June 16th, 2024

Week-long budget deliberations have been exhausting

By Lethbridge Herald on November 19, 2022.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

By the time you read this, city council acting as Economic Standing Policy Committee will  have finished with deliberations on the 2023-26 budget.

The SPC wrapped up Friday morning with a unanimous vote which will bring a 5.1 per cent annual tax increase for the next four years for council to approve at its Nov. 29 meeting.

While the base budget for the next four years included a  3.77 per cent increase, if all initiatives and requests had been approved, taxpayers could have faced a 6.06 per cent annual tax hike.

Any tax hike won’t be appreciated but after three years of zero increases, it had to be expected. 

This has been an incredibly long and busy week for council and administration as they met daily in council chambers to do taxpayer business. And they could have continued today but I’m sure none of us wanted to work on a Saturday.

When I refer to “none of us,” I also refer to we in the media who have been following proceedings every day since deliberations began on Monday. I’ve split my time between council chambers and my desk where I’ve watched proceedings on the City’s YouTube channel while multi-tasking.

I really appreciate the acknowledgements of several council members for the work we media have put in every day this week. I and Erik Bay of Global have been mainstays in council chambers.

 Being able to work in the office in the afternoon has helped my productivity immensely as I watched discussions and when the opportunity arose, worked on a story. And as you may have seen, I’ve been writing on other topics this week while covering council. I’ve also still been putting together a few pages.

I’m exhausted to be honest. I’ve pushed myself to the absolute limit this week trying to give readers comprehensive coverage of the deliberations.

I have to give council credit this week for the way they tackled every initiative put in front of them. Each item was debated thoroughly from every possible angle and much insight was provided to council from administration, particularly by Darrell Mathews, Lloyd Brierley, Joel Sanchez, Mike Fox and Jason Elliott who played big roles in assisting council in their discussions. 

Our council is a passionate group of people who have their own ideas of what’s important to the city, they all listen to their constituents and they do their personal bests to put forward ideas and concepts which they feel are in Lethbridge’s best interests. It’s a diverse group of people and as residents should expect, they do have diverse viewpoints.

This was reiterated by Jeff Carlson whose eloquence on Friday morning had me thinking I’ve read some of his words because what he said is what I wrote here on Thursday before editing this column yesterday afternoon. 

Council won’t – and can’t be expected – to agree on every single topic or budget request they address, hence the often lengthy debates. But they are all working to do the best they can for Lethbridge. And agree with them or not, power to them for their devotion to public service on our behalf. It was stated Friday by veteran council members how collegial discussions were this  week compared to in previous years.

Each council member had pet projects they wanted to see move forward and not all did. 

As councillor Rajko Dodic pointed out afterwards, there were a lot of 5-4 votes on initiatives so many barely made the cut.

During the week, the SPC put forward some matters that will be costly to taxpayers and defeated others with council members making clear they felt some requests were wants and not needs at this particular time.

And it should be noted that items which were defeated during the week could be revisited. Perhaps other ways of funding may be discovered that allow some initiatives to proceed. One initiative I’ve been hearing concerns from readers about since Tuesday is the amount of taxpayer money that was earmarked for reviewing the City’s land use bylaw. The SPC moved along the process a motion calling for the hiring of 1.5 non-permanent staff for three years at a cost of $355,000 in 2023, $455,000 in 2024 and $355,000. It’s a lot of money for the taxpayers to cough up and during discussions it was stated that outside help will be needed to help with the process because of the time it would take away from City legal staff.

The SPC was told the cost could be higher than the $1.2 million that was forecast, a matter that has raised eyebrows of people who have talked to me about it.

So I am going to be seeking more information on this from the City to give readers a better idea of why that kind of money is needed and what the review will entail. It’s clearly a sore point for some residents. 

Protective services take up more than half of the annual budget increase and it was stated several times during the week that the public has told council safety is an important issue.

That was reiterated on Friday as the SPC wrapped up its talks.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen stated Thursday morning for 2023 the police budget will amount to just over $8 per household next year. 

That figure, will of course, rise through the four-year budget cycle as will the cost of every initiative approved.

These are difficult times for all of us with the costs of inflation and higher utility and grocery bills. And Christmas is approaching as well so people would like to spend some of their hard-earned wages to celebrate the season. 

I doubt many of us want to pay more taxes but that’s a price we have to pay to maintain services in our city, a reality that we’ve been told many times in recent months. 

I’m relieved the deliberations are done because poor Ben dog hasn’t been getting his lunch-time walks and I can tell he’s not exactly happy with me. And Rio, my shepherd, is outright shunning me. I’ll walk to him with open arms when I get home  and he turns the other way so it’s really obvious I’m not in his good books these days.

Hopefully now I can spend some time this weekend putting up the outdoor lights which I had planned to leave in the storage shed  this year until a neighbour told me how much her kids like seeing my display.

A year ago, another neighbour said their children also loved seeing the lights strung along my fences and shrubs.

 And Christmas, after all, is about the kids. So if I can brighten a few young faces again this year, I’m happy to spend the money.

It’s the least I can do for the fantastic neighbours who live on my block, neighbours who over the years have become like a family.

And that atmosphere on our block is one reason why Lethbridge is such a great community. 

In our area, everybody socializes; when newcomers arrive, we reach out and welcome them to the neighbourhood and make sure they know that we have their backs.

We are a diverse neighbourhood of many races, religions and ages and except for the problem place that everyone is fed up with, we all go out of our way to get along with each other. In our little world, everyone  – except the people at that one place – are friends. As we should all be.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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