October 21st, 2020

Airport cost-of-service discrepancy

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on January 15, 2020.

Brett Babki


City council recently authorized a decades-overdue fiscal review and the first-phase report is now publicly available. It includes attempts to make comparisons between Lethbridge and other Canadian municipalities, while noting the difficulty of making meaningful comparisons. Regrettably, the report doesn’t address the airport, the operation of which changed hands from County to City effective July 1, 2019 and thus affords an opportunity to make interesting comparisons.

Council, sitting as Community Issues Committee, received a budget summary for the airport on May 21. One might expect the budget to change very little from 2018 to 2019 regardless of which government entity is responsible for its operation, or that there be a reasonable explanation for any large discrepancies. There was an increase in “sales” revenue (about $348,000) due to WestJet adding operations to our area (hurray!), and an increase in “other revenue” (about $147,000) that arises because a water utility comes with the airport land that used to be counted in the County general budget. There were operating and wage increases that naturally come along with those things (about $171,000). If that were all it would be a great story – 28 per cent increase in revenue against an 8.5 per cent increase in wages and operation costs. But unlike the forgoing, one glaring cost difference went unexplained – an increase in “interdepartmental transfers” from $70,880 to $270,000.

These transfers are said to represent corporate overhead, and specific attention was directed to payroll and accounting services. In other words, costs directly attributable to the government entity responsible for overseeing the airport. Council spent all of five minutes and 14 seconds in Q&A on the budget; only three asked questions, and not one raised this issue. Given a week to think about it, council met May 27 to vote on the budget; they spent no time on questions or debate. They met a third time Dec. 9 to approve the budget beyond 2019, and again failed to question this. What skittish felines have we elected for them to be so incurious?

What accounts for the difference here? Does it take 3.81 City employees to do the work of one County employee? Are City employees paid dramatically more than County employees? Are County employees supremely efficient yet woefully underpaid? Does the City management provide some kind of corporate super-service to the airport, and what result should we expect to gain from the platinum level? Or is this just another way in which expenses for the mayor’s and councillors’ offices and other departments get shuffled and obscured?

Two observations: merely moving the locus of corporate service one building south across 4 Avenue shouldn’t result in a near-quadrupling of cost of service; and as we are asked to subsidize the airport operations on economic grounds, we should ask whether we are really doing that, or footing another bill entirely.

Brett Babki is a director with the Lethbridge Transparency Council.

Share this story:

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
George McCrea

To say nothing of the increased liability to the taxpayers
by purchasing an airport


The City of Lethbridge Administration and Council do not welcome scrutiny. There are several possible reasons why the City has chosen to plunder the airport budget for non-airport related purposes:
1. They don’t know what they are doing.
2. They sort of know what they are doing but needed to find a way to cover the extra policing and other costs incurred by Arches.
3. Both 1 and 2 above.

Southern Alberta has been notoriously under-served by the County of Lethbridge administration of the Lethbridge Airport for many years. As the City of Lethbridge is demonstrating, they are no better at this essential task. Southern Alberta deserves to have an Independent Airport Authority providing governance and a Professional Airport Manager overseeing the operations.

There is precedence for competent administration: https://canadasairports.ca/ . Here’s hoping the City of Lethbridge sticks to the business of maintaining roads and providing fire and police services and stays out of areas it lacks competence and has no business interfering.


It is odd the federal govt dumped the airport the County picked it up for $10.00 according to a former County reeve looks like County dumped for financial reasons so our spendthrift council took on another debt money pit. The word liability is very descriptive. The County financial statement reveals
a big picture.