New city man­ager dis­cusses his first 100 days in of­fice

City in good shape fi­nan­cially, Bramwell Strain tells SACPA

Lethbridge Herald - - HOMETOWN NEWS - Fol­low @DMa­bel­lHer­ald on Twit­ter Dave Ma­bell

Leth­bridge is in good shape, fis­cally as well as phys­i­cally. But its prop­erty taxes are among the high­est in the prov­ince, the new city man­ager agrees. Leth­bridge has done a poor job in re­cruit­ing First Na­tions and vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity em­ploy­ees, Bramwell Strain told a ques­tioner. And it’s es­sen­tial that re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and sup­port ser­vices be cre­ated for men and women who are us­ing the su­per­vised drug-use fa­cil­ity.

Strain, who suc­ceeded long­time city man­ager Garth Sher­win, ad­dressed the South­ern Al­berta Coun­cil on Pub­lic Af­fairs to re­flect on his first 100 days on the job on Thurs­day.

The City is in a sound po­si­tion fi­nan­cially, he re­ported. And it con­sis­tently bud­gets to main­tain and re­pair all its cap­i­tal as­sets.

“Win­nipeg is col­laps­ing,” he said, be­cause of­fi­cials have not planned and saved to keep its bridges and civic in­fra­struc­ture in good re­pair. Be­fore mov­ing to Leth­bridge, Strain was a fed­eral of­fi­cial based there.

For Leth­bridge to con­tinue its good stew­ard­ship, Strain said, the new op­er­at­ing bud­get had to in­clude about a 1.7 per cent in­crease to cover growth and in­fla­tion. Be­yond that, City depart­ments brought for­ward more than 90 new spend­ing pro­pos­als — with very few ac­cepted.

De­spite elected of­fi­cials’ close scru­tiny, Strain said res­i­den­tial prop­erty taxes re­main the sec­ond-high­est in Al­berta, af­ter Grande Prairie. That’s be­cause the busi­ness tax base is rel­a­tively small and so many prop­er­ties — in­clud­ing se­niors’ and health-care fa­cil­i­ties, schools, the col­lege and univer­sity — are ex­empt from prop­erty tax.

“Nine of our largest 10 em­ploy­ers don’t pay (prop­erty) taxes,” he pointed out.

But they pro­vide sta­ble em­ploy­ment, Strain added, and their peo­ple buy homes and pay their share.

Home­own­ers’ share of the tax load should slowly de­crease, he said, as the city’s in­dus­trial base grows and di­ver­si­fies.

This is not a good time to take on projects from res­i­dents’ “wish lists,” he cau­tioned.

Strain said a third bridge, with­out ma­jor grants from se­nior gov­ern­ment, would cost about $200 mil­lion and add about $15 per month to prop­erty taxes.

Re­spond­ing to ques­tions, he said just four City em­ploy­ees in a work­force of more than 1,100 iden­tify as First Na­tions. He added women, mem­bers of vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties and peo­ple with a dis­abil­ity are poorly rep­re­sented in City ranks as well.

When an au­di­ence mem­ber noted the new YMCA will be lo­cated at the ex­treme west­ern edge of town, far from many of its cur­rent mem­bers, Strain said the ex­ist­ing build­ing will be taken over by the City — and its fu­ture for recre­ational use or other pur­poses has yet to be de­ter­mined.

Asked about the opi­oid cri­sis, he said it’s af­fect­ing many cities across North Amer­ica. And Leth­bridge now has a plan of ac­tion.

“We are pro­vid­ing com­mu­nity lead­er­ship,” and it’s now up to se­nior lev­els of gov­ern­ment to re­spond.

Leth­bridge is look­ing for a proac­tive re­sponse in the near fu­ture, he in­di­cated.

Her­ald photo by Ian Martens @IMarten­sHer­ald

City man­ager Bramwell Strain an­swers a ques­tion dur­ing the weekly meet­ing of the South­ern Al­berta Coun­cil on Pub­lic Af­fairs.

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