June 20th, 2024

City budget deliberations commence next week

By Lethbridge Herald on November 10, 2022.

City council, acting as the Economic Standing Policy Committee, will begin at least five days of deliberations starting Monday on the upcoming budget. Herald photo by Ian Martens

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Ready, set, deliberate!

City council, acting as the Economic Standing Policy Committee, will begin at least five days of deliberations starting Monday on the upcoming budget for 2023-26.

City residents are looking at a minimum 3.77 per cent tax hike annually over those four years.

Any tax hike here will be the first in several years since the City held the municipal tax increase to zero per cent from 2020-22.

The last increase was 1.82 per cent in 2019 which was the City’s lowest in 20 years.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen on Thursday said two of the important issues facing council in its role as Economic SPC will be policing and homelessness.

“Those are needs more than wants in my opinion. It’s definitely something we have to address sooner than later.”

The mayor said while shelters are the jurisdiction of the provincial government, the City has an obligation to collaborate with it on the process of finding solutions to homelessness.

“The shelters are within our community. So of course we want to make sure that we are helping and collaborating with the provincial government on solutions within our community. The questions come to us on a regular basis; a lot of times they don’t go to the province although they are the ones responsible for shelters. So just making sure we are working collaboratively with the provincial government on better solutions is of utmost importance,” added the mayor.

He also said the police struggle with resources is something that the SPC needs to address.

“I know we’ve struggled over the years with having the resources there.”

The Lethbridge Police Service is seeking to hire a total of 22 officers including seven for youth engagement. It also wants support for officers including in records management, FOIP, and Human Resources and Information Technology.

For 2023, the police want seven full-time youth engagement officers, 15.5 FTE civilian staff and two FTE officers for a total of 24.5 additional staff. In 2024, the police are asking for seven full-time officers and six more in 2025. No additional staff are being requested for 2026.

The budget difference would be an additional $2,235,460 in 2023, $4,084,673 in ’24, $4,952,661 in ’25 and $4,961,464 in ’26.

The initiative includes adjusting for the $1 million budget cut in 2021-22.

Economic SPC was told in October LPS should have about 212 staff. The service currently employs 165.

Deliberations will run Monday through Friday starting at 9:30 a.m. in council chambers. They will conclude each day at 4:30 p.m. Deliberations are open to the public and will be live-streamed on the City’s YouTube page. It is possible deliberations could stretch longer than five days.

“This year is a little different than previous years for the budget in that administration really brought us the information well in advance so we could have the opportunity to really digest this. So we’re going into budget, we can make informed decisions on the data that we’ve already received which is extremely important,” said the mayor.

“A lot of the questions that we’ve had in advance, we’ve been able to ask administration which has come back to us. It does make it a lot easier going into next week,” said Hyggen.

“Budgets aren’t easy but it’s going to be easier having the information at our fingertips,” he said.

Alberta mayors have discussed some of the challenges they are facing with the costs of inflation.

Inflation and other challenges impacting expenses means the City won’t be keeping the status quo with property taxes, he said.

“There’s too many challenges that we have,” said the mayor, with the spectre of a possible recession also looming.

During budget talks, he said council will be thinking about that and having the importance of needs as a focus.

“Sometimes the wants may not be there,” he added.

Council, under the Municipal Government Act, must approve an operating budget by Dec. 31 so the City can pass a property tax bylaw.

Council is expected to pass the budget at its Nov. 29 meeting.

The city has on its website a copy of the draft budget and an outline of the operating budget for residents to see. The Herald’s website has a story from Oct. 26 highlighting some of the budget requests council will be considering.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter

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