New report ranks Lethbridge as one of top per capita spenders among Alberta municipalities

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WATCH ABOVE: The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s new municipal spending report has ranked Lethbridge as one of the top per capita spenders among Alberta municipalities. Danica Ferris breaks down the numbers. – Jun 16, 2020

A new report from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the City of Lethbridge is one of the biggest spenders among Alberta’s cities.

The Muncipal Spending Report ranks municipalities based on the city’s total expenses (information published by the Alberta government) divided by total population, giving a per person amount.

“It’s a pretty quick calculation,” said Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta director for the CTF. “You look at total expenses for all the municipalities and then you divide it by population.

“The reason we chose to do per person spending is because it’s a good proxy of the cost of the government to taxpayers.”

READ MORE: Lethbridge city council receives update on operational review

Terrazzano said the CTF released the report in June because it coincides with the time when most Albertans are dealing with property tax notices. As the province wrestles with an economic downturn, he said residents deserve to know how their cities are spending tax dollars.

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“The more that city councillors tax and spend, the less money that families and businesses will have to weather this economic storm,” he said.

“It’s very important, especially now, for municipal councillors all across the province to do everything they can to cut the wasteful spending, so that they can lower property taxes.”

When compared to other cities of more than 30,000 people — considered “Big Cities” in the report — Lethbridge ranked third in terms of per capita spending, behind just Medicine Hat and Wood Buffalo.

Fourteen municipalities are in the same category, but Lethbridge’s per person spending is more than $500 higher than the average.

READ MORE: Lethbridge City Council orders independent fiscal review

Terrazzano said Lethbridge’s biggest budget red flag is clear.

“One thing they’re going to have to focus on — to provide tax relief and to reduce spending moving forward — is going to have to be the labour costs,” he said. “For Lethbridge, labour costs make up more than 40 per cent of the budget.”

The city had the first phase of an independent operational review of expenses conducted by KPMG in November, which identified “higher service intensity” as an area that Lethbridge could afford to cut back on. The review said that Lethbridge has higher operating costs, more civic assets and more staff than other comparably-sized Canadian cities.

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The city told Global News that it was unable to respond to the report on Tuesday.

Terrazzano said that at a time when the economy is struggling, it’s more important than ever for the city to examine spending.

READ MORE: Lethbridge city council votes to form new COVID-19 recovery committee

“Lethbridge city council is going to have to do what families and businesses all across Alberta have been doing for years, and that’s tighten their belts [and] figure out what is an essential spending item and what is just a ‘want to have,’ and they’re going to have to cut [those].”

The city is set to reopen its four-year budget in November to aid in COVID-19 recovery efforts.

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