The Columbia Shuswap Regional District had their Town Hall on Monday, February 26th which brought out 65 Concerned Area B Residents in regards to the Fire Protection Service Agreement that has yet to be resolved.
Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mayer approved the injunction and the City is still responsible for fire protection to Area B under the same terms and conditions as in the existing agreement until June 1st, 2018; just three short months away. There are options to extend the deadline and that very well may happen as long as the City and the CSRD are on the right track and both parties feel it is the correct move.
This is an extremely complicated issue. It has many moving parts that consist of the City of Revelstoke, CSRD, BC Hydro as well as Crown Land. The residents of Area B are growing tiresome of waiting for a result and the CSRD are not thrilled with the proposal that the City placed before them a few months back.
CSRD Chief Administrative Officer, Charles Hamilton feels that the best available option is to enter into an agreement with the City of Revelstoke. One option that was brought to the table was setting up a separate volunteer Fire Department that would service the area. The major issue with that; limited population base as well as Area B service area is divided into two distinct areas that is split by the Columbia River. While this concept would be a huge task in nature, the CSRD are not opposed to the idea, however time is of the essence and this type of program implementation would take a respectable amount of time to produce a proper study.
Hamilton brought up yet another option that is by and large the least attractive in nature and that would be to abandon the service altogether.
“Under this scenario, residents would recognize or realize cost saving on the tax bill, however that cost savings would be more than offset by the increase in insurance premiums that you are already paying on your property. Furthermore, that option does not take into consideration important life and safety issues that come part in partial with Fire Suppression Service.”
How much are residents of Area B willing to pay and under what terms?
There are numerous ways to structure any agreement; one that could be a viable option is the Fee for Service which is what the National Parks have in place. Two parties get together; one jurisdiction provides the service of the Area B for a negotiation fee. A second type is the Partnership Agreement, in which two jurisdictions pool their resources and share the decision making power to carry on the service.
“In my view, the agreement that was entered in back of March, 1980 reflects a partnership approach rather than a simple Fee for Service type of agreement. We think this historical context is important to keep in mind as we figure out this agreement.”
The original agreement provided the pooling of resources; Fire Protection Reserve Account and the Building Structure Replacement Fund. While this agreement is still in place, the CSRD feel that the 3000 Gallon Water Tender the City is requesting they purchase with their own revenue source (Area B resident tax dollars), should be purchased out of the pre-established Reserve Account. The Fire Hall is currently worth $1.92 million which the CSRD feel they paid their portion of as well as a chunk towards Ladder 6, which they argue has limited value in a rural firefighting environment.
“We agreed at the outset, we would participate in the construction of the Fire Hall based on our proportionate share and also agreed to cover the cost on overruns. Furthermore, the agreement provided that the Electoral B Director had the opportunity to review and approve the annual budget submitted. Although this requirement was never adhered too, it does underscore the fact that it was a partnership theme, rather than a Fee for Service.”
The City has offered a Capital Allowance to the tune of $15,000 for five years, totalling $75,000 to offset the cost. The CSRD has raised the concern of Capital Expenditures that they would like to see a fair and reasonable attempt to see the portion of the payments made by CSRD residents; where those funds were allocated. Another concern of the proposed agreement is formula in which costs are proportioned, the level of service being provided and lastly, the term of agreement.
City would like to see 6.4% for the share in the bag of pooled dollars for capital expenses. The CSRD questions the percentage proposed is fair for rural residents, as costs should be based on certain usage or a combination of factors.
“Rural residents are unduly subsidizing the operations of the Fire Department. This concerns me significantly for the following two reasons; 1– the proposed agreement calls for a 10% surcharge on top of the service agreement; 2- The seeming lack of fiscal restraint on the part of City Council when it comes to managing fire service results.”
“The City’s Fire Department budget in 2012 was $1.192 million dollars, where as in 2017 the budget jumped $587 thousand dollar increase in five years totalling $1.779 million.
“That’s five paid firefighters that they have hired” Area B Resident Roger Kessler claimed from the audience.
Under the new agreement proposed, neither the Area B director nor the residents would have any say in any increases, but they would be paying their proportion. The proposed agreement provides that firefighter personnel should not be required to enter any building or structure within the service area.
“The fact that the CSRD is being offered a lower level of service than City residents without any financial relief or offset raised questions about fairness and equity, at least in my mind.”
The Revelstoke Fire Services provides a wide range of services beyond fire suppression such as planned reviews, fire inspection, medical emergencies, highway rescue, fire prevention activity and public education. The City would like the CSRD pay based on the Fire services Global Budget. The CSRD suggested that a discount factor be applied to account for the marginal costs of those services that are not applicable to rural areas. The term is for 5-years with a 6-month notice of cancellation, which the CSRD is unrealistic and feel a much longer notification period would be appropriate. If the terms of agreement were to be terminated, what would the CSRD do with a 3000 gallon Water Tank?
“If we were to finance that over 20 years and had a 5 year agreement, you are going to be carrying that debt for 15 years and have no service.”
During the question and answer period, numerous heated questions came from the 65 person crowd including a general befuddled wonder about the fire engine that is located at the airport.
“That truck is at the airport in lieu of a water line. It is a specialty foam dispersing, it’s at the airport, stays at the airport, has nothing to do with the ski hill, it is only to service the airport because the City only has a 2 inch water line running from Williamsons Lake to the airport. This is their stop-gap measure instead of improving the waterline to the airport, from the ski hill, from Williamsons Lake to provide adequate water to the airport, they have bought this truck.” stated Kessler.
Scott Renaud asked what the probability is of a second fire department for the area actually coming to fruition was and the crowd was met with a rather straight forward answer of ‘not probable’ considering the lack of populations for volunteer firefighters. The cost for the residents to implement a fire hall, training program and special apparatus could be in the millions as they would arguably need two (both side of the Columbia).
Many were concerned about the BC Hydro draw down zones and why the City is not charging them directly. While BC Hydro is ready to spend 50k on an All-Terrain-Vehicle for the hard to reach areas, the residents feel that 50k is getting off extremely easy considering the amount they have paid over the 37 year period.
“If you look at all the properties out on the flats, in the draw down zones, they (BC Hydro) own more land than everyone else in the regional district. Thousands of acres with no taxes paid on it. Find out what those assessments are and take it back to BC Hydro and have them pay for their Fire Protection.” Claimed a frustrated voice form the back.
As the evening rolled along, a flare of opinions and ideas came to light, however at the end of the day it boiled down to the CSRD and the City sitting down and accepting that something (or someone) has to give.
Hamilton did make mention that it is highly uncommon for one local Government to take another local Government to court, but felt that they had no choice, while they were pleased with the result of an extension, it was not a just result as they would ultimately like to find an agreement that works for both parties. Hamilton and CSRD staff did meet with Chief Rob Girard and CAO Alan Chabot on Monday, February 26th to find a resolution.
While they are at the very beginning stages of discussion, Hamilton is “cautiously optimistic.”