By Lethbridge Herald on November 23, 2020.
City council’s Finance Committee began budget deliberations on Monday by hearing presentations by local community organizations and institutions on their budget requirements for the next two years.
Among the presenters were the Allied Arts Council, the Lethbridge Public Library, the Galt Museum and Archives, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, the Lethbridge Sport Council, Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden and the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, which all end their current budget cycle on Dec. 31.
Council had been seeking proposals from each of these organizations entertaining how they would arrive at a five- or 10-per-cent reduction in their 2021 and 2022 budgets, but most asked to maintain their current funding levels citing financial need and the ongoing fallout from COVID-19 as special events were cancelled and visitor numbers declined.
When pressed to come up with reduction suggestions, both the Galt Museum and Lethbridge Library said they would likely have to reduce their hours of operations. The Southern Alberta Art Gallery suggested it would answer the budget challenge by reducing hours of operation, bringing in fewer exhibitions, and getting rid of free visitations on Thursday night and Sundays. The Lethbridge Sport Council said the $55,000 per year allotted for their work in the community was already quite low, but they could find ways to absorb a further five-per-cent cut if required of them.
The Southern Alberta Ethnic Association asked for $73,000 in 2021 and $79,000 in 2022, which is already 40 per cent less than they asked last year because they were using reserves to offset their costs for 2021 and 2022.
The Allied Arts Council representatives said as an organization they were already facing a potential deficit of $200,000 in 2021 without council agreeing to provide supplementary one-time funding similar to what they provided in 2020.
Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden asked for an additional $50,000 in 2021 and $99,000 to help with transition money as they bring staffing and services online at their new community centre, and no reduction to their base funding.
No decisions were made by council on these fee-for-service agreements on Monday, but will return for debate and eventual council vote later in the week.
Council will begin tackling potential cuts within the corporation of the City of Lethbridge today.
Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro, who chairs the Finance Committee, said this was the first council budget in his memory where councillors were seeking a specific reduction target of $6 million instead of seeking to arrive at a specific number for the total budget.
“Really what we were doing (Monday) was kind of setting the stage,” he said. “There was no deliberation really, and what we were really trying to do is say what is going to go into our target for reduction. This is a reduction budget, this is not a ‘what are we going to include?’ This time it is ‘here is what our target is to reduce.’ We voted (as a council) not to increase property tax. We voted not to increase business fees. We voted not to increase utility rates. So because of all those things, we immediately put ourselves under the gun.”
Miyashiro said the reason council wanted to hear from the community organizations and institutions it did on Monday was because those organizations were only funded through Dec. 31.
This did not mean council was looking for them to specifically reduce their budgets by any kind of number, but what got cut or not would depend if council found other ways within the budget to make its $6-million spending reduction target within the corporation itself.
“Those people who came to do presentations today have to be approved for the 2021 budget,” said Miyashiro, “especially the fee-for-service organizations. Their funding actually ends on Dec. 31. The police had to come back to us because their funding back in 2018 was provisional for this time period (for the police and Crisis Team, The Watch and the Community Peace Officers). Those are the ones we have to make a conscience (budget) decision on.”
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