Lethbridge city council has approved the operating budget for the next four years with a municipal tax increase of 5.1 per cent for each year. The increase is equal to $129.93 extra each year for the average single-family residence with an average market value of $285,800.
The budget was approved unanimously at council’s Nov. 29 meeting.It was amended and debated earlier this month by members of council, acting as the economic standing policy committee. Before new initiatives were added the increase was forecast at 3.77 per cent — this would have only maintained current levels of service and met inflationary pressures, according to Darrell Mathews, city treasurer.
“We did a lot of that debate here last week of course and it was long, a lot of debate so coming out of that I think we kind of knew the direction that we would be going,” says mayor Blaine Hyggen. “We knew that it wasn’t going to be a zero when we have had three previous years of zero. We knew there had to be some increase when you look at what’s happening currently with inflation.”
The largest increase to the budget was an amendment to the Lethbridge Police Service, which added 0.74 per cent to the increase. Hyggen says public safety was the number one thing he heard from residents.
“It’s most important to obviously support the needs within our community, especially [when] you hear rumors of recession etcetera come forward and it’s really important that we definitely focus on the needs over those wants right now until we have a more stable economy,” Hyggen says. “Work doesn’t stop here, now we look at the efficiencies and maybe we can have that opportunity of lowering these rates in the future.”
Lethbridge saw a zero per cent tax increase for three years, but both Hyggen and other councilllors say it was necessary to raise taxes this budget cycle.
“You never want to have to do a tax increase but I also think the community understands when we are living in this inflationary times, that it’s hard to hold the line and we held the line for three straight years,” says councillor Ryan Parker.