By Tim Kalinowski on December 2, 2020.
In what Mayor Chris Spearman admitted was a “last Hail Mary” chance to get the province onside with the effort to retain local integrated EMS Dispatch in Lethbridge, city council officially ratified a motion brought forward during Finance Committee that the City pay $1.2 million per year over the next two years to cover Alberta Health Services’ cost to maintain and operate the local dispatch centre for ambulance in the region.
The final motion passed by a vote of 7-2 during Monday’s council meeting, with only Councillors Joe Mauro and Blaine Hyggen opposed.
Mauro said he did not believe the City should be paying for a provincial service which is so essential to the community when it was clearly the responsibility of AHS. He believed the premier should be supporting local EMS dispatch anyway without any additional financial inducements to do so.
But by funding the cost of dispatch to this degree, responded Spearman, it could save the City between $3.7 million and $5.5 million – the amount local taxpayers would be on the hook for to restaff the fire service after the loss of integrated dispatch. He hoped putting the money on the table would convince Premier Jason Kenney it was just good business to intervene and reverse the AHS decision to cancel its contract with the Lethbridge emergency call centre before the contract formally ends in early January as his Minister of Health Tyler Shandro refused to do.
“We wanted to remove the argument there would be a financial savings by eliminating dispatch,” he said. “This way we will pay for it and there will still be a financial savings to Alberta Health Services, but they can’t use the fact they are paying dispatch as an excuse. We have had a decision in writing from the Minister of Health, and we are now asking the premier to overturn that decision because the rationale (of cost savings) for the original (AHS) decision no longer exists.”
The $2.4 million in funding over two years would be drawn from municipal reserves, but if the City’s bid to have the AHS decision reversed is successful the $1.2-million-per-year amount would eventually have to be included in taxation. If the City’s bid is ultimately unsuccessful, the money would simply remain in municipal reserves to be used for other areas of need in the city without any additional cost to local taxpayers.
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter