Building a budget about ‘understanding the community’s sentiments’: former Lethbridge mayor

Click to play video: 'Building a budget about ‘understanding the community’s sentiments,’ says former mayor'
Building a budget about ‘understanding the community’s sentiments,’ says former mayor
WATCH ABOVE: The proposed Lethbridge municipal operating budget will come before city council next week and it includes an average annual property tax increase of 5.1 per cent. Erik Bay has more on how the proposed increase compares to past tax hikes and what one former council member believes is important to consider when creating a budget. – Nov 22, 2022

Lethbridge homeowners could see a bump in their municipal property taxes in 2023 after there were no increases the previous three years.

The proposed average annual tax increase for the 2023-26 operating budget is 5.1 per cent. If approved by city council, it would be the largest hike since 2014, when taxes jumped 6.43 per cent.

“The big challenge is going to be making sure that people are not overtaxed,” said former Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman.

Spearman helped create a pair of four-year budgets as Lethbridge’s mayor and was part of the council that adjusted the budget mid-cycle in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge committee recommends council approve budget with 5.1 per cent tax increase'
Lethbridge committee recommends council approve budget with 5.1 per cent tax increase

He said he believes budgeting is a balancing act for council members.

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“Understand what the community’s sentiments are and what is the community’s ability to pay,” Spearman said.

“Are we being fair to homeowners? Are we making sure we’re competitive in terms of attracting new investment?”

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Lethbridge isn’t the only city facing a tax increase.

Red Deer administration is recommending a hike of 4.79 per cent next year, while Calgary homes could see a 5.2 per cent rise. The City of Edmonton’s proposed budget has taxes up 3.9 per cent annually.

Budget deliberations are underway in Calgary, with the other two cities beginning talks next week.

Advocates are imploring municipalities to keep taxpayers in mind and show fiscal restraint this budget cycle.

“Be really prudent. Be really frugal. Ask themselves, is this a want or a need?” said Kris Sims, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Alberta director.

“I would encourage council to make sure that they continue to look at opportunities for savings, that they don’t just bake this in for all four years,” Spearman said.

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In Lethbridge, the proposed operating budget could be approved next week when it comes before council on Nov. 29.

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