By Kalinowski, Tim on January 28, 2020.
With the province announcing it would no longer consider municipal census data when making decisions about grant funding, and would instead rely on federal census numbers, city council voted unanimously during Monday’s meeting to cancel the 2020 municipal census, saving approximately $150,000.
The province’s decision to exclude municipal census data from its funding decisions is cause for long-term concern for Lethbridge residents, said Mayor Chris Spearman after the council vote, despite the short-term cost savings involved. The most recent federal census took place in 2016 when Lethbridge had 8,000 fewer residents than it has today, said Spearman.
“We’re a growing city, and we want to make sure our growth isn’t unfairly borne by taxpayers,” he stated. “We wouldn’t want to see that (extra) tax burden transfer from the province or federal government to local taxpayers.”
The federal and provincial governments typically use census data to determine the amount of transportation, infrastructure and education grant dollars a municipal government will receive.
According to city clerk Bonnie Hilford the province has said it will try to include an adjustment of some sort to account for that potential 8,000-person gap, and has committed to impending consultations on the subject with municipalities like Lethbridge who have been generating their own yearly census data up until this point, but has thus far not explained what that funding formula adjustment might look like.
Spearman said his biggest concern, on top of that 8,000-person gap from 2016 to the present, is that federal census data does not typically take into account the city’s college and university student populations.
“We have always done our census during the school year because we know we have thousands of college and university students,” he explained. “We tend to do our census locally in the month of April, and therefore capture the student populations. The federal census is generally done in the month of June; so we’re providing services to people who live here eight months of the year and that census data may not include students when it’s done in the future. We want to make sure those things are taken into account and the City of Lethbridge is treated fairly when it comes to future grants for transportation, education and infrastructure.”
Spearman confirmed the City had received approximately $400,000 in annual revenue increases despite paying $150,000 out annually to conduct the municipal census, making the calculus a no-brainer, and of net benefit, to local taxpayers. With the provincial government’s announcement that it would no longer use Lethbridge’s numbers, Spearman said the calculus no longer made sense.
“Before when we were doing an annual census we were seeing a revenue increase of $400,000 and it cost about $150,000; so it was a net benefit to conduct the census. And now that rationale has gone away.”
The City will conduct its next local census in 2021 to coincide with, and cross-check, the next federal census numbers, which are due out that same year.
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