LETHBRIDGE: A verbal ping-pong match at city hall Monday over the upcoming budget.
Administration announced a further one per cent trimming of the anticipated property tax increases for 2012 to 2014 (about 3.7 per cent per year for the average homeowner, down from 4.7 per cent), but many on council say it's not good enough.
“I'm hearing the word historically,” said Ald. Joe Mauro during a two-hour debate at city hall where council questioned whether or not they had the authority to take a hard line on maximum tax increases. “When in my case, we heard it from the public at election time, whatever we've done historically as far as I'm concerned should be tossed out the window. We're starting as a new council and I think we should do what we need to do to hear our constituents.”
Discussion moved swiftly from budget specifics to abstract debate of the “role of council.” Some aldermen questioned whether council has authority to tell its staff not to raise taxes. Many argued it's the municipal government's role to set service levels only, not to dictate spending. Others, like Ald. Faron Ellis, came down firmly on the other side.
“Municipalities throughout this country set standards for their administration, not just in service levels but also in real dollar figures or percentages on tax increases,” said Ellis. “We don't even have to look outside Alberta. Every year, Calgary city council sets out the maximum tax increase they want to see and the staff work around that.” It's true. Since the election last fall, Calgary's council members set a mandate of cost-savings that must be found in all city departments to make up a large deficit.
While Lethbridge city council seemed without a fully-cooked plan Monday about how to go about it, many expressed the appetite to find more cost-savings and trim upcoming tax increases further before the budget's first draft comes out Monday, October 24. Ald. Jeff Coffman said it's doable, if his colleagues do their homework.
“We're getting down to the wire now. We have only a few weeks,” said Carlson. “But I hope the head's up has been given, and I want people to sharpen their pens and come prepared.”