Council sends 4-year CASSC funding request to police board for further debate

Prince Albert City Hall -- Herald file photo.

A four-year budget funding request from the Prince Albert and Area Community Alcohol Strategy Steering Committee (CASSC) is headed to the Board of Police Commissioners for further review.

The CASSC requested $15,000 in annual from the City to reduce the harm caused by alcohol in Prince Albert. Mayor Greg Dionne said he looks forward to negotiating with the group in the future, but wanted more information before voting for a firm spending commitment.

“There’s no plan,” Dionne said during discussions about the proposal at Monday’s executive committee meeting. “We need to know what you’re going to utilize the money for, (and) what your other funding sources are, because we don’t want to get involved in a (project) if they have funding elsewhere.”

Council voted 8-1 in favour of sending the request to the police board. Ward 4 Coun. Tony Head was the most vocal supporter. He said there’s an obvious need for such an organization in the community, and council would be wise to support their efforts.

“We know that alcohol has a huge impact on individuals and families, and a detrimental one at that, so anything we can do or provide (helps),” Head said during the meeting. “I know they had a set amount here, but they go on to say whatever you can provide would be helpful, so I hope we find some funds to assist this group.”

Some council members hesitated to support the motion because they worried it would lead to a flurry of requests from other community groups. Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards, who also supported the motion, said there’s no doubt the CASSC does good work, but said council needs to be careful with how it handles the public purse.

“There’s a ton of organizations who are doing a lot of work (in Prince Albert) and we’re going to open up a can of worms,” Edwards said during the meeting. “We simply cannot fund all of the organizations. I wish we could. I wish we could just say, ‘here you go.’

“That’s my overall concern, because as soon as one request is granted, how do you say no (to others)?”

In a letter included in Monday’s agenda package, CASSC spokesperson Robert Bratvold wrote that the organization understands its unlikely to receive $15,000 this year because the City has already finalized the 2021 budget.

However, Bratvold urged council to divert savings from any projects that came in under budget towards the CASSC.

He wrote that there was an intense need for the CASSC’s work, and that council could greatly impact community health with even a small amount of financial support.

“CASSC is not attempting to eliminate alcohol sales, but we are working hard to reduce the harms from alcohol, and we are making progress,” Bratvold wrote.

“Evidence indicates that Prince Albert and Area is inordinately afflicted with many symptoms of excessive or irresponsible use of alcohol.”

Bratvold said Prince Albert is well ahead of the provincial average when it comes to hospitals visits that are 100 per cent attributable to alcohol. He pointed to data compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which shows 571 visits in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region attributed solely to alcohol, compared to a provincial average of 333. Those numbers came from 2017-18.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions (CCSUA), national healthcare costs related to alcohol total $5.4-billion in 2017. That’s behind tobacco ($6.1-billion), but ahead of opioids ($439-million). In Saskatchewan, healthcare costs related to substance abuse totalled $434 per person.

Alcohol and tobacco use also accounted for an estimated 63 per cent of all lost productivity in 2017. That includes everything from premature death, to long-term disabilities, to short-term problems like absenteeism and impaired job performance.

The CCSUA also estimates that 42 per cent of all crimes committed in Canada would not occur in the perpetrator had not been seeking, or under the influence of, alcohol or drugs.