By Jensen, Randy on June 19, 2020.
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation released a list of its biggest spending municipalities in Alberta in various categories earlier this week, and Lethbridge is in the top three, it says, among mid-sized jurisdictions with over 30,000 in population.
According to the CTF the City of Lethbridge spends almost $4,000 annually per taxpayer in its jurisdiction, putting it third behind the City of Medicine Hat and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
The CTF report, echoing what the MacKinnon Blue Ribbon Panel reported last year, says Alberta municipalities as a whole spend more than equivalent-sized jurisdictions in any other province besides Ontario.
Mayor Chris Spearman said the CTF report does not capture the full extent of the services Lethbridge offers residents, and devolves things down to a methodology which seems to somehow suggest the lowest common denominator should be applied to all citizens and jurisdictions in Alberta no matter their individual circumstances or economic profiles.
“I think you have to look at those numbers with a little bit of foresight and analysis, and just don’t take them the way they are presented,” he said.
“We are third-highest among mid-sized cities, but we provide services other mid-sized cities don’t provide. For example, transit services. We have our own police service. Those are things that we’re looking at where we provide additional levels of service other municipalities don’t have.”
Spearman also pointed out the City has committed to a zero-per-cent tax increase this year, and is undertaking an extensive operational review to find greater efficiencies.
“We provide certain levels of service that we acknowledge are higher than the service levels that are available in other cities,” Spearman stated. “Is that appropriate? For example, we have twice as many Access-A-Ride riders as other cities. There is a cost to that, and if we scale it back how are those customers going to feel? We also maintain more facilities than most comparable municipalities, but the quality of our facilities is very high.”
On a related note, Spearman also responded to a letter released by ATU Local 987 transit union president Travis Oberg earlier this week where Oberg strongly objected on behalf of his members to the City ending school bus service for local school boards. He stated parents will pay more for school bus service once the changes take effect and busing responsibilities are handed off to a private transportation company.
“Why are we funnelling taxpayer dollars to private corporations that are driven by profits?” Oberg asks in his letter. “This will hurt families in the long run as private firms want to see healthy profits, and this could open the door to a ‘pay for service model’ where families will have to pay more for their kids to get on the bus.”
Spearman said this issue represents the crux of the problem city council must deal with, and the balance of competing demands councillors face on a regular basis: the CTF says the City spends too much per taxpayer, and others like the transit union ask the City to continue to pay for services other jurisdictions don’t.
“I just want to remind everybody the City of Lethbridge was the only city in Alberta that was providing school bus transportation through yellow buses,” Spearman explained. “Again, that was another service we were providing, and another level of (public) employees. We are looking at doing things differently, and not everybody is going to be happy with the changes we make.”
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