Lethbridge city councillors are gearing up for a week of budget deliberations later this month. On Monday, council heard initial budget reduction recommendations from city staff.
From Nov. 23-28, city council will review Lethbridge’s current budget, which takes the city through 2022. A revised operating budget would then be approved by council at the Nov. 30 meeting.
Every single city department and service is being put under the financial microscope as part of the review.
The current chair of the city’s finance committee, Coun. Rob Miyashiro, says reopening the budget mid-term is extremely unusual for the city, and not something that council is taking lightly.
“I don’t know if there’s been a tougher budget process that I’ve been a part of since I’ve been a councillor,” Miyashiro said.
“This could change what we do in people’s lives, and I don’t say that facetiously,” he said. “If we cut transit this much, or we cut something else this much, what effect does that have on the residents of Lethbridge?
“We need to take this very seriously.”
City treasurer Hailey Pinksen said the city is currently in a fairly good financial position, with all but 1.45 per cent of property taxes collected as of the end of October.
Reductions in city services will depend in part on what council decides to do about property taxes.
In May, a scheduled 1.8 per cent increase in property taxes was cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19, leaving the city short about $2.8 million.
In a pair of options laid out on Monday, Pinksen said bumping that tax increase one more year would mean an impact of about $6 million. And if the property tax rate stays flat through 2022, the financial impact would be about $9 million.
That’s money the city will have to make up elsewhere with reductions, as well as the $5.6 million in estimated impact as the provincial government transitions Lethbridge to centralized EMS dispatch.
Miyashiro says uncertainty with the province is going to be a major factor in deliberations.
“Not understanding what we’re going to get from the province in terms of grants is a huge thing,” he said. “So that’s why, when we make this decision, we have to make it with the assumption that we might not get anything.”
The entire draft of the operating budget review is available on the city’s website.