Fire services report a hot topic

Carole Morris-Underhill
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New West Hants fire station would cost about $5 million to build, equip

Council chambers began getting crowded 15 minutes prior to West Hants Council's committee of the whole meeting Jan. 29.

UPDATED FEB. 1 at 3 p.m.

 

West Hants council chambers were packed Jan. 29 as residents and firefighters crammed in the room to hear the results of the fire services report.

While they heard some of the report's highlights – to build a new fire station for West Hants, and equip it with vehicles and gear, would cost about $5 million – they did not receive any firm figures, or any documents to take home with them.

West Hants councillors received the fire services report in a sealed envelope at the night meeting. That document, however, will not be made public until council has had a chance to review the contents and bring it forward at a future meeting.

CAO Cheryl Chislett provided council and the 70-plus people in attendance a brief overview of how the report came about. In April 2012, a fire services co-ordinator was hired to examine the costs associated with the municipality building its own fire station or continuing the relationship with the Windsor Fire Department. That analysis was what was presented to council in the report.

Jerry Wood, the municipality's director of finance, then provided the financial highlights.

“Keep in mind, this analysis was based on 25 years. It establishes a long term commitment, either way, and certainly sets the the tone for stability,” said Wood as he prepared to explain the highlights from the report.

“The bottom line, for a new station with vehicles and equipment ready to go, is $4,950,000, give or take a few dollars,” said Wood.

The finance director then factored in long term debt costs and what that would mean if they borrowed over a 25 year period for the building of the station, 10 year period for the trucks and five years for the equipment.

“The whole package, starting out from Day 1... (for) the first term of five years, we're looking at an annual cost of $476, 745. That's everything brand new, ready to roll,” he said.

Factoring in operational costs, he said that figure would wind up being about $689,000 annually.

After five years, that figure would drop as they would no longer have to make equipment payments, however, the cost of operating the site would increase. At the 10 year mark, that total overall cost would again drop.

“On the 10th, 11th year, our payments drop to $485,474,” he said.

A recommendation was not made during the meeting, but Wood said if they continued their relationship with the Windsor Fire Department it would cost an estimated $8 million more than building their own fire station and owning the assets.

The location of a new fire station was not factored into the discussions, or the report.

A Vaughan resident spoke up early in the 30-minute meeting, asking if the public was allowed to interject with questions. They were not.

Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane, who chaired the special committee of the whole meeting Jan. 29, explained that while council meetings are open to the public, residents are not permitted to ask questions. Questions are reserved for public hearings.

Following the meeting, Warden Richard Dauphinee said only council is privy to the full report right now and they will be reviewing the document and preparing questions in advance of the next special meeting on the subject. He said the report helps council compare what they currently have to what they potentially could have.

“We're not in a situation that we think we can do it for this, or maybe we can do it for that. We now have facts... They priced out fire engines, they priced out the fire station, they priced out everything. We have to understand, prices are worst case scenario because nobody is going to give us their low prices because everything has to go to tender,” said Dauphinee.

“We didn't allow any grants into this... so it can only get better.”

Dauphinee said while the overview Jan. 29 “sounded good,” council needed to sit down and “really look at this with an open mind and see what we want to do for the future.”

Dauphinee reiterated that this is likely not the only relationship or service they would need to review in the coming years.

“It's a good process to be going through. I don't think that this is the only service that we're going to be looking at because the economy is not good, our residents can't afford (to pay) any more,” said Dauphinee.

“We're looking after the taxpayer's money. We're trying to be financially responsible. If Windsor Fire Department turns out to be the best deal in town, at least we know it is. If it's not, at least we know it isn't and then we have to make a decision.”

“We're looking after the taxpayer's money. We're trying to be financially responsible. If Windsor Fire Department turns out to be the best deal in town, at least we know it is. If it's not, at least we know it isn't and then we have to make a decision.” Warden Richard Dauphinee

During the meeting, Coun. Shirley Pineo suggested Feb. 6 be set aside for the next meeting on the subject, and suggested stakeholders – like firefighters – appoint a representative to attend the meeting to hear more discussion on the issue.

Council agreed to hold another special committee of the whole meeting Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. to discuss the report. This is another meeting that is open to the public, but not for questions.

In the interview following the meeting, the warden said the public will definitely get a chance to weigh in on the report, and ask questions, at some point. It's anticipated the report will be accepted as information and put in the public domain the night of Feb. 6. Residents will then have the opportunity to read the report.

“The public will have the right to speak before this is over. We're not going to go out and do something without listening to the people,” Dauphinee said.

On Feb. 1, the Windsor Fire Department, through Fire Chief Scott Burgess, released a prepared statement in response to the meeting and the fire service review.

“The Windsor Fire Department has been providing top quality service and protection to the people of West Hants and surrounding areas for almost 60 years. We have not see the fire service report developed for the West Hants Council but are interested to hear the results in more detail,” the statement reads.

“This is a service that affects the public directly and we believe they should have input to any decisions made in the future. In the meantime, we intend to continue to provide our neighbours the safety, security and peace of mind they have come to expect.”

The figures quoted reflect the numbers presented at the meeting. They may differ from the final report.

 

 

Organizations: Windsor Fire Department, West Hants council

Geographic location: Vaughan, West Hants, Hants County Brooklyn Windsor Fire Department Municipality of West Hants

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  • Sandra
    January 30, 2013 - 11:44

    Wouldn't this document that was given to the Councillor be a public document and should be available for all to see? You would also think that they would want to include the residents concerns early in the process so that their concerns could be addressed prior to the review and consideration of the proposal. Later you you hear "yes, we heard you but we have already made our decision". Sounds a bit fishy to me.

    • Andrew
      February 01, 2013 - 17:31

      Absolutely, it should be made available to public. You can bet we paid for it. I think they are concerned about the scrutiny it might receive one way or the other. Surely there is nothing that is reasonably confidential in this report and if there were I'm sure there is lots in there that is not. It's hard to be accountable to the voters though when you only have to get 200 votes to win an election though :)