By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on December 20, 2019.
Much was accomplished, more remains to be done
The end of a calendar year brings many opportunities for connection, reflection and celebration. Connecting with loved ones, reflecting on the year that has been and celebrating with those nearest and dearest to you will fill the holidays.
As I reflect on the past year, I am proud of the work that city council has done to further our wonderful city and look forward to continuing this work into 2020.
A major highlight for me during 2019 was seeing our population grow to more than 100,000 residents making Lethbridge the third-largest city in Alberta. The opening of the ATB Centre, the Park ‘N Ride and the Cavendish Farms plant were also the culmination of the hard work of many from across the City and the business community.
Another source of pride is the work that has been done to further reconciliation in our community. Earlier this year city council unanimously voted to adopt the traditional Blackfoot greeting, Oki, as the official greeting of Lethbridge. This motion was brought forward to council by the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee and is something I encourage all residents to learn more about.
As part of my role with the Alberta Mid-Sized Cities Mayors’ Caucus, I was fortunate to host the group in the city earlier this year. I was proud to give the visiting mayors a tour of our fine city and even prouder to hear their comments and feedback about our many wonderful facilities, programs and overall quality of amenities that we provide to our residents. Lethbridge is a truly wonderful place to build a life, raise a family, conduct business and call home and it was nice to hear that so many of my colleagues throughout the province thought so, too.
At the same time, social issues and safety have also been on the minds of many residents who have been directly and indirectly affected by the drug crisis impacting our city. City council has been tirelessly advocating for more funds and more services for Lethbridge to address these issues.
This year we heard the public concern over needle debris, panhandling, downtown safety, loitering, petty crime and illegal activity in our parks. While our residents and businesses are sharing these concerns, city council is listening carefully, meeting with our partners in other levels of government and advocating for Lethbridge. What we’ve heard confirmed our belief that our city has been under-served for many years. I can assure you that city council has worked tirelessly to make sure our city gets the resources it needs to respond to the drug crisis.
For decades our city has struggled to manage social issues. For the most part, the reason is because mental health, addiction, rehabilitation and supported housing are not within the jurisdiction of municipal government. While we have some of the highest needs in the province, the historical funding model to health regions has caused us to be under-resourced based on our needs. We know we need programs, services and facilities for transition after detox.
On that front, city council recently unanimously allocated provincially-provided funding to renovate the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre building to accommodate a 30-bed intox program. This program is provincially funded and operated but because we own the building and land that the shelter is located on, we were asked to contribute to ensuring the building is set up in order to operate the program. The implementation of this program is a start in the right direction but we still need to see more from the province in terms of funding and resources to help address some of the social issues we see in the city.
City council has made significant investment in public safety and addressed increased demand on Lethbridge Police Services (LPS) by asking the Lethbridge Police Commission to look at what resources would be needed by the LPS. Council also recently approved funding for the Downtown Clean and Safe Strategy through to 2022 which has a direct focus on maintaining a clean and safe environment in which our downtown businesses, residents and visitors can thrive.
As I reflect back on 2019 and the challenges that we have faced as a community, I am encouraged by the fact that we continue to keep proving we are a strong, resilient, vibrant, passionate, hard-working and unwavering community. It is those qualities that have helped us rally together, focus on what is important to us and ensure that Lethbridge comes out the other side better than ever.
In closing, on behalf of city council and everyone at the City of Lethbridge, I want to wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all residents. Be safe, and enjoy this special time with your family and friends.
Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge. His column appears monthly.