City council has unanimously approved its operating budget for the next four years, with an average annual property tax increase of 5.1 per cent as recommended by the economic standing policy committee earlier this month.
The increase — which is the largest take hike since 2014, when taxes rose 6.43 per cent — amounts to an additional $129.93 in property taxes annually for a single-family home, based on an average market value of $285,800.
The adjustment comes after three consecutive years of zero increases, when the previous council reopened the budget to offset the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council members say maintaining current service levels without increasing spending isn’t possible.
“When we’re living in this inflationary time, it’s hard to hold the line and we held the line for three straight years,” said councillor Ryan Parker. “Kudos to administration for making it work but sooner or later there is a cost.”
The draft budget entered deliberations at a yearly base increase of 3.77 per cent, and 1.33 per cent was added to that figure through recommendations by the economic SPC.
More than half of that is policing, which adds nearly three-quarters of a per cent.
The funding allows 22 Lethbridge police officers and 15.5 civilian positions to be hired.
It will also adjust for the $1-million that was cut from police in 2021-22.
“(It’s) extremely important and we heard loud and clear,” mayor Blaine Hyggen said. “It’s definitely something we invested into.”
Other notable increases include an omnibus motion, funding multiple outreach programs and the hiring of additional full-time parks staff.
While the budget has council’s stamp of approval, Hyggen says it could be examined for possible spending reductions.
“Work doesn’t stop here,” Hyggen said. “Now we look at efficiencies and maybe we can have an opportunity of lowering those rates in the future.”