City to lobby against ambulance dispatch transfer

The City of Red Deer is stepping up its efforts to lobby the province to put the brakes on its transfer of ambulance dispatch services.

The City of Red Deer is stepping up its efforts to lobby the province to put the brakes on its transfer of ambulance dispatch services.

On Monday, city council passed a resolution to continue advocacy efforts to suspend the transfer of Red Deer’s regional ambulance service to Calgary in October 2013.

The resolution also asks the province to enter into talks on providing the best possible ambulance dispatch service for the region.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said dispatchers in Red Deer have the local knowledge of the area that a centre in Calgary would not. Flewwelling said the dispatch service in Red Deer has serviced the region well for several years.

Councillors said there are unanswered questions about the transfer including the availability of back-up system in case of volume overload or power outages and the rationale for the change.

All ambulance dispatches in the province will be centralized into three centres in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River by Dec. 31. There are 14 dispatch systems left in the province to transfer to centralized dispatch in Calgary, Edmonton or Peace River. Twenty dispatch systems have already been transferred.

But the city is recommending five centres with Red Deer as a central location and a southern location.

Council heard technology in the existing system in Red Deer allows for dispatch of ambulances and fire rescue at the same time. A transfer to Calgary would no longer allow this practice.

The city has asked the province to suspend the service until concerns are responded to and for further discussions to take place.

Coun. Cindy Jefferies said Red Deer offers a great spot for a centre within the province to provide services or to provide back up to Calgary or Edmonton if they were to go down.

Coun. Tara Veer said in the absence of resolving the concerns about back up and interfaces in the interim there is a potential for human errors. Veer said the city’s dispatch is working efficiently from both an operational perspective and as a service provider.

“If the province continues to go down this path, we need to at least have this resolved before implementation,” said Veer. “Before reaching this point I think it’s important that we make a very strong case that we do keep our dispatch.”

The City has penned a letter to Minister Fred Horne and asked for a response by June 5. A meeting is in the works between city council and the Dr. John Cowell, author of the Health Quality Council of Alberta report that recommended centralized ambulance consolidation.

In other council news:

l Do you want the City of Red Deer divided into wards? Council approved the wording of the plebiscite by a vote of 8 to 1. On Oct. 21 civic ballot, voters will either check “Yes,” I want to be able to vote for the candidates who run in the area I live in (my ward) or “No,” I want to keep voting for candidates for the whole city, not just the area where I live. Coun. Buck Buchanan did not support the question because he didn’t agree with the phrasing.

l The City of Red Deer will enter into a new three-year operational agreement (2013 to 2015) with the River Bend Golf and Recreation Society. Council approved the new agreement by a vote of 7 to 2. Councillors Chris Stephan and Buck Buchanan were opposed.

Under the new agreement, the city defers the debt payments on the $1.7 million loan for the period of the contract. The next payment would be due in 2016. The new agreement no longer includes an annual license fee payment. Council also writes off $337,800, the 2011 and 2013 license fees. The Society must still pay property taxes. Stephan said the new agreement is not helping the Society get back on solid financial ground and become self-sustainable. Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said the property taxes will continue to be paid. Wyntjes said they cannot foresee the future but it will allow the board to have a continued focus on the golf course’s sustainability. The Society took out a capital loan from the City to expand and renovate the clubhouse in 2004. Since 2008, the Society has been unable to make loan payment because of rising operational costs, lost tee times due to weather and market downturn.

l City council ratified an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 254 which includes journeyman lineman, journeyman electrician technician, electrical technologist and designer classifications. The new agreement provides annual wage adjustments of three per cent in 2013 and 2.7 per cent in 2014. The contract is effective March 4, 2013 and runs until December 31, 2014.

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