St. Albert is going to get money from the province to tackle anticipated costs arising from pot legalization, and Mayor Cathy Heron says that's a good start.
At the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) conference this week in Red Deer, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley spoke to municipal and provincial leaders, and acknowledged municipalities will have to shoulder added costs.
“This is not a small change in our society. Like you, we’re committed to putting the safety of people and families first, in policing, public education, in enforcement. We’ve heard your concerns about funding loud and clear. We know you need funds upfront. We are going to provide you funds upfront very soon,” Notley said.
“Very soon we’ll be making an announcement as to what that initial funding looks like and how that funding will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.”
Heron said while she appreciates municipalities are getting funding, she would rather see ongoing funding rather than a one-time transfer.
“She called it upfront funding so that is maybe a commitment to a lump sum. That is not a commitment to ongoing revenue sharing or anything like that,” Heron said, adding there would be an announcement with the specifics very soon, as early as next week.
Heron said the very fact that the province recognizes municipalities need financial help to deal with the impacts of cannabis legalization is a big win.
“It’s the first time they have ever even said that. In the past we have heard 'Why do you need the money? All the expenses are going to be beared by the province. What are you worried about?'" Heron said.
Notley was in St. Albert earlier this year for a tour and said the province is not planning on writing cheques to municipalities in Alberta when the province expects to take a loss on cannabis legalization.
“When we are projecting to actually have to spend money on it we are not actually also planning to spend additional money by transferring more money to the municipalities,” Notley said in March.
Alberta anticipates cannabis costs will be in the red until 2020-21, when the province expects to make $37 million off the new industry. In the first two years the province expects the legalization of the drug to cost $90 million.
Notley added in March that her government would keep a close eye on the costs as legalization rolls out but said it is unlikely that municipalities would see any money until the province turns a profit.
“We will track who is paying what and we can easily go back to the table on that,” Notley said at the time.
In February, Alberta's urban municipalities asked the provincial government for 70 per cent of the provincial tax money from marijuana and $30 million from the 2018-2019 provincial budget to handle one-time costs incurred by municipalities related to the legalization of the drug.
Notley called the funding ask “amusing” in March.
Heron said so far the city has spent money on a cannabis survey, to the tune of $50,000, and overtime costs for staff hours to prepare for legalization.
Once the drug is legal the mayor expects more expenses around enforcement, including the eventual purchase and training for an oral fluid screening device to conduct roadside testing for impaired drivers.
Cannabis is legal across Canada on Oct. 17.