New legislation proposes 911 upgrades and capital funding cuts for Alberta municipalities

Ric McIver is sworn in as Alberta's minister of Municipal Affairs on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Courtesy: Government of Alberta

New legislation tabled Thursday by the United Conservative government would see changes to the amount of provincial funds Alberta municipalities receive, as well as an increase in cellphone bills to pay for upgrades to 911 call centres.

Bill 56, the Local Measures Act, amends existing legislation that would see the current capital funding model for municipalities, called the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, extended until 2024.

According to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, municipalities would see a 25 per cent drop in funding.

Read more: Alberta budget 2021: What’s in it for Calgary?

However, funding for municipalities is set to be front-loaded, dropping from $1.2 billion this fiscal year to $485 million next fiscal year — a rollback of 60 per cent.

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“This ensures municipalities have the flexibility to plan according to their individual needs,” McIver told reporters Thursday.

“It also ensures job creating stimulus projects will not be significantly affected.”

Read more: Alberta NDP voices concern over municipal funding

The bill would see the replacement for MSI, dubbed the Local Government Fiscal Framework, delayed until 2024. When it was introduced two years ago, the funding framework was set to take effect in 2022.

“We’ve got an $18-billion deficit in this year’s budget,” McIver said.

“I think most Albertans would agree that all of us need to do what we can to live within our means.”

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Read more: Alberta budget: Edmonton mayor ‘confounded and disappointed’ with province on supportive housing

Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Barry Morishita said the rollbacks to municipalities won’t help to address the deficit.

He said less capital funding will mean a reduction in both projects and jobs.

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Southern Alberta municipalities rally against funding cuts – Nov 4, 2020

“A lot of unintended consequences here, and that means a lot less people working in Alberta over the next three years,” Morshita told Global News. “Some projects are going to be laid aside, some infrastructure maintenance is going to go undone.

“That’s not going to build Alberta into the place we need to provide investment and jobs.”

Alberta NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said he believes the reductions create instability for municipalities that are legally bound to balance their budgets each year.

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“(The province is) dictatorial in the way they work. They’re saying this is the way it will be,” Ceci said Thursday. “Municipalities have to take it because they’re not being worked with.

If passed, the legislation would take effect on April 1, 2021.

High-cost 911 upgrades by 2024

If passed, the legislation would amend the Emergency 911 Act to make nine more 911 dispatch centres eligible for levy funding from wireless bills, which is also set to increase.

Currently, 44 cents is taken from wireless bills in Alberta every month which is proposed to jump to 95 cents starting Sept. 1.

Read more: Judge grants interim injunction to Alberta government in EMS dispatch dispute

The increased levy is set to pay for next generation upgrades to 911 dispatch that will allow Albertans to text 911 in situations when
they cannot call.

The upgrades are also aimed to giving first responders more information and accurate locations of calls, and improved call transfer technology.

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“Modernizing our 911 system will ensure Albertans continue to have safe, reliable services when they call 911; it will improve their ability to get help in an emergency,” McIver said.

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According to McIver, the cost of the upgrades is expected to be $41 million yearly.

The upgrades to 911 were mandated by the federal government to be in place by March 2024.

The proposed upgrades are receiving praise from Calgary 911 deputy commander Magni Magnason, who said the current system isn’t meeting the standards of the rest of the consumer technology space.

“The legacy 911 system has been around for over 30 years, and the current system has really reached its end of life,” Magnason said. “This this is just a really important upgrade and transition to meet the evolving needs of a modern communication system.”

with files from Global News’ Adam Toy 

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