Edmonton needs $250K to pay for animal protection enforcement, report says

Edmonton city councillors are considering a tax increase, hiking the pet licence fee, or both, to help pay for the cost of enforcing the province’s Animal Protection Act.

City could hike taxes, increase pet licence or a bit of both to pay for shortfall

The city has conducted 876 Animal Protection Act-related investigations since February, when it took over enforcement from the Edmonton Humane Society. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

A new city report says Edmonton needs $250,000 in new revenue to pay for enforcing the Animal Protection Act, from the cost of peace officers and veterinary technicians to adding capacity to the 311 call centre. 

City councillors will consider a tax increase, hiking the pet licence fee, or both, to help cover the total expected $800,000 annual price tag.

The city took over enforcement from the Edmonton Humane Society in February after the non-profit said it didn't have the expertise to carry out "police-like activities".

The report, headed before the Community and Public Services Committee on Aug. 21, puts forward three options to bridge the funding shortfall beginning in 2020: hike the pet licence fee by $2.50 a year; increase the tax levy by 0.015 per cent; or, a combination of both.

Councillor Bev Esslinger says she is leaning toward option three. 

Esslinger, who also sits on the committee, says sharing financial responsibility between pet owners and the general public is "a reasonable approach."  

"Our responsibility is to make sure we're looking at our city as a whole, so I think the combination made sense to me," she said. 

In May, council approved a one-time $230,000 funding boost to cover part of this year's enforcement cost.

City cut grant dollars to humane society

The city has come up with another $550,000 in funding for enforcement this year by cutting funds to the Edmonton Humane Society and reassigning peace officers from cannabis to animal control, the report says.

The city reduced its annual operating grant to Edmonton Humane Society by $184,000 — just shy of the $200,000 the agency was spending on enforcement before it pulled out of the contract with the city.

A previous city report said the humane society's $200,000 enforcement budget was insufficient to meet the city's needs going forward. 

The Animal Protection Act is designed to protect mistreated animals and hold negligent owners to account. While provincial legislation, it falls on municipalities to enforce the act. 

Cannabis officers reallocated to animal control

The city has also reallocated three peace officers from cannabis to animal control enforcement this year, shifting about $360,000 worth of funding. 

Esslinger says the decision reflects the limited cannabis-related infractions and complaints since legalization in October.

The city issued just six tickets for cannabis bylaw infractions between October 2018 and April 2019, compared to 231 tickets for tobacco. 

"It really shows me that we haven't had to enforce cannabis to the extent we were prepared to and that we've been able to re-allocate because of that," Esslinger said.  

Meanwhile, the city received 2,430 calls related to Animal Protection Act and conducted 876 investigations in the five months after taking over enforcement, according to the report. The city could get over 5,800 calls if those numbers keep pace for the rest of the year. 

Edmonton Humane Society, by comparison, received 3,513 calls and conducted 761 investigations in 2018. 

With files from Natasha Riebe