Lethbridge property tax increase eliminated in wake of COVID-19 financial struggles

Lethbridge city council has voted in favour of cancelling a scheduled 1.8 per cent increase to property taxes in 2020. The move comes in response to the financial crunch being felt by many residents and businesses recently.

In an 8-1 vote in favour of the bylaw amendment, council directed the city manager to update the 2020 operating budget. The city will be short approximately $2.8 million as a result of the decision.

The move follows a decision last week to allow penalty-free property tax deferrals through September.

“What we want to do is, in addition to waiving penalties on late payments — for those who cannot pay their taxes at this time, up to Sept. 30 — is we’ve also cancelled the tax increase,” Mayor Chris Spearman said.

“We want to minimize the burden on both residential and business taxpayers in the city of Lethbridge.”

Tax notices will be sent out next week and the cancellation of the increase will save the average Lethbridge household about $42.

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Municipal property taxes are required by the city to pay for services such as police, fire and EMS, as well as transit, streets and roads, community services and infrastructure. Spearman said a motion at next week’s meeting of city council will recommend an overall review of the 2020 operating budget to look for cost-saving opportunities.

“This is the first time we’ve done administrative reviews in 40 years,” he said. “I think we’re going to identify ways of doing things more effectively and more efficiently.”

The downtown business community in Lethbridge also got a break from council on Monday.

Council voted 8-1 in favour of waiving the 2020 Business Revitalization Tax Levy, following a joint plea from the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) and the Heart of our City Committee.

The chair of the Downtown BRZ, Hunter Heggie, said the impacts of COVID-19 have already been deeply felt by Lethbridge business owners.

“It’s staggering the impact this has on businesses. People have put their life savings into opening up a business, and now they won’t be reopening,” said Heggie.

According to a letter from the Downtown BRZ to city council, the BRZ represents more than 550 member businesses.

The letter from Heggie said the Downtown BRZ and Heart of our City Committee had carefully examined numbers from both the Economic Developers of Alberta and the Lethbridge Region Economic Recovery Task Force before deciding on the plea to council, with estimates from both organizations estimating that 25 to 30 per cent of businesses might not reopen after COVID-19.

“Those numbers could well be higher in downtown Lethbridge due to the economic pressures that were already being experienced by our members as a result of the community drug crisis that has hit downtown businesses particularly hard,” Heggie’s letter reads.

The tax levy was supposed to total approximately $219,000 towards the Downtown BRZ budget, and that will now be paid for by the Heart of our City Committee, which will repurpose funds.

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