Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond (right) hands the microphone to a resident during the fringe fire protection meeting hosted by the CRD at the Gibraltar Room Thursday.

Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond (right) hands the microphone to a resident during the fringe fire protection meeting hosted by the CRD at the Gibraltar Room Thursday.

Fringe fire protection debate draws a crowd

Fringe area residents filled the Gibraltar Room Thursday to hear about fire protection services at a meeting hosted by the CRD.

Fringe area residents filled the Gibraltar Room in Williams Lake Thursday to hear about fire protection services at a meeting hosted by the Cariboo Regional District.

It was the first public meeting held for affected residents since the CRD obtained a court injunction on Dec. 21, 2012 that required the City of Williams Lake to provide fire protection services to fringe area residents until April 30, 2013,  at the Nov. 24, 2012 referendum rate of approximately $129 per $100,000.

Similar to the public meeting held in September, CRD staff had prepared a power point presentation that outlined costs, including comparisons to Quesnel and rural fire departments in the region.

“Going into this, the tax rate you were paying in the rural fringe areas was about $190 on $100,000 of assessment. That was the average of the last two years because it fluctuates,” CRD chief administrative officer Janis Bell said. “The residents of the city at the time were paying $63 on $100,000 of assessment.”

The agreement the CRD negotiated with the city would have seen the rural rate move closer to the city rate, Bell said.

“The rural rate would have decreased to approximately $129 per $100,000 and the city rate would have increased to $72 per $100,000.”

The original agreement was also for a five-year term, with an option to renew for another five-year term, however the city came back on Dec. 12 and notified the CRD by letter that it wanted to agree to a one-year term and enter into discussions for fire protection services.

Someone asked if the CRD ever received the rates in writing from the city, and Bell said “no,” adding the reason is the rates fluctuate every year.

“Rates are not what we agreed to because depending on their budget and assessed values every year they’re going to change. What was agreed to was to use assessment as the formula, that’s what was agreed to and yes we do have that in writing.”

Some residents that spoke at the meeting wanted the CRD to hold the city to the agreement.

Others wondered if a mediator would be better than going to court.

The word “greedy” was used to describe the city, while someone suggested the city needs the fringe residents more than the fringe residents need the city and did city taxpayers realize they would have to pay more if the fringe residents were taken out of the equation?

A chart in the presentation showed in 2012 the fringe residents paid more than $600,000 in tax requisition amounts for fringe fire protection.

The total expenditures for the Williams Lake fire department were $2,003,030 for 2012. Debt servicing for the new fire hall was $512,000.

Several people thought city representatives should have been at the meeting to answer questions and advised the CRD to make a similar presentation at a city council meeting in the near future.

Others said the CRD should pursue building another fire hall and wondered where it would be located.

Bell said the CRD’s “fall back solution if they aren’t successful in court” would be to attempt to build a centrally located fire hall.

“We do have to remain within the distances prescribed by insurance,” Bell said.

150 Mile House Volunteer Fire Department Chief Stan McCarthy said he didn’t  know if anyone had thought about extending the existing services out of Wildwood and 150 Mile, or even putting in a satellite hall for the time being to cover Fox Mountain and White Road.

“I know volunteer fire departments work their tails off to provide the services to the community and it’s a lot of work to get volunteers,” McCarthy said. “We work well with Williams Lake and have mutual agreements with Wildwood, Miocene and everybody. The fire departments work well together.”

Chair Al Richmond said while he knows that some people are angry at city council, that the council is split.

“You don’t have everyone on council opposed to you, it’s not a rural versus urban issue,” he said. “We’re all neighbours and friends and we need to deal with that. I think we firmly have a contract, and we need to remind the city of that, but we need to be respectful.”

Bell confirmed the CRD filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Jan. 15 to continue with legal action against the City.

To date the CRD has spent $9,000 on the referendum and $15,000 to obtain the court injunction, costs Bell said rural taxpayers will pay for. Everyone pays the same rates to use the Cariboo Memorial Complex and the hospital, those are examples of good parthernships, he added.

“We need to rebuild the relationship, but we need some firm direction from you about what you want us to do.”

Fringe area residents have until Jan. 28 to complete a fire protection survey. A meeting will be held Feb. 12 to share the survey results and any other feedback.

The Tribune asked the city for comments several times leading up to and after the CRD meeting, but so far has received no reply, only the press release issued by the city on Jan. 17, that ran in the Weekender Jan. 18.