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Subsidies for the affluent

Posted on December 26, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Thirteen tenants living in subsidized social housing in Lethbridge make a salary of more than $50,000 — one even as high as $77,000 — according to newly released information from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).

Derek Fildebrandt, the CTF’s Alberta director, used Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to obtain documents from the Lethbridge Housing Authority (LHA), which he said was “very cooperative” during his research. Fildebrandt said those salary levels are well within the middle-class income level and shouldn’t require help from taxpayers.

“We’re paying good taxes to the province, to the municipalities, every year. Some of it is well spent, but then some people turn around and abuse the generosity of the welfare state,” he said.

“It’s a province-wide problem. We’re not pointing the finger at Lethbridge and Lethbridge’s government, but the City of Lethbridge and its housing authority do have some latitude to correct this problem. And the province still does need to step up, take some responsibility and make necessary legislative changes.”

Trisha Anderson, public affairs officer for Alberta Municipal Affairs, said that all housing management bodies, including LHA, are subject to provincial legislation under the Alberta Housing Act. She also said all housing management bodies are audited annually by external, qualified accountants to confirm eligibility of their tenants.

“Housing management bodies must review household income and eligibility on an annual basis. It looks like the Lethbridge Housing Authority has been doing their due diligence,” Anderson said.

“The information that I have shows that some of the higher income earners were identified through the annual income review and they were transitioned to market housing. Some of the tenants voluntarily moved out of the subsidized housing due to increased income. Their financial situation changed and they’ve moved out.”

Anderson said the CTF may have confusion in its numbers because the tenants applied for social housing when their income level was different.

Theft charge laid

The Lethbridge Regional Police Service has charged a 34-year-old man in connection with an internal theft from the Lethbridge Mixed Slowpitch Association.

In October, police responded to a report of financial discrepancies following an internal audit of LMSA accounts. An investigation was conducted by members of the Economic Crimes Unit, and subsequently determined that between June 2012 and September 2013 more than $56,400 of LMSA funds were misappropriated.

Following the investigation, police charged a 34-year-old man who was serving as the vice-president of the LMSA board at the time of the alleged fraud.

At this time, there is no evidence to implicate any other members of the board, according to police.

Tyler Adam Cseke, 34, of Lethbridge, is charged with one count each of theft over $5,000 and uttering a forged document. Cseke has been released from custody with several conditions, including prohibitions from associating or communicating directly or indirectly with any registered member of the LMSA board, including current and past board members or staff members, as well as from being a volunteer member of any board or association.

Cheer at the hospital

Patients who have to be in hospital on Christmas Day will still get to share in the Christmas spirit.

When they open their eyes in the morning they will find evidence of a visit from Santa Claus — a stocking stuffed with goodies like a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, pen and note pad, tissues and a candy cane.

Breanne Skretting, a Lethbridge College student, is the “chief elf” of the project.

“I’m a nursing student so I know first-hand how the patients feel in the hospital and I know that this is going to bring a lot of joy to people who don’t get the opportunity to go out and enjoy Christmas like the rest of us,” she said. “Getting a stocking on Christmas it really just brightens their day.”

Debi Johnston, program assistant with the volunteer resource department at Chinook Regional Hospital, said the stocking project has been around for almost 30 years.

A passel of people showed up at County Hall at the hospital Thursday afternoon to stuff stockings for more than 400 patients. The stockings are made by volunteers and school students taking home economics courses. The Friends of the Chinook Regional Hospital donate all the items that go into the stockings.

Service outsourced

Students are deeply concerned about Lethbridge College’s move to outsource its counselling services to a large employee and family assistance provider.

“We tried to fight it,” said Kevin Hong, president of the Lethbridge College Students’ Association. “We’re against having this happen to our students, especially in the middle of the year.”

The college has given notice to its four full-time counsellors and announced it would be contracting with Shepell-fgi to provide student support services beginning in January. The counselling department will remain operational during January to aid in the transition.

The college maintains the move was made to improve service, not to save money. Simon Griffiths, the college’s vice-president of corporate services, wouldn’t say how much money the college is saving, only that it is a significant amount. He said the current service only provided in-person counselling during business hours from Monday to Friday.

“They provide a great service, there’s no discussion about that, and they provide purely counselling services,” said Griffiths. “If anything happens or a student runs into issues outside of 4:30 there’s nowhere to go. They have to dial 911 or one of the local community’s counselling services.”

Shepell-fgi’s Student Support Program offers around-the-clock access by telephone and online.

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