By Lethbridge Herald on January 23, 2024.
City council gets back to business today with the Lethbridge & District Exhibition in the spotlight.
City manager Lloyd Brierley will be making an administrative submission regarding a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and the Exhibition.
In December council gave the financially challenged Exhibition an emergency operating grant of $250,000 and the City has also set aside up to $950,000 in contingency held under its control for verified emergent needs with that money coming from the Municipal Revenue Stabilization Reserve.
A resolution approved at that meeting also called for an independent third party review of the Exhibition to be conducted with the Phase 1 report to be presented at the Nov. 14, 2024 meeting of the Economic and Financial Standing Policy Committee of council.
And council approved an interim governance body that will exclude any previous board members, this to ensure a clean slate, as mayor Blaine Hyggen told media in the City Hall foyer in December.
The MOU was to be signed by Friday with council to address it at this afternoon’s meeting.
In November, Exhibition management approached council to ask for $6.7 million in emergency funding and the immediate takeover of the pavilions, except the west one.
The Exhibition cited the impact of inflation, interest rates, supply chain issues and other lingering impacts from COVID-19 as causes of its financial shortfall. The Exhibition’s reserves have been depleted and it needed support from the City which gave it $25 million for the facility and a loan of $17.8 million.
If the MOU is approved, “it will provide further clarity and guidance for the next steps,” Hyggen said Thursday during his State of the City address at a breakfast staged by the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce.
In December, The province of Alberta turned down a request to provide emergency funding to the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, questioning the viability of its business plan for the Agri-Food Hub and Trade Centre.
In a letter addressed to the mayor from Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson, the province announced the decision to not provide the requested money.
“The province’s decision to invest in the Agri-Food Hub was part of the province’s pandemic response plan. The investment was specifically aimed at stimulating the agriculture and agri-food industry. . .
“Based on the city resolution on November 28, the original request for $1,040,546 in matching capital funding by December 11, 2023 was carefully considered. The Ministry also notes the assessment by the City that a larger financial shortfall exists that would require further funding to ensure the Agri-Food Hub can continue to operate based on the current business plan.
“Because the viability of the current business plan is in doubt, the province declines to provide the requested $1,040,546.50 to the city,” wrote Sigurdson.
The County of Lethbridge, which has also financially supported the Exhibition, stated in a December press release that it had approved providing administrative support to a proposed interim governance board which is dependent upon the ratification of the MOU.
“The County remains a willing participant in regional collaboration,” says CAO Cole Beck in the release.
“The terms and conditions of the MOU will determine how we can best support the board positions and provide the appropriate expertise going forward. We are confident that our team can provide valuable insights and administrative assistance where necessary to help ensure the long-term success of the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre,” Beck said.
In official business matters, council will hear a motion moved by councillor Belinda Crowson rescind a resolution from Nov. 8, 2022 that council only consider offering capital grants to affordable and social housing providers.”
Acting Mayor John Middleton-Hope will be moving a motion on water conservation options calling on council to “direct the city manager to have administration continue working with province and regional partners on proactive measures to address the current water supply concerns and examine best practices to determine constructive approaches most likely to achieve success for Lethbridge and district.”
The motion also asks administration to prepare options for consideration at the April 11 meeting of the Economic and Finance Standing Policy Committee of council on programs to incentivize water conservation including, not not limited to economic incentives, xeriscaping options for existing public spaces and potential changes to design standards for new developments.
His motion also asks administration to provide monthly updates to the Assets and Infrastructure SPC starting in February as needed on the status of drought and water supply conditions and the progress of conservation initiatives.