With Alberta’s 2021 provincial budget now out in the open, residents of the province’s third-largest city might be wondering what the extensive plan means for them.
Social issues need to be addressed: mayor
City of Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman, who has announced his time on council will end in the fall, says there isn’t much impact to municipalities.
“There are no significant cuts to immediate municipal funding, and no impacts or reductions on municipal revenues,” he explained. “There should be no impact on our planned zero per cent overall property tax increase.”
He added the improvement to the Lethbridge Airport, as well as the $27.8-million Exhibition Park expansion project, should be going ahead as planned with government funding.
However, Spearman says there is still worry when it comes to supports around homelessness and dealing with social issues in the community.
“Homelessness and addiction are issues that this city continues to struggle with, and they’re largely in the area of responsibility of the provincial government,” Spearman said, adding construction on the $11-million supportive housing project approved last year has not yet begun.
“We’re going to struggle with social issues until the supports are in place, our city has demonstrated that we have probably the greatest need in the province. Projects need to move forward.”
Under the Seniors and Housing funding outlined in the budget, $140.5-million is allocated for 2021, including $18.5-million for new affordable and specialized housing.
“We’ll have to see how much of that $140 million will be coming to the city of Lethbridge to support those things.”
Small businesses look to new programs
Hunter Heggie, chair of the Downtown Lethbridge Business Revitalization Zone and owner of King of Trade, says he was happy to hear about one of the mayor budget takeaways: no new or increased taxes.
“If the government increased taxes during the time when we’re really tight for cash, that would just be devastating to many of these businesses that are on the very edge already,” he said.
“I’m really grateful that they didn’t raise taxes.”
The budget outlines $136 million over three years toward the Jobs Now program, the details of which have yet to be announced.
Heggie is hopeful continued supports and focus on the economy during COVID-19 will help Lethbridge get back on its feet.
“In our downtown, it’s in the hundreds of jobs lost already, we’re hoping (those jobs) will come back through these new programs.”
Lethbridge school districts waiting for more information
As for one of the largest public sectors, education, Lethbridge school divisions say it’s still too soon to tell how exactly the budget will affect K-12 learning.
Global News reached out to both the Holy Spirit Catholic School Divison and the Lethbridge School Division (LSD) for comment.
LSD released the following statement:
“Lethbridge School Division is pleased the government of Alberta is putting education as a top priority by maintaining education spending at $8.3 billion for the upcoming school year.
“Although we do not know details and can’t comment on allocations to our Division specifically, we are encouraged the province sees the need for COVID-19 mitigation funding.
“The division also looks forward to learning more in regards to the additional $40 million allocated to the Learning Support Funding envelope.”
Holy Spirit was not available for comment, and both divisions say the anticipated Alberta Education funding profiles should arrive near the end of March.