Changes have been made to the upcoming Cariboo Regional District fringe fire protection referendum set to take place Nov. 24.
Instead of two separate referendum questions for fringe area D, E and F residents, as previously approved by the CRD, residents will now only answer one question.
They will be asked whether or not they want to continue to receive fire protection from the Williams Lake Fire Department, based on a cost of approximately $129 per $100,000 of assessed value.
If the referendum fails, residents will be without fire protection as of Dec. 31, 2012 when present agreements in place expire.
The decision comes after a special CRD board meeting was held Friday afternoon.
Chair Al Richmond said he called the meeting because the CRD received petitions from residents living within 13 km of the 150 Mile Volunteer Fire Department about the referendum question covering their area.
That original referendum question asked those residents whether they wanted their fire protection to be provided by the 150 Mile House Volunteer Fire Department at an approximate rate of $68 per $100,000 of residential assessment.
Of the petitions received, 24 people said they wanted to remain under Williams Lake fire protection, 11 people wanted to move out of the Williams Lake boundary to that of 150 Mile, and one person wanted no fire protection.
“When we received the petitions I wasn’t going to call the meeting unless a director requested one. When I did get that request, I convened the meeting to let the board make the decision. As you saw today, the board chose to reconsider the motion we passed on Oct. 4 when we approved two referendum questions,” Richmond said.
At the special board meeting, Area F director Joan Sorley said she had received several phone calls and e-mails in the last two days with the majority of people in her area saying they wanted to opt for fire protection with 150 Mile House.
Half a dozen members of the public sitting in the CRD board room during the meeting said afterwards they were there because they wanted to opt for 150 Mile House because it’s much cheaper at $68 per $100,000 of assessed value.
All members of the board attended the teleconference meeting, except for Area K director Chad Mennett.
Those in attendance voted in favour of going with one referendum question, except for Area F director Joan Sorely and Area D director Deb Bischoff.
“I am very disappointed,” Sorley said afterwards. “I feel like I’ve let down my constituents because I don’t think they will get the best deal. It is my job, though, to support the board’s decision and that’s my intent to make sure people get enough information to make an informed choice, and that it’s important they vote.”
Mayor Kerry Cook said the original referendum question for Area F residents living within 13 km of 150 Mile House only gave people the option to go with 150 Mile House or have no fire protection.
“The city’s position is not to influence the referendum, but giving the option of no fire protection at all was not something we were in support of. We want to make sure people have all the information and the choice to continue with fire protection,” Cook said.
Sorley told the Tribune there’s no point in going back and revisiting what happened; however the Area F question wasn’t as easy because the CRD didn’t receive many surveys from those constituents.
That is something Richmond addressed at the meeting’s close.
“Fifteen surveys from 200 people is not many. The silence was not golden and we found ourselves at a dilemma at the eleventh hour because of it,” he said.
Bischoff was visibly upset after the meeting and said she supported Sorley’s desire to represent her constituents.
“If director Sorley says that the majority of her people wanted to go with the original referendum then I support her,” she said.
She also voiced disappointed that more time wasn’t spent consulting with the community, and that it took so long for an agreement to be presented.
“The cities of Williams Lake, Quesnel, and the Regional District received letters in October 2010 from the province notifying that it wanted to opt out for fire protection service delivery,” Bischoff said.
“This is really important. Sixteen hundred property owners need to be provided with fire protection, that is the issue. I also think that recent comments being made to the media are getting in the way of this looming deadline.”
If the referendum passes and there are people that want to opt out and come under protection from 150 Mile House later then the CRD could help get together a petition, Sorley said. “Although that is not an option at this point,” she emphasized.