The City of Grande Prairie’s Public & Protective Services committee was given an update on possible amendments that can be made to the Alberta 911 program to better serve the local community at the Dec. 5 meeting. 

One idea proposed to the Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis) to increase the 911 cell phone levy from $0.95 to $2.08 on cellphone users’ monthly bills.

“​​Based on the degree of additional funding from the increased levy, GP 911 could see a full cost recovery model going forward,” said Mark VanWerkhoven, Grande Prairie Fire Department (GPFD) deputy chief of communications.

GP911 responds to the primary 911 and fire 911 calls and reroutes other calls for police and EMS to secondary call centres provided by RCMP and Alberta Health Services. 

In April, the GPFD reported to the committee that call transfer times to secondary centres have exceeded 15 minutes and 50 per cent of calls take longer than 54 seconds to be transferred and cleared. 

The delays have led to increased workloads for GP911, according to the GPFD, and it believes the delays are due to staffing and retention issues at the secondary 911 centres.

Since the April meeting, GP911 has secured a position on the 911 Standards and Review Committee hosted by the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. 

VanWerkhoven says he doesn’t believe there would be a majority of support to implement mandatory 911 call answer times via the 911 Standards and Review Committee. 

“I make this observation based on the indications that 911 demand for services and staffing challenges may be impacting primary municipal 911 centers in addition to the secondary 911 centers,” he said. 

He said speaking with other 911 stakeholders the belief is that more funds could help eliminate the challenges facing 911 call centres in the province.

“​​Additional funding for secondary 911 centres could result in additional resources, leading to call answering time improvements, which in turn would result in a decreased time on task for GP911,” said VanWerkhoven.

According to a report given to the Public & Protective Services committee, if the cellphone 911 levyy were changed, the revenue could increase to between $2.75 and $3.5 million compared to its current revenue of about $2.15 million. 

Coun. Gladys Blackmore asked how confident VanWerkhoven was that the province would change the levy.

He said he can’t be sure of what the province may do but noted many municipalities would join in advocating for the increase to the levy.

“There’s other big players in the province, urban municipalities, that I’m quite confident would support us in this,” he said.

Coun. Dylan Bressey said in 2020, ABmunis sponsored a resolution to increase the levy, which passed. He is also the ABmunis vice-president of cities up to 500,000.

“In advocacy to the provincial government for increased funding, the response we often get is well, don’t just ask us for more funding; ask us where that funding should come from,” he said.

Bressey noted increasing the levy signals to the province not only the need for the funds, but also where the funding can come from. 

“I’ve heard from some of our ministers that they actually do quite favour user fees for increased revenue, so I think this is something that if we did advocate for, I’d have a pretty high degree of confidence of getting it passed by ABmunis, and I think the government would at least listen to it with a pretty open ear if it were brought to them,” said Bressey. 

The discussion is expected to continue at the next Committee of the Whole meeting, scheduled for Dec. 13. 

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 14, 2023 at 09:12

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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