Concerns about changes to ambulance dispatch, as well as educational taxes on municipal property bills, will be discussed at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference this week. (Advocate file photo)

Education taxes, ambulance dispatch concern Red Deer city councillors at AUMA meeting

The digital convention will raise issues of local concern

The City of Red Deer is cutting staff to deliver a zero per cent property tax increase to residents and businesses in 2021.

Yet, when many Red Deerians open their next city tax bills, they could still notice a rate hike that comes from the education levy imposed by the province.

Wrapping provincial educational taxes into municipal property tax bills causes a lot of confusion, said Red Deer city Coun. Lawrence Lee: “A lot of people look at their bill and they are not aware that (the educational component) of the taxation is something the city can’t control.”

A resolution to be discussed at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention on Thursday and Friday urges the province to revamp tax bylaws and figure out another way to collect education taxes.

“What we have is an inefficient system. We are basically the (education tax) collector and we have no say,” said Lee, who like other city councillors, will participate in AUMA discussions through digital conferencing.

Related: mask-wearing, police conversion are also concerns

A potential cash-crunch situation arose earlier this year when the City of Red Deer pushed back its property tax collection deadline to September to allow pandemic-impacted residents and businesses more time to raise money.

But the province still wanted its education taxes paid by June 30.

As a result, the city had to “front” this money to the provincial government and wait to be reimbursed from property tax collection, said Lee.

Many AUMA members also want the provincial government to review the whole municipal taxation system to figure out a more sustainable, predictable way of funding cities, other than collecting annual property taxes.

An emerging issue that’s troubling Red Deer city council is proposed provincial government changes to the ambulance dispatch system.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer has said “it could make the difference between life and death,”and plans to speak about this matter at the AUMA.

Coun. Michael Dawe feels separating ambulance from fire dispatchers is certain to slow emergency response. In Red Deer, both are now housed at one location, so they can communicate to achieve an integrated service.

Often, a firetruck with a paramedic is spent out to a medical call when dispatchers know ambulances are tied up, said Dawe.

The paramedic will be on scene helping the patient survive until an ambulance arrives.

But the provincial government now wants to move ambulance dispatch out of Red Deer and into regional hubs in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River.

“Extra layers cause extra complications,” said Dawe, who noted it could take two emergency calls in future — one to an ambulance and another to the fire service — to deal with one crisis.

And a few minutes’ longer response time makes a big difference in an emergency situation, he added.

Red Deer City Council

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