Around 100 people attended a rural fringe fire protection meeting hosted by the Cariboo Regional District at the Cariboo Memorial Complex Tuesday evening.
From the comments made by several rural residents it was evident they want their own volunteer fire department.
A recent Williams Lake Fringe Fire survey conducted by the CRD, garnered 328 completed surveys. Ninety-two people said they wanted the CRD to develop an additional volunteer fire department, while 42 people indicated they’d be willing to be volunteer fire fighters.
Wade Fisher, who lives on Dog Creek Road, told staff and directors at the meeting they need to start planning for a volunteer fire department to serve the rural fringe presently covered by the Williams Lake fire department.
He suggested expanding the areas covered by the existing Wildwood and 150 Mile House volunteer fire departments and building an additional satellite hall to serve the Dog Creek and Chilcotin Road area.
“That way the organizational stuff is already in place,” Fisher said. “We have a fire chief that’s trained, we have trained officers in place, and we just move ahead with more volunteers.”
Williams Lake city council was not elected to represent the rural fringe residents, he added.
“City council is there representing its people and if I was sitting on council I’d be saying I want my $190 per $100,000 and anybody who says differently isn’t looking at reality.”
Chief administrative officer Janis Bell said the survey results indicated 224 people out of 328 wanted the CRD to continue with legal action to ensure the “original agreement with the city is enforced.”
“We interpreted the survey results as try and get the agreement honoured. If you can do that, do it. If you can’t, then we’re ready to start a fire department.”
Bell also said the CRD agreed to go to mediation with the city to try and reach an agreement because it’s worthwhile to have a conversation and see if having a third party in the room moves negotiations along.
“I understand that some people are viewing that the city is here with their $190 and we’re here with our $129 so the goal is going to be to meet somewhere in the middle. The CRD is not going into mediation with a predetermined position on a dollar figure to negotiate on,” Bell said.
It is not the CRD’s intent to be negotiating up, Area F director Joan Sorley added.
“If anything, we agreed to go to mediation to spare the taxpayers the costs of protracted litigation and hopefully we can convince the city to honour their original offer.”
Chief financial officer Scott Reid confirmed CRD staff is looking at all configurations of providing service for fire protection.
When asked if other regions in the province have experienced a similar situation as the present disagreement over fire protection, Bell said she has not heard of any similar situations, but has heard that other regions are interested to see how it “plays out.”
As a city taxpayer and a CRD taxpayer, John Dressler said he takes exception to being one of the “guinea pigs” in a legal exercise that could go on for months and cost potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I don’t think it’s a very good use of taxpayers’ dollars. I think we need to express our extreme dismay with elected officials who got us to the point where we are.”
Another resident said she wondered why someone from the city wasn’t present at the meeting to give the city’s point of view.
“We have declined to do that,” Bell responded. “I know people want responses from the city and people are entitled to responses from the city, but we’re trying to report to you on what actions we’re going to take. Our board has delegated the responsibility to deal with this matter to a committee that does not consist of the City of Williams Lake representative because we are going into a court case.”
CRD staff did, however, respond to some of the statements made in a Q&A document on fire services released by the city last week and posted on its website.
In the document, the city noted it does not collect taxes based on individual services the way the CRD does.
Only water and sewer, which are run as independent utilities, are separated from the general budget, so the city would not arrive at a rate of $63 per $100,000 of assessment being the cost of fire protection.
Reid explained how he had reached that dollar amount.
“I agree the city doesn’t isolate the various services they provide and indicate what the cost is for each of them. They do post the percentage paid by the various property classes toward the taxes.”
The percentage that residential taxpayers paid in 2011 was about 38 per cent of the taxes, so Reid calculated 38 per cent of the cost of fire service and portioned that over the assessed values of properties. It works out to $63 for 2011 and would work out to $72 based on 2012 assessments.
“Scott’s acknowledging that the city doesn’t budget the way the regional district does and he’s performed these calculations and believes them to be an accurate interpretation if you broke it down into individual services that it what it would break down to,” Bell added.
The existing fire protection agreement will continue until April 30, 2013.
“If we don’t have an agreement in place by that time, I suspect we will be seeking an extension to the injunction,” Bell said.
There were members of city staff in the audience at the meeting. The Tribune asked for comments, but received no response by press time.