By Jensen, Randy on November 10, 2020.
City council and the public got a preview of the upcoming budget discussions during Monday’s Finance Committee meeting.
The draft budget, now available on the city council agendas page online, proposes significant cuts to almost every department of the City of Lethbridge, which may mean a reduction in some services if fully enacted.
Each department in the draft budget essentially suggested how a savings of five or 10 per cent could take place if a suggested program or service were cut, but it will ultimately be up to city council to decide during budget deliberations starting on Nov. 23 as to what to actually follow through on.
Council must also decide whether or not to raise property taxes by 3.64 per cent next year to make up for the 1.82 per cent budgeted increase which did not take place in 2020 after being cancelled as part of council’s emergency COVID relief measures. City treasurer Hailey Pinksen said if taxes were not increased by 3.64 per cent next year the City would be facing a $6-million shortfall in 2021, which would increase to $9 million by 2022.
Pinksen also told council on Monday the cost of transitioning over from an integrated Fire and EMS service to a segregated one after AHS cancels its local dispatch contract could cost the City as much as $6.1 million in 2021 as the fire department would have to hire more firefighters to make up for the loss of the first-response personnel who would be EMS-only after January.
Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro, who chairs the Finance Committee, said he expected the upcoming budget discussions to be the most difficult of any held during his time on council.
“The real tough part about this one is that we agreed to reopen the budget before COVID,” he said. “We talked about this last spring. COVID hits. Now it makes it even more important we make some really good financial decisions over the remainder of this year, and over the next two years. It’s difficult in that I don’t think city council has ever reopened the budget mid-term.”
Miyashiro said the draft budget cut proposal presented to council on Monday was just that – a proposal. Now he and his council colleagues must weigh the balance to figure out what to cut and what to keep, and still provide a proper level of service to local citizens. He said council also had to be mindful of impending provincial funding cuts as they make their decisions.
“Some of these (proposals) are like cutting whole chunks of things,” he explained. “Maybe we just need to cut 50 per cent of these instead of cutting all of it. It’s about looking at the big picture, and how it all washes out. We can look at how our decision is going to impact service, but also can impact budget. If we go with everything in there, and wipe out a whole bunch of services, what does that mean to the community? We have to weigh that out as well.”
To view the entire draft budget proposals in this week’s Finance Committee agenda package visit https://agendas.lethbridge.ca/AgendaOnline/.
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