LETHBRIDGE: City council has stalled a move to reduce the city's planned 4.88 per cent tax increase in a tie 4-4 vote.
Alderman Faron Ellis brought the motion forward, arguing that financial circumstances in the city have changed since the increase was agreed to in 2008.
"Budgets are estimates based on the best information that's available that time," said Ellis as he opened debate. "The Alberta inflation rate in 2006 was running at 3.9 per cent, in 2007 at 5 per cent, and at 3.1 per cent in 2008 when this current three year operating budget was debated. And at that time, they only had information for the first three quarters of 2008 so they actually probably thought inflation was running closer to 4 per cent."
But the financial landscape has changed pretty drastically in Lethbridge since then, he added. Actual inflation figures came in much lower than expected, as did the actual population increase. The result? A "decreased cost in the operation of the city," the savings of which he argued should be passed on to the taxpayers.
Several council members said they supported the idea in theory, but wanted more time to see how the roughly one per cent reduction in the city's overall operating budget would affect levels of service.
"Right now, we're getting one side of the story, I suspect," said Mayor Raijko Dodic in his argument for postponing a decision on the matter for two weeks. "Administration has said they'll do a comprehensive review, the best they can in two weeks' time. This gives them a chance to do the job they're paid to do which is to assess cause and effect."
Ald. Ryan Parker, Liz Iwaskiw and Jeff Carlson agreed with Dodic that the motion should be shelved temporarily, but Ald. Joe Mauro, Bridget Mearns, Faron Ellis and Jeff Coffman voted against it, saying they wanted the debate to go ahead that day. Ald. Tom Wickersham was absent from the meeting.
"We have more information today than council had in 2008," said Ellis in his closing arguments. "We have the numbers and we know that there are cost savings there. I truly believe that they should be passed on to the public."
Another 4-4 vote, with Parker, Iwaskiw, Carlson and Dodic opposed and Ellis, Mauro, Mearns and Coffman in favour of the tax trimming, meant the initiative was quashed. The group then went ahead to finalize the originally-planned 4.88 per cent increases. Tax notices will be sent to homeowners by the end of the month.
Audio feature: Hear some of the back-and-forth on the tax issue between Ald. Jeff Carlson and Ald. Faron Ellis during Monday's council meeting.