By Tim Kalinowski on November 28, 2020.
The Finance Committee of city council avoided significant cuts to utility services during its final morning of scheduled budget deliberations on Friday, but left instructions to staff to further explore some of these potential savings, as presented, outside of the current budget process.
One initiative for consideration at a future time would be to explore a potential reduction in free large-item pickup service in Lethbridge. Currently residents pay as part of their utility fees for two free pick ups of large items per year which does not cover the full cost to the City of the pickup. Staff had proposed for committee’s consideration that the service be reduced to one large item pickup per year, and residents receive a $0.37 reduction on their overall utility bill per month for a total savings to the City of about $185,000.
Coun. Jeffrey Carlson, who said he has only used the service once in the past 15 years and felt it likely other residents would have a similar usage, wondered instead if the first large item pickup per household in the year should be free, and the second or any subsequent pickups should come with a surcharge attached as less than 50 per cent of residents use the service once annually and only eight per cent use it more than once.
Staff confirmed they had not considered surcharges along those lines before, but would come back to a future city council meeting with some options. The resolution was defeated 7-2.
The committee outright refused to consider reductions in annual watermain replacement service, reductions in maintenance funds for cemeteries, or increases in fees for Saturday internments after a brief discussion, and did not even move or discuss about a dozen other utility proposals which would have had even more significant implications for local residents.
One motion which did draw more discussion from committee members was a suggestion the City begin charging full utility rates to those who reside in secondary suites for a potential savings of about $183,000. Currently the policy is to charge one rate for one residential dwelling regardless of whether or not a secondary suite is present with a separate household living in it.
Coun. Jeffrey Coffman again felt it was an idea worth exploring, but instead of charging a whole new utility rate maybe an added surcharge could be applied if additional waste disposal carts were requested by a resident.
The main motion was defeated 7-2.
Committee members also endorsed the 2021 and 2022 airport budget for city council’s approval. The airport will receive just over $1.2 million in 2021 and about $1.4 million in 2022, a significant reduction from the $2.7 million previously budgeted in 2020. The decrease was largely due to the ongoing suspension of passenger service at the airport due to COVID-19, and the decreased costs associated with less air traffic.
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