Alberta government sits on millions meant for victims of crime
Victims services groups forced to fundraise as $43.5-million fund continues to grow
Volunteers for victims services groups have been forced to fundraise to support their activities, while the government sits on $43.5 million meant for the very people the money is intended to help.
Auditor General Merwan Saher's most recent report found that Alberta's justice department doesn't have a plan for how to use the growing surplus in the Victims of Crime Fund.
Most of money comes from surcharges on fines paid by offenders.
The money is supposed to be used to fund victim services groups and to make payments to victims of violent crime.
But for several years, the pot of money in the fund has continued to grow, even while payments to victim services groups have been cut.
Lack of funding a concern for years
Brian Turpin, president of the Alberta Police Based Victims Services Association, said the lack of funding to victim services groups has been a concern for years.
"The victim services programs in this province have been facing increased activity," he said. "Our province is growing over the years in population, the crime rate is increasing."
What hasn't increased are payments to victims' groups, which means they've had to rely more and more on fundraising.
"It's taking away from frontline service to Albertans who have found themselves victims of crime," Turpin said. "The amount of time that the programs invest into fundraising to subsidize their budget is taking away from frontline service."
It's taking away from frontline service to Albertans who have found themselves victims of crime.- Brian Turpin, president, Alberta Police Based Victims Services Association
It has also made it harder for those groups to attract volunteers and donors.
"It's a huge responsibility to be a victim services volunteer," Turpin said. "And we're finding that the units are struggling to maintain or increase their volunteer numbers. So the duties of attending to the basic needs of victims of crime falls back on the staff in the local units."
Some donors aren't impressed that local groups have been forced to fundraise while the government holds on to a healthy surplus.
Last year, the town of Peace River gave more than $13,000 to its local victim services group.
Mayor Tom Tarpey said municipalities are under enormous fiscal pressures with the downturn in the economy and need every dollar they can get.
"That's disappointing," he said of the surplus funds. "Because there are also quite a few other worthy causes and efforts that the town is behind, and would like to put those dollars towards those activities as well."
Plan for the surplus due to auditor general in March
Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said the surplus has been on her radar since the NDP government tabled its first budget last spring.
"The previous government hadn't done an enormously good job of determining what the aims of those monies were, and how it was they were measuring whether they had achieved the outcomes," she said.
Ganley said she has met with victim services groups, and most have told her they need more funding.
"Our intention is to go out and look at the needs and base funding more so on the needs for funding, rather than on other factors."
The government will send a plan back to the auditor general by March 31, Ganley said.
"I suspect that it will be the case that the outcome of that is that we will need to provide more funding for victim services groups."
Though he didn't get a commitment for more funding from the minister, Turpin is hopeful that having a new minister in charge will put more money into the hands of victim services groups to help them do their jobs.
"This new minister is willing to work with us to address these challenges," he said.