Cariboo Regional District rural residents living in the Williams Lake fringe fire protection area learned of options for new fire agreements at a community meeting held Sept. 13 in the Gibraltar Room at the Cariboo Memorial Complex.
The 250 people in attendance heard a bylaw needs to go to the CRD board on Oct.4 and a referendum has to take place some time in November.
“The province is currently taxing you for fire protection services and has said that they aren’t going to do that anymore so we have to make a decision,” CRD chief administrative officer Janis Bell said. New agreements will need to be put in place because the present ones will expire on Dec. 31.
The new rate offered by the city for people under the Williams Lake Fire Department is $130 per $100,000 of residential assessment. Under present agreements residents are paying either $199, $102 or $191, depending which agreement they are under.
Residents accessing the Wildwood Volunteer Fire Department, under the new agreements, will pay $111 per $100,000 of assessed value, while under the 150 Mile House Volunteer Fire Department the rate would be $68 per $100,000 of assessed value.
“The current formula only uses residential assessment to calculate who is going to pay what. It disregards the fact that there is an industrial tax base and a business tax base. The proposed new agreement considers all of that. It considers the entire tax base as one tax base, regardless of the one assessment base, regardless of where the boundaries of the regional district are,” Bell said. “It isn’t costing any less money for the city’s fire department. It just means the rural taxpayers are going to pay less.”
To be prudent, the CRD will probably set the rate at $140, to build in a bit of leeway, Bell added.
A map prepared by the CRD indicated areas where residents could opt for protection under Wildwood or 150 Mile House; however, Bell said residents are required to be within 13 kilometres of a fire hall to realize reduced reductions with their fire insurance.
“There’s only a certain segment of the population that has the option to go with one of the other fire departments,” Bell said, explaining if a number of people opted out of being covered by Williams Lake, then the rate would increase to about $140 for everyone else.
People who can’t be serviced by Wildwood or 150 Mile House, and who choose not to remain with Williams Lake, will have to go without fire protection, or accept to without it temporarily until residents can start up a rural fire department.
The CRD estimated a new fire hall would cost property owners $100 per $100,000 of assessed value.
That amount is based on land, a building, new pumper truck and equipment, amortized over a period of 20 years, chief financial officer Scott Reid explained.
Esler resident Bud Walters recalled helping organize rural fire departments on Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island, and said the local situation is problematic.
“When I look at the map the CRD has what I see is a logistics nightmare. We have the Esler area, we have a Dog Creek area, and we have a Fox Mountain area that are completely separate and would require three new fire halls.”
One fire hall couldn’t service Esler and Dog Creek unless a highway was built between Thunder Mountain and Mountview School, Walters said.
Monica Lachapelle from Hub International Barton Insurance Brokers told the crowd some insurance companies require people to live within eight kilometres of a fire hall; others allow for 13 km.
She also said rates don’t change if a resident is served by a volunteer fire department or the Williams Lake fire department.
“The insurance company isn’t distinguishing between which fire hall; if it’s within the required distance your rate stays the same.”
Lachapelle explained within city limits, people living near fire hydrants might pay $500 for insurance, in a fringe area they might have fire hall protection and pay $1,000.
No fire protection could cost $2,000, she said.
To help frame the referendum questions, the CRD has created a questionnaire, requiring feedback by Sept. 20 because the board will meet to go over the results on Sept. 21.
Depending on responses, there could be one or three separate questions on referendum day, Bell said.
“If there seems to be a fairly strong majority of the people that could go to Wildwood or 150 that prefer that, and a clear indication that’s their preference, then we would structure the referendum accordingly so they didn’t even vote on the issue of Williams Lake.”
After the meeting Area E director Byron Kemp said he was pleased with the turnout and the presentation done by the CRD staff.
“I don’t think everyone can agree. In my area, however, we need the Williams Lake fire department and fire service. From my point of view right now, I don’t think we can afford to put in our own fire department, unless we’re going to expand out further into Chimney Valley and the Flett Road area, which we looked at back in the late 90s,” Kemp said.
Information about the options and the questionnaire are available at www.cariboord.bc.ca or by calling 250-392-3351.