Lethbridge residents are looking at a municipal tax increase of 5.1 per for each of the next four years, as members of council conclude budget deliberations. This is equal to $129.93 extra each year for the average single-family residence with an average market value of $285,800.
The budget draft has been amended throughout this week and council, acting as the economic standing policy committee, unanimously carried a recommendation to send it to a council meeting scheduled for Nov. 29 for final approval.
Before adding new initiatives to the budget, the increase was forecast at 3.77 per cent — this was to maintain current levels of service and meet inflationary pressures, according to Darrell Mathews, city treasurer. The largest increase to the budget was an amendment to the Lethbridge Police Service, which added 0.74 per cent to the increase.
“The biggest thing people wanted and we have heard loud and clear over the last three or four years, if not before that, is public safety and we put that as pretty much our top priority in this budget,” said councilor Ryan Parker in the concluding debate for the budget deliberations on Nov. 18. “I think no one in this community would begrudge that at all.”
Members of council who have served multiple terms commented that the process this week was one of the most collegial budget deliberations they have experienced.
“If you want to see what a council values, you look at their budget because you put your money where your mouth is and I think this budget is a great reflection of our values, which reflect community values,” said councillor Jeff Carlson. He, along with Parker, added that they did not specifically support some items discussed this week, but council members worked together to best reflect community values.
Other large changes include moving downtown clean and safe programs from one-time funding to ongoing through taxations.
Council also approved a significant increase to parkland growth and capacity, which added 0.10 per cent to the tax increase. This initiative will see ten new non-permanent employees to meet existing service levels. It will see an extra $613,000 in 2023, $629,300 in 2024, $647,300 in 2025 and $669,100 in 2026.
At the start of deliberations, the committee had $4.4 million in one-time funding for allocation. It ended with $124,000 remaining. A significant portion of this is set to go to a review of the city’s land use bylaw, which will use $1.1 million.
Councillor Jenn Schmidt-Rempel commented that some of the tax increase is needed for departments to catch up after not getting additional funding in the last budget cycle.