Williams Lake city council has resolved to maintain the status quo when it comes to providing fire protection.
The resolution has the Cariboo Regional District investigating alternative options because it says the cost is too high for rural taxpayers.
At Tuesday evening’s council meeting, Mayor Kerry Cook said the city currently has three agreements for fire protection — one between the city and the province, and two between the city and the Cariboo Regional District.
“City council supports continuation of the current agreements to provide Williams Lake rural fringe fire protection,” Cook said.
“The two agreements with the CRD have expired and council is in favour of combining all of the agreements and working with the CRD to find an agreement that is equitable for the city and the CRD.”
On Friday, however, the CRD issued a press release stating negotiations on a new fringe area protection agreement had unfortunately broken down after the city rejected the new proposal.
“This new agreement would have seen the Williams Lake Fire Department continue to provide fire protection services to fringe area residents under one amalgamated agreement between the city and the CRD,” the press release says. “The new proposal, developed by the Williams Lake Fire Protection Sub-Committee established last fall by the Central Cariboo Joint Committee would have resulted in a more equitable cost sharing arrangement for all residents.”
Responding Tuesday, Coun. Surinderpal Rathor challenged the notion that talks have broken down.
“There are no broken talks,” he said.
“We received a letter. The letter stated the four options. We are no different protecting our area than the regional district directors protecting their area. We said this was the option we would accept. We want to work with the CRD and not be bashing against each other. It was never the intention of the council and I would respectfully request that my colleagues on the other side of the table should refrain from making such comments.”
Cook reiterated that the city wants to work with the CRD to find an agreement that is equitable for both sides.
Joan Sorley, Area F director for the CRD, was at the Central Cariboo Joint Committee meeting when the fire agreements were discussed.
She said she had told everyone present she was very disappointed “negotiations had broken down” and that there would be a press release going out.
Sorley told the Tribune Wednesday the agreement drawn up by the province and the city to provide fire protection to fringe areas pre-dated the existence of the CRD.
“The Cariboo Regional District has never been party to this agreement, but our taxpaying residents are paying taxes based on this agreement. Over the years, what has happened, is that the taxes to the regional district residents have become proportionately more than their fair share.”
She estimated rural residents are paying for close to 70 per cent of the service, while around 26 per cent of the calls are to rural areas within the fringe fire protection area.
“It’s because of the formula. The city takes the total tax base in the city and the total tax base of the rural area and divides it up to pay for fire protection. In the rural area we don’t have business or industry, but the city does, so business and industry are taking the bulk of that so city residents don’t pay as much.”
The CRD proposed to take a total taxation and divide it up so residents are paying equal.
It would see rural residents paying about 27 per cent of the cost of the service, which is more in line for what they’re actually getting, and doesn’t unfairly skew it for the residential tax base, Sorley said.
Rural residents have had two big fire tax bills and are upset that their fire protection taxes have doubled for some residents in the last two years, she added.
The CRD believes the new agreement it worked on was fair.
“It was maybe more than our taxpayers would want to pay, but it was fair and we would support it. We’re not prepared to support anything less than that.”
Sorely said there’s no ability for further talks between the city and the CRD.
“The province has said they are not prepared to continue with the agreement and the onus is on us to come up with something that will replace it. The city has declined to do that so we need to find alternatives for fire providing protection.”