By Tim Kalinowski on November 25, 2020.
The Finance Committee of city council got off to a difficult start on day two with councillors having to contend with a budget resolution dealing with the potential fallout of the loss of integrated EMS dispatch in the community if Premier Jason Kenney refuses to intervene.
In a bid to retain integrated EMS dispatch service in the community council passed a motion which would set aside $1.2 million in reserves for 2021 and also for 2022. This $1.2 million per year would essentially relieve Alberta Health Services of the responsibility of paying provincial dollars for EMS dispatch in the community.
AHS has said it expected to save $1.2 million in Lethbridge if it moved local EMS dispatch to its Calgary call centre.
The resolution passed by a vote of 7-2 with Councillors Joe Mauro and Blaine Hyggen opposed.
Mayor Chris Spearman, alongside the mayors of the RM of Wood Buffalo and Red Deer, (whose councils were expected to pass similar motions), had planned to send a letter to Kenney on Tuesday confirming the budget commitment.
Spearman said by local taxpayers taking on the cost burden of maintaining the call centre, should it remain in the community, he hoped Kenney would reconsider the decision of his Minister of Health Tyler Shandro, who has refused to intervene in the AHS decision by allowing the impacted communities retain their local EMS dispatch service.
“The $1.2 million would mean the City would forego the funding we are currently receiving from AHS in order to continue providing ambulance dispatch in the City of Lethbridge,” he explained. “We would absorb a $1.2-million revenue loss, so taxpayers in Lethbridge would be paying that, and by doing that we will be able to maintain our integrated service we provide through fire and ambulance, which is lower cost and more efficient for a longer period of time.
“If we lose ambulance dispatch from our call centre, then we will have to begin providing additional firefighters to staff our firetrucks, and there will be an added cost of up to $3.7 million. If we paid $1.2 million for that foregone (AHS) revenue, we would save $3.7 million in the long run.”
Spearman said he was optimistic if this proposal was presented to Kenney he would be bound to meaningfully consider it.
“The premier wants to see governments operating in a business-like way: this is purely a business decision which makes sense for the City of Lethbridge and others,” said Spearman. “So the premier is looking for savings if we address his needs to provide those savings that hopefully also benefit our citizens.”
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