By Tim Kalinowski on November 27, 2020.
The Finance Committee of city council continued to do some heavy lifting on day four of budget deliberations in an effort to find millions in tax savings for 2021 and 2022 to reach their target of a zero per cent property tax increase in both years.
As of press time on Thursday, the Finance Committee was successful in reaching its goal, subject to final approval of city council next Monday.
By reaching this goal, the City will be able to absorb within the municipal budget over the next two years the already cancelled 1.82-per-cent tax increase for 2020 as well as previously budgeted increases of 1.82 per cent in 2021 and 1.82 per cent in 2022. There should be no property tax increases for local residents.
Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro, who chairs the Finance Committee, said committee members intend to continue the budget process until whatever the end result might be even after reaching this noteworthy target.
“We have to look at how much farther do we go?” he confirmed. “I think that is the question that some of council members have had, too: how far do we go? So we go as far as we need to, and then determine: are there some things we need to reconsider?”
The reconsideration process tends to be the most challenging aspect of the Finance Committee’s deliberations, said Miyashiro, as different members fight for additional tax relief or to have previous cutbacks reversed when additional dollars are found later in the process.
“That will be interesting,” Miyashiro stated. “The reconsiderations are also interesting, and all the budgeting and CIP processes I have been through while on council the reconsiderations are the ones where they need to really have their arguments together well. Because it is either something which has passed, and people wanted defeated. Or something that has been defeated, and they want to bring back up.”
“There is that balance that Finance Committee needs to reach in order to get to the point that we need to get to,” he added. “And that is actually a moving target now because we have passed our 2021 goal, and our 2022 goal is right in sight. Then the question from there is: how far?”
During Thursday’s deliberations, Finance Committee tackled various initiatives dealing with internal human resources decisions within the corporation of the City of Lethbridge which would require further discussions with unions and community partner organizations. The actual savings found came from cutbacks to traffic operations, reductions to road maintenance and operating transfers, and reductions to the street sweeping operations in the city.
The committee also voted to direct city council to decrease cleaning operations at the Enmax Centre for junior hockey games from four “deep cleanings” per year to two.
Two initiatives which were proposed later in the day, but not passed, were the permanent closure of the Fritz Sick Pool and the Civic Ice Centre downtown. Despite the pool needing urgent repairs, the committee, recognizing the importance of the pool to those who use it, felt it would be better to refer the pool to the 2022 Capital Improvement Program for a refit or replacement in the 2022-30 CIP cycle.
The Civic Ice Centre still has an estimated 10-year operational life remaining on its ice plant which cannot be moved to another rink. Committee members felt it was more practical to keep the facility until it used up its natural life before decommissioning the entire rink at some point in the future.
The Finance Committee is scheduled to tackle potential cuts to local utility operations today which could result in even more substantial savings for the City, but also bring greater impacts to the service levels of Lethbridge residents if passed.
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