The Cariboo Regional District will continue to pursue an agreement with the city on fringe fire protection past the one-year agreement in place until Dec. 31, but it will also do a feasibility study regarding developing its own fire service for the area.
“We need to do due diligence and take the steps to ensure we have something in place if we’re not successful in reaching an agreement,” CAO Janis Bell said during a public meeting at the Gibraltar Room Friday.
Earlier that day the CRD board approved $90,000 for the feasibility study, with all directors voting in favour of the funding except for the city’s representative Coun. Sue Zacharias.
“We are commencing the steps to establish a CRD fringe area fire department. That $90,000 comes from the feasibility fund and will allow us to start working on the steps to start our own service,” Bell said. She explained that moving forward with the feasibility study does not mean the two parties cannot come to an agreement for the city to continue to provide fire protection.
“That door is open and is not going to be closed in the immediate future,” she said. “We are cognizant of the fact that council passed a resolution earlier this week to try and arrange another meeting.”
So far 42 residents have indicated they’d be willing to serve as volunteer fire-fighters and the CRD is soliciting for more people to step forward.
The CRD is in discussions with a professional trainer to talk about opportunities to begin training.
Staff are trying to secure a site and appropriate apparatus for training, and are nearing finalizing those arrangements.
Bell also said if the agreement with the city does not proceed then the CRD will consider reconfiguring the boundaries.
“The more people that can get the service is a benefit for them because it gives us a larger tax base to fund operations and population base to draw from.”
Estimated costs for running the fire service would be $100 per $100,000 of assessment.
Among the questions asked by the public, one person wanted to know how much the city was willing to offer the service for, but Bell said the CRD did not have a definitive figure.
Under the provincial figure the city had received an average of $720,000 from three existing agreements.
“We agreed to use total assessment formula as the basis and the $129 per $100,000 falls under that. That would have been a reduction down to $550,000.”
The agreement for 2013 is $579,221.
While some residents said building a duplicate fire service seems “crazy,” others suggested, negotiating one term past the existing one, and waiting it out until there’s a new city council elected to see if that makes a difference in reaching an agreement.
CRD chair Al Richmond said it’s hard to predict what will happen politically, but said the CRD is trying to deal with the bill it received for over $700,000 for fire protection after the new fire hall was built.
“Our phones were ringing off the hook with you asking how come you were paying so much money so we tried to negotiate a new deal. We’ve come to an agreement for one year,” Richmond said. “I don’t know how many agreements we want to go forward with but as elected officials we need to get down to task and find a solution.”
The CRD is encouraged by the city’s willingness to meet, but also wants to pursue a plan because it doesn’t want to end up without an agreement and no plan in place, he added.
“You do have to ask why there is such a huge disparity in costs of fire protection I’ve done budget comparisons with other fire departments with more full-time staff and and more vehicles and the costs aren’t as high,” Richmond said.
He questioned why the same funding formula used for the hospital, Deni House, or the recreation complex cannot be implemented.
“It’s been suggested to the city, but at this time the city doesn’t feel it’s acceptable and has its reasons. We’re trying to find somewhere between the two. We believe the other services we mutually enjoy and are hoping to work around that.”
Richmond said he agreed it’s “silly” to set up two fire halls, but at this point doesn’t know what else the CRD can do.
Approximately 26 per cent of the calls to the Williams Lake fire hall go to the rural fringe, and include attending motor vehicle accidents, Bell said.
Others indicated a new fire hall is the way to go and asked where the CRD rural hall might be located.
Bell said the CRD has identified a number of locations and it would have to be in relatively “close” proximity to the existing city fire hall to make sure nobody is left out.
Another person suggested the CRD needs a longterm view because the rural fringe is growing compared to the city, while someone said it’s difficult because CRD taxpayers have no say over a city-run facility.
In response to a comment made by a resident at the meeting, that the city is not purchasing equipment to meet the needs of the rural fringe, the city said it purchased a tanker that carries 2,500 gallons of water and when purchased, consideration was given for use in the fringe area.
There will be a follow up meeting with residents on Thursday, April 25.