By Melissa Villeneuve on October 17, 2017.
Chris Spearman is looking forward to taking care of unfinished business as he swept the Lethbridge municipal election race to hold his mayoral seat another four years.
Mayor-elect Spearman received 14,897 ballots on Monday for 73.72 per cent of the vote. He took an early lead with the first of 17 polls reporting and maintained the momentum through to the end.
Spearman celebrated at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club with family members and supporters. Earlier they enjoyed a cake for his grandson’s birthday.
In 2013, Spearman was elected as the 25th mayor of the City of Lethbridge. When he announced he was seeking re-election in June, Spearman said the city is on the right track in terms of growth and economic development and he wants to see it continue to progress.
Spearman said he is happy and honoured to be re-elected by the citizens of Lethbridge.
“At the same time, we have to recognize 25 per cent of the people voting have some level of dissatisfaction,” he said. “I think Mr. Janzen represents seniors on fixed income and I think Mr. Heavy Head represents some of our Indigenous people. We need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of those segments of our community and we’re going to try to do that moving forward.”
Spearman said he’s heard loud and clear that people are concerned about their tax rates. As the city grows there is more pressure, he said, and it’s a balance between infrastructure needs and capital required to build.
“Every time we spend $15 million on capital that means a one per cent tax increase,” he said. “It particularly challenges us when we’re looking at a performing arts centre, a convention centre or a third bridge. All of those things would have an upward pressure on taxes.”
At the same time, one-third of the city’s operating budget is spent on protective services such as police, fire and ambulance.
“So where do we want to cut?” he asked, stressing the importance of retaining adequate response times.
“Those are difficult challenges and as we move forward with our operating budget in the next year, we’re going to have to be prudent. We’re going to have to find ways to save money and not just put taxes up by two to three per cent a year.”
Spearman said they will need to be prudent with capital decisions as well, as the province’s Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding may not be continued.
“If that money dries up, it’s going to affect any capital projects that we can complete in the future.”
Spearman said he’s looking forward to coming up with a solid strategic plan and working with the next council “to make sure the next four years are as productive as the last four years.”
Second-place finisher, University of Lethbridge student Martin Heavy Head, received 3,342 votes for 16.54 per cent. Heavy Head said he’s “disappointed that I lost, but not really,” as it isn’t the end of the line for him. He noted he likely won’t run again, but hopes he broke the ground for someone “better” to come along.
Heavy Head brought the issue of homelessness to the forefront with his campaign. He cited the lack of appropriate infrastructure to help the city’s most vulnerable citizens, which adds to the drug addiction problem, and called out racism in Lethbridge.
“We’ve had a homelessness issue and this has been compounded by racism and new kinds of drugs, but also inaction on behalf of the city. And sometimes even destructive action by the city,” said Heavy Head. “In the last three years, 75 people have died on the streets directly due to homelessness in Lethbridge.”
He said he wants city council to know they can end homelessness. He cited a plan for transition housing that was shut down.
“It’s well within the resources of the city to reinvigorate the transition home, they could creatively fix this if there is the political will,” he said. “I want city council to know those 75 deaths were preventable … the most vulnerable are at serious risk and this new council can do something about it.”
Retiree Bob Janzen, whose focus was on trying to cut taxes for Lethbridge citizens, received 1,969 votes for 9.74 per cent. Janzen said he was happy that he ran, but had a feeling Spearman would be re-elected. He didn’t rule out another shot at mayor in the future if he’s in good health.
It was the first time Heavy Head and Janzen have run for mayor. Janzen ran for council in 2004 and in 2010, while Heavy Head ran for council in 2013.
According to the unofficial results posted, a total of 21,357 ballots were cast out of 78,772 eligible voters for a 27.11 per cent turnout. It was a lower turnout than the 2013 election, which was 29.8 per cent .
The newly elected representatives will gather for a welcome reception at city hall on Wednesday. They will then begin a detailed orientation process, set to take place over the coming months, which focuses on their role and responsibilities within municipal government. The official Swearing In Ceremony is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Monday.