June 24th, 2024

Council was in a tough spot with budget deliberations

By Lethbridge Herald on December 17, 2022.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

‘What do you think about the city tax increase?” That question’s been posed to me multiple times since council approved the 2023-26 operating budget. People, for better or worse, recognize me and when I’ve been out and about I’ve found myself facing that query.

After covering council’s deliberations through the whole process and studying the draft budget for hours, I know what kind of challenges they were facing.

I also knew – as I’m sure they did – that no matter what decision council made it would face backlash. Raise taxes too high and people will be angry; don’t provide enough money for staffing levels or fee-for-service groups, and others could have said – and so far none have to me – that the tax increase was too low.

What I’ve seen and been told is some residents have this idea that City Hall is over-staffed and that job cuts could easily be made. Honestly, after covering council for a year, I don’t understand where that perception comes from. And after the parks maintenance situation, I’m not sure how anyone can feel there needs to be fewer jobs in at least one area of operations.

I’ve heard complaints about the size of the communications department and the number of people doing communications throughout the corporation. Do people have insight into those operations that the rest of us don’t? Maybe but I’m in no position to judge.

Are elements of city administration overpaid? That question could be asked of any institution or business. I don’t have the answer to that one either.

In my work covering this community, I try to build bridges and create relationships. To me, that’s important. It’s not my job to be a publicist for City Hall or any organization or political party but nor is it my job to be an enemy of them. Journalists who take a combative approach to their jobs aren’t doing their jobs as they are supposed to be done – which is objectively and fairly. 

Since starting the council beat, I’ve avoided writing columns about political matters because I need to ensure people know I’m objective.

I need to maintain those relationships which I’ve developed, not only at City Hall but with any organization I deal with. To me, that helps me do my job and opens the door for communication and more stories. Building relationships builds trust and journalists need trust to do our jobs.

I’ve known some city councillors for years, and have gotten to know others quite well in the past year. I’ve met a whole bunch of truly friendly people at City Hall from all departments. 

And I get along with them. Whether before or after meetings and press events, I always chat with City staff. Why not?

I’ll talk to anyone, and I do whether it’s at the dentist or optometrist’s office or in a grocery store. 

I’m not going to change my style at City Hall. 

I’m a friendly guy. There’s no harm in that. I’m also an objective journalist, who when covering stories, keeps things straight on any subject.

That doesn’t mean I can’t shoot the breeze after an interview or a meeting – a little levity helps reduce stress for all of us. And we all know there is too much stress in life as it is. It doesn’t hurt to smile or laugh once in awhile.

So what do I think about the tax increase? With my knowledge of the issues facing council and administration, I understand council’s motivation. They were in a tough spot after three years of no increases. Police and Fire/EMS needed more staff. Clearly, administration needs more staffing in some areas. And community groups needed help, as well. If people listened to the debates closely, they would have heard compelling arguments for many initiatives that were passed by council and for others that weren’t.

I personally can afford the property tax increase because I’m mortgage-free, a luxury which I appreciate not every taxpayer has so how I feel is irrelevant in the whole scheme of things. 

While I still have debt, being mortgage-free means I can handle the extra annual increase without much of a burden. 

This is a position that perhaps disqualifies me from making a fair assessment.

But if I was on council, the tax increase might have been higher because I would probably have approved several other initiatives that council turned down. You’re welcome, Volunteer Lethbridge.

So be thankful I’m not in office. If I was, I would have been in the hot seat, too.

CONGRATULATIONS: A note of congratulations to Carlton Stewart and my long-time bud Frank McTighe for their Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medals presented to them last Saturday. I haven’t seen Frank in ages so I had to capture his moment in the spotlight and congratulate him personally.

Back in my Ontario days, Frank made a couple of treks to visit me at the Walleye Trailer Park for fishing and other shenanigans. 

On his second – and last – visit, I took him walleye fishing for a couple of days on Rainy Lake and after getting absolutely soaked our last night in a torrential rainstorm which somehow leaked into the tent, we high-tailed it back to town in the darkness. 

I don’t know why but the highway was covered with frogs, springing up from the ditches, pummelling the windshield, hood and doors and creating the absolute greasiest road surface imaginable. 

It was almost like a horror movie come to life. The mass of mangled frog parts on my Chevy Caprice was pretty disgusting, too.

The worst part, though, was in our rush to gather our gear, I forgotten I’d tossed the minnow bucket into the car’s trunk. 

Why I didn’t dump it out, I have no clue. But during two days of exploring NWO in the humidity of summer, we noticed a horrible stench developing, worse than my trailer where I had accidentally put a bag of frozen pirogies into the cupboard instead of the fridge – the same summer of Frank’s last visit, coincidentally.

I think that might explain why he never returned.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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