LETHBRIDGE: A $25,000 city council bailout means Lethbridge’s “safety city” is safe from collapse due to debt – for now. Directors of the service, a non-profit community group which runs educational programming for children aged five to 12, made an impassioned plea at city hall Monday.
“The doors are closed right now, because we have no way of operating. We owe money to the City now for utilities, we have problems with flooding,” said the program’s director, Dr. Keith Robin, in his presentation to a full slate of aldermen. “We’re in difficult shape.”
Robin and his colleagues said rising costs and dwindling community support in the form of funding are the reasons behind their dire situation. For example, at the time of the group’s inception in 1995, there were several financial backers in the form of other community organizations, which offered annual grants. Funding was so plentiful in fact, that the group’s board made a policy to always offer its programs free of charge. At that time, the volunteer board included members of the Kiwanis Club of Lethbridge, Lethbridge City Police, Lethbridge Fire Department, Alberta Motor Association, Chinook Health Region, CP Rail and Canadian Western Natural Gas. The annual operating budget was roughly $85,000, including salaries of two instructors who helped develop educational safety programming.
“Since its inception in 1995, Lethbridge’s Safety City has survived entirely on donations from the community, including annual operating grants from a few businesses, private donations from local citizens and from a variety of fundraising projects developed by staff and board members,” said Robin. But recent years have seen those grants fall away. Only two of the original sponsors – the Kiwanis Club of Lethbridge and the Foresters Club – continue with their annual grant funding, for a total of $10,000. That circumstance, coupled with inflation and rising operating costs, resulted in a glaring red funding gap and Monday’s trip to city hall.
Council concerned bailouts could drain resources
Aldermen seemed supportive, yet wary such bailouts may become a trend. The Safety City ask is one of two such requests for emergency grants in recent months. In March, council approved a $57,000 grant to help dig the Lethbridge Symphony out of debt. Spokespeople for the symphony also spoke of dire finances due to falling community funding and rising costs. A lengthy discussion followed, with aldermen calling on administration to craft a policy directive for such cases to they would have more clear criteria for judgement. Three months later, such a policy has not been finalized, which left some aldermen struggling with the decision.
Ald. Joe Mauro said the lack of community support for the safety city program was a red flag signalling a lack of rel