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City of Red Deer

‘Common Sense’ says City Council should avoid potentially massive tax increase

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Submitted by Common Sense Red Deer

By Chad Krahn

More than a month later than normal, the City has finally released its proposed budget adjustments.

The numbers give Council – and the public – a much clearer picture of the City’s finances.

They’re not great.

They’re not even good.

In fact, the picture the proposals paint is pretty bleak.

The City is facing a $16.1 million shortfall, and is rapidly approaching its debt limit.

The reserves are also nearly gone as a result of using those funds to cover the shortfall in previous years instead of making a major course correction.

The tax increase to make up the shortfall is in the double digits – 10.65 per cent.

That’s a huge increase, but it’s made even worse by the fact that there’s no extravagant infrastructure project or big spending item on the books – it’s simply to maintain the operational status quo.

Let that sink in. For the City to continue offering the same level of services, they will need to raise taxes by 10.65 per cent.

Compare that with Statistics Canada’s November inflation rate – and Alberta’s projected 2024 inflation rate – of 2.5 per cent.

The City’s expenses are outpacing inflation and, more importantly, economic growth.

Council will hopefully do its best to soften the blow when the budget adjustments are actually debated later this month, but the built-in deficits that have crept into the budgeting process are going to haunt us.

Nearly every other municipality had their budget debates take place in November, but Red Deer’s are taking place on January 23-26.

Council will be left with the unenviable decision to either raise taxes, cut services, drain reserves or sell off assets.

If only there had been a way to prevent this.

Where are the learnings from the last few years? Where is the commitment to incremental improvement? A system of asking the front line staff ‘what is the next simple thing we can do to make this better’ to find that smart, bottom-up change. Taking that feedback to innovate and automate the way the City does business before we end up staring down big tax increases and no economic growth.

Red Deer’s population has largely plateaued, and consequently, so have housing starts.

Contrast that with other cities in Alberta – Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge are all seeing their populations grow and new homes being built.

Alberta as a whole had such high rates of interprovincial migration that they ended their “Alberta Is Calling” program, originally designed to attract people to the province.

Worse still, Red Deer has the highest unemployment rate for a major region in Alberta.

Why is Red Deer stagnant?

The status quo approach to business hasn’t worked. The City interacting with business the same way it always has is producing diminishing returns.

We need a Council Committee on Red Tape Reduction, along with a dedicated commitment to reexamine the building code and a promise to industry to have a guaranteed turnaround time on issuing permits.

The downward trend in economic growth should have already set a five-alarm fire for the City. After all, they had to know how dire the financial situation already was.

Alberta is growing, and comparable cities across the province are all growing, but Red Deer’s graph is pointing in the wrong direction. The budget document even says that the city’s economic development resources are spread too thin and generally focused on land development and sales.

It also notes that economic leaders should all be in alignment, but the budget documents admit that the alignment isn’t there.

Getting our economic drivers aligned should be a top priority – getting all of Team Red Deer firing on all cylinders needs to happen immediately.

We can’t wait until some new report comes out in 2025.

We know what the problems are.

We’ve known for a long time.

This is an incredible place to live, yet somehow, the story is going untold.

Red Deer could be so much more.

Chad Krahn is the Executive Director of Common Sense Red Deer. 

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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City of Red Deer

City introduces new phone number to report non-emergency mental health, addiction, or homeless issues

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New streamlined way to reach Red Deer’s Social Diversion Team

Since launching in 2021, the Social Diversion Team (SDT) has been responding to calls throughout Red Deer for individuals in need of non-emergency support, whether experiencing mental health struggles, addictions issues, or homelessness.

Beginning March 1, 2024, the community will need to call the non-emergency police line at 403-406-2200 to connect with the Social Diversion Team. This move from the previous 2-1-1 call line will improve the caller’s ability to quickly connect with a Police Communications Operator who can quickly determine the nature of the call and dispatch the appropriate resources in a timely and efficient manner.

“This change simplifies calling and dispatching the Social Diversion Team,” said Peter Puszka, Municipal Policing Services Superintendent. “Red Deerians now need to remember only one contact number for all non-emergency community safety concerns and our experienced, well-trained Police Communications Operators can assess the circumstances of the call, determine which resource is appropriate and dispatch accordingly.”

Though the Alberta 2-1-1 has been the dispatching service since the onset of the program, the move to internal dispatching will simplify the call-in process, removing barriers like pre-recorded messaging and on-hold wait times, improve internal communication between the dispatchers and the responding Social Diversion Team, and allow for operators with local community knowledge to provide enhanced response.

While the phone number has changed, all other elements of the program remain the same. The two-person Social Diversion Team consists of a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Social Diversion Specialist, who respond to reports of individuals in distress. The team connects clients with the social services they need, such as housing supports, mental health supports, detox programs and harm reduction resources.

“We are excited to continue providing individuals with the right response at the right time,” says Ryan Veldkamp, Social Wellness & Integration Supports Superintendent. “We know that not every call is an emergency call, and that’s why the Social Diversion Team is the right choice for these situations where individuals are in crisis. The team continues to allow our first responders to concentrate on responding to critical medical emergencies and criminal matters.”

In its three years of operation, the SDT has averaged a response rate of 185 events per month or approximately 6 calls a day. The teams use their specialized training to provide assessment, intervention and support to those in need.

Stephanie MacDonald, Outreach and Housing Services Manager for Safe Harbour Society said, “The Social Diversion Team is very excited for this change over and believes that this will allow for a more effective and timely response.”

While the SDT continues to operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 7 days a week, the 24/7 non-

emergency line will dispatch the SDT based on their availability, or utilize other policing and medical services when they are not.

To learn more about the Social Diversion Team, visit www.reddeer.ca/SDT.

When Should I call the Social Diversion Team?

If you see someone who is:

  • Experiencing a mental health or medical (non-emergency) crisis
  • Intoxicated or otherwise impaired
  • Requiring transport to appropriate services (i.e. a shelter)
  • Sleeping in an unsafe space and/or inappropriately dressed for the weather
  • Requiring social services (i.e. housing, nutrition, health or community supports)
  • Likely to come to harm without intervention

And the individual is not posing an immediate harm to themselves or others, call 403-406-2200

The team’s hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, the non-emergency (403-406-2200) line is operated 24/7. Outside of the Social Diversion team operating hours, callers will be provided with either a community referral, crisis intervention support, connected to 911, or offered a follow-up.

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Addictions

City Council decides to close Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Site

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City Council requests the Province of Alberta make changes to OPS in Red Deer

City Council made decisions (Friday) related to Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), requesting the Government of Alberta (GOA):

  • formalize an orderly transition of the existing OPS out of Red Deer by the end of 2025;
  • provide in its place greater harm reducing options within our community that focus on health, wellness, and recovery, including more detox capacity, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), recovery coaches, counsellors, and culturally appropriate health and wellness supports, etc.;
  • provide dedicated grant funding to provide a continuous police presence/enforcement in the immediate vicinity of the OPS and temporary shelter, until the crime and social disorder impacts associated with these provincial services are better mitigated for the safety and security of our public;
  • substantially increase front-line supports for mental health and addictions within our community/region to better address the root causes leading to drug and alcohol addictions.

These decisions stem from a Notice of Motion put forward by Councillor Higham on December 18, 2023. After being read into the record on January 22, 2024, a non-statutory public hearing was scheduled for yesterday, February 15, 2024. Approximately 40 members of the public attended the non-statutory public hearing, with approximately 30 individuals speaking to the Notice of Motion, sharing their thoughts on the issue.

After hearing from the public yesterday, City Council debated the motion today, with Mayor Ken Johnston now having City Council direction to take the issue forward to the province and proceed with advocacy efforts.

“The public hearing and the debate of this motion were harrowing and emotional experiences for everyone. Each of us have been touched in some way by addiction; we heard that very clearly, and I am no exception. We heard heartfelt testimony from many members of our community, citizens, some who use the OPS, some who are service providers in the community, business owners, doctors, family members that have lost loves ones, and more,” said Mayor Johnston. “Council approached this most sensitive of issues with open minds, open ears, and open hearts. We are trying to improve lives for those suffering from addiction. This is a complex challenge, as these are areas where municipalities do not have jurisdiction. What we know is that Red Deer needs robust support from the provincial government for people with addictions; we need support for our community that is grappling with the fallout of addictions; and we need that support in the most immediate way.”

Mayor Johnston added, “Following this meeting, I will reach out to the Ministry of Addictions and Mental Health to book meetings where we can discuss how to move forward in the best interest of our city.”

Currently the OPS is located 5246 53 Avenue in downtown Red Deer.

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