byelection on May 12 to fill the vacant councillor seat on city council. Nomination day for the by-election was Monday, April 14, and all candidates were required to file their nomination papers at city hall. It appears there is a great deal of interest, based on the number of people who have declared their intention to run in the byelection.

Regardless of who ultimately wins, I hope that Lethbridge residents will participate by taking time to study the field of candidates along with their respective campaign platforms. Voting is a fundamental right in a free society, and I encourage everyone to get out and vote on May 12.

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Between now and November, city council and senior administration will be devoting a great deal of time to developing a new multi-year operating budget. The operating budget is extremely important because it is the document that determines the array of services you receive for your municipal tax dollars. Protective services (police, fire and ambulance) account for nearly 40 per cent of the city’s operating expenses each year.

Historically, one of the key challenges through the budget development process has been to foster broad-based public engagement. In the past, open houses have been held for the public, but they have typically not been well attended. As city council, we want to encourage meaningful public participation in our budget process, and we will be looking for innovative ways to accomplish that objective with as many citizens as possible.

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I am inspired again and again by our community’s willingness to host cultural and sporting events that draw participants and visitors to Lethbridge from across Alberta and other parts of Canada. These events provide valuable opportunities to showcase our community, not only to those who visit Lethbridge but also to the many thousands of people who follow the events through the media.

I attended the Canadian Badlands annual Tourism Development Conference, which was held March 25-27 in Lethbridge, and I was impressed by the co-ordinated effort that’s taking place between municipal leaders and tourism operators to foster integrated, destination-based tourism in the southern and eastern regions of Alberta. During this conference, the provincial tourism minister announced that Lethbridge has been chosen to host one stage of the Tour of Alberta 2014, a world-class, six-day professional cycling race. The tour takes place Sept. 2-7 with the first full day of events to take place in Lethbridge. Last year’s Tour of Alberta race attracted more than 40 million TV viewers on five continents, and so city council has recognized the great value for our community to be involved in this high-profile event.

Meanwhile, a local committee of volunteers continues to work diligently to develop Lethbridge’s bid for the 2019 Canada Winter Games. It’s a large, complex undertaking with many logistical and financial details to consider. I’m grateful for the commitment of these committee volunteers, and I look forward to hearing more about the bid in the coming days and weeks.

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Alberta continues to be an attractive place for business investment, and I’m excited about the potential for Lethbridge to attract its share of that activity. It’s an ideal time for business and industry to invest in Lethbridge, and we’re seeing evidence of that in our city’s northeast industrial park where several of our industries are in the midst of major expansion projects.

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Lastly, city council recently authorized administration to begin a consultation process with southeast Lethbridge landowners and residents regarding concepts aimed at improving accessibility between existing and future neighbourhoods in that area of the city. Initial work on a new Southeast Area Structure Plan began in 2013 and identified that there may be opportunities for >improved >transportation connections and >interface >between the existing Southgate >subdivision and future southeast neighbourhoods.

These consultations are aimed at seeking the best long-term solution for some of the issues around east-west access that have existed in this area for the past number of years.

Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge. His column appears monthly.

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