Lethbridge stakeholders, including the city, post-secondary institutions and school districts, are taking time to look over Thursday’s provincial budget, which has $500-million surplus, the first since 2015.
After the budget was tabled, Mayor Blaine Hyggen said he entered discussions with ministers.
“I didn’t see a lot of line items specifically for Lethbridge,” he said, but added it’s still looking positive for the city.
“We’re encouraged to hear of funding allocated to physician recruitment,” he said. “This was something I really found to be great, especially for our community.
“It’s a top issue and we look forward to hearing more details on that matter.”
He added “it’s a new document” and will be diving into the details with council in the near future.
“City council and I will continue to ask and advocate for the needs of our community and look forward to partnering with the provincial government in finding solutions together.”
Chamber of Commerce
Cyndi Bester, the CEO of the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, said there were a few budget items she sees benefiting the small business community.
Those include strategies to improve affordable housing, commercial driver grants and $390 million for improving broadband connectivity.
“That is a policy that the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce has actually worked on municipally, provincially and federally,” Bester explained. “To see that continue and be mentioned in the budget is very significant.”
She said while the budget didn’t directly reference many Lethbridge-specific changes, it will take some deeper digging to see what impacts it will have.
“We need to be looking at getting Alberta at work, and what we can do moving forward,” Bester added. “Expanding the economy, diversify the economy, getting skilled labour out.”
College and University Reaction
In response to the budget, the CEO and president of Lethbridge College said the institution was “disappointed, but not surprised” to learn its base operating grant was reduced — again.
“The 5.7 per cent reduction is the fourth-straight substantial cut to our operating grant and is a significant challenge for our college,” Paula Burns’ statement read.
“We are pleased to see the budget’s alignment with the government’s Alberta 2030 initiative and an investment in targeted enrolment growth in selected areas, and we look forward to exploring opportunities to access this funding in areas such as technology and agriculture.”
As for the University of Lethbridge, its operating grant was reduced by 5.1 per cent.
“While the university is encouraged by an investment in new funding for targeted enrolment expansion for programs with a high market demand, the university’s overall operating grant will be reduced by ($4.8 million),” the school told Global News.
“The U of L’s operating grant has been reduced by 21 per cent since the 2019-20 fiscal year.”
Bester said cuts to the city’s post-secondary institutions have an impact on the business sector.
“That’s significant to our city because that’s where we get a lot of our employment,” she said.
“The university will spend the coming days and weeks to fully understand the implications of the Alberta budget, and make the necessary decisions to ensure a balanced budget is presented to the board of governors later this spring,” the school’s statement read.
Southern Alberta school districts are taking time to digest the budget as well.
The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division said on Friday it would need to review specific details from Alberta Education before commenting.
“Once we have reviewed that information, which we anticipate receiving in mid- to late March, we will be able to determine more accurately how this budget will impact our schools and students,” the school division told Global News.
Wilco Tymensen, the superintendent of the Horizon School Division, said they are assuming more details will be provided in the coming weeks.
“We were approved for preliminary planning for a modernization in Milk River with no budget for construction, and we are hopeful that it is one of the 15 projects that were approved,” he said.
The Lethbridge School Division said with the previous approval of a new K-5 elementary school in the city’s west, its main priority now is the modernization of Galbraith Elementary School.
“The division is also looking forward to more information regarding what curriculum implementation funding will look like, along with details on student well-being funding, targeting academic and wellness challenges,” said Lethbridge School Division Board chair Allison Purcell.
“Through our recent town hall, we have heard concerns regarding gaps in learning as well as student well-being. This new funding is welcome news.”