New city manager discusses his first 100 days in office
City in good shape financially, Bramwell Strain tells SACPA
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.
City manager Bramwell Strain answers a question during the weekly meeting of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.