By Tim Kalinowski on November 27, 2020.
During Finance Committee’s budget deliberations this week councillors have been challenged to come up with reductions which balance the need to bring spending down and provide taxpayer relief while at the same time ensuring citizens are getting the service levels they expect, or at least can live with, as the next two years unfold.
One example of this was a resolution that came forward, and ultimately failed, on Thursday was a proposal to cut back funding for seasonal displays in the city for a savings of $141,000, including the elimination of Christmas lights at the Brewery Gardens, the City’s annual flower program and all future installations of decorative fountains in storm ponds.
Coun. Mark Campbell said growing up in Lethbridge one of the things he always appreciated was seeing these types of seasonal displays, and during this time of COVID-19 more people in the community needed some cheering up by having such displays in a year that has just “sucked.” While it can’t be quantified on a budget line, he said, the aesthetic beauty of having such displays added greatly to the quality of life in the community.
Mayor Chris Spearman concurred with Campbell and other council colleagues in feeling that such displays added something to community life money simply cannot buy.
“This is a little too close to ‘The Grinch who stole Christmas’ for me,” he said. “It’s not essential, but in some ways maintaining community spirit and being a leader in doing that is essential.”
That motion was defeated by a vote of 7-2.
Another motion which also failed on Thursday was a proposal to increase user fees at City recreation and culture facilities to increase City revenues by $200,000. In a much closer vote, 5-4, a bare majority of councillors felt it was unfair to hold the line on property taxes and other fees in the community and expect residents, who are struggling this year, to pay more when engaging in local recreation and cultural activities.
Coun. Belinda Crowson spoke for the majority on the issue.
“I believe that asking families at this point to pay more is just difficult to do,” she said, “and these are services they require. At this time, I cannot support increasing user fees. I appreciate that it is a way of making money, but I think to be more equitable let’s do it across the board and make sure no one has to pay more at this time.”
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