By Lethbridge Herald on February 28, 2020.
Mayor Chris Spearman says the provincial budget is not as severe as it could have been for municipalities.
“The devil is in the details, so we will see as we get more information,” Spearman told reporters at a press briefing at city hall Friday morning. “Right now, we can live with what has been announced.”
“Really it was no surprise,” he added. “It was a budget of austerity. It’s one that focuses on job creation and economic diversification. Certainly, we think we are well-positioned to do that in the City of Lethbridge. I think we are also fortunate we are going through the administrative review process where we are looking internally at opportunities for savings here at the City.”
Having said that, Spearman said he was disappointed the province was imposing a property tax hike on the citizens of Lethbridge.
“The education portion of your property taxes will be going up four per cent,” Spearman explained. “Because that is 25 per cent of your property tax bill, that means before we even consider what the City’s mill rate will be this coming year there is going to be a one per cent tax increase. We are concerned there might be some downloading onto municipalities, and we’re going to bear the blame for some of the tax increases which are beyond our scope and authority.”
He was also disappointed there were no major capital projects dedicated toward infrastructure in Lethbridge in the province’s spring budget, as there were none in the fall budget. Particularly, the apparent removal of the Highway 3 bridge project from the province’s five-year capital spending plan is a substantial disappointment to many local residents, Spearman added.
“We will continue to advocate for the $100 million required to widen and make sure that issue of safety becomes a priority in terms of Highway 3 and highway infrastructure funding,” he said. “Again, we need to improve our advocacy efforts. If anything, I learned yesterday (in Edmonton) it’s very important to maintain the contact and build the relationships. There is work we need to do as politicians in Edmonton to ensure the needs of Lethbridge continue to be heard and addressed, and when you hear rumours of potential elimination of the Highway 3 bridge, that only emphasizes the fact the needs of our city need to be reinforced (through advocacy).”
On the other hand, Spearman said the province’s guarantees on MSI funding stability for the next two years were welcome.
“We know specifically what we will be getting for MSI capital funding and that will help us with some future decisions,” he said. “We want to help where we can in areas where the economy needs to grow and we have needs. Those would include areas like housing, supportive housing — we will need to continue to advocate for those. We will also need to make sure we’re advocating for the services our community needs in terms of care for addiction and recovery from addiction.”
On that note, Spearman confirmed he had heard no new information on whether or not supervised consumption services would continue to be supported by the province in Lethbridge and elsewhere, and the budget documents had brought no clarity on that issue.
“I think there is going to be a rebalancing in terms of funding for those with addictions, and it’s going to focus more on longterm care and recovery,” stated Spearman. “We will see how that plays out. In the discussion and debate yesterday in the legislature it was the government saying that previous governments had focused on only one pillar, and there needs to be focus on all four. So I am taking that as funding for recovery is going to consume more of the budget, and we’ll see what happens.”
Spearman said City staff was preparing a full report on the provincial budget’s implications for Lethbridge, and would present that report to the public at the next city council meeting on March 9.
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