Three fire protection agreements affecting the fringe and rural areas around Williams Lake will expire at the end of this year.
As a result, the city has appointed a committee to negotiate new agreements with the Cariboo Regional District. Members of the committee include councillors Laurie Walters, Geoff Bourdon, and Sue Zacharias with support from chief administrative officer Brian Carruthers and director of finance Pat Higgins.
In July the provincial government alerted the city that the provincial fire agreement presently in place for fringe areas outside the city would be discontinued by the end of the year, and that an alternative arrangement would need to be made. The other two agreements with the CRD include areas beyond the provincial agreement and include Fox Mountain, Esler, and upper Dog Creek Road.
A meeting with the committee and the CRD is scheduled for tonight (Aug. 23), which Mayor Kerry Cook said shows the importance of getting both bodies together to work toward a solution.
Coun. Danica Hughes wondered if residents would be consulted and asked what they want, but Cook answered the residents are outside the city and would be consulted with by the CRD.
Carruthers explained the agreements had been in place for a number of years. However, the one the provincial government wants to remove itself from is one of only two left in the province.
“The issue is that the province wants out of the agreement. It’s no longer common practice. So it becomes the regional district’s responsibility to provide that service and they’ve indicated to the city that they are interested in negotiating for us to continue to provide that service to the people in that fire service area,” Carruthers said.
In a letter to the city dated Aug. 2, CRD chief administrative officer Janis Bell said in order for the CRD to gain authority to tax those residents, it would be necessary to create a new function and the CRD is under significant time restraints to make that happen.
The CRD is interested in pursuing a negotiated agreement with the city, she added, but said those negotiations would have to come to a positive outcome in a very short time frame.
“Alternatively, the regional district would need to consider other options to provide fire protection services directly,” Bell noted.