Fees for 911 services are set to increase while funding cuts for municipalities are officially in writing after the provincial government introduced Bill 56 on Thursday.
Bill 56, the Local Measures Act, would increase 911 fees to provide for upgrades to the provincial emergency services, which is mandated by the federal government. The province needs to have changes in place by March 2024.
Right now, every wireless phone bill across the province includes a $0.44 levy. That's set to more than double to $0.95 to help fund these upgrades. The fee increase is slated to start in September.
The new funding will give Albertans the ability to text 911, will give first responders more accurate location information and will improve the current call transfer process.
The extra funding will go toward nine 911 centres, on top of the 20 already funded through the existing levy.
“Upgrading 911 systems is a public safety issue,” Alberta interim Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver said.
“Albertans will continue to have safe, reliable services when they call 911 during an emergency.”
The levy is expected to bring in $41 million per year, half the cost of the upgrades, and municipalities will need to foot the bill for the other half.
The new act will also legislate cuts to municipal funding that were outlined in Budget 2021, which show a 25-per-cent decrease in money going out to municipalities over the next three years.
The bill will also officially delay the implementation of the Local Government Fiscal Framework until 2024-25, which was originally slated to come into effect in 2022.
The province currently doles out cash to municipalities through a program called the Municipal Sustainability Index (MSI), a program that has been around since 2007. The MSI program was originally slated to last 10 years but was extended another five years and was expected to end next year and be replaced by the Local Government Fiscal Framework. That new program was supposed to deliver more predictable and stable funding to municipalities than MSI did.
The baseline funding for the new program will sit at $722 million and will be tied to provincial revenues. McIver said that amount will rise and fall based on provincial revenues.
McIver acknowledged the reduction in funding will be hard to navigate for municipalities but said they need to live within their means.
“I would ask them to do the same thing that their citizens have had to do, (which) is to live within their means."
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette