WFD says dispute could be settled if West Hants pays outstanding capital and operating expenses
© Carole Morris-Underhill
Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess says the volunteer firefighters just want to have the issues between the WFD and West Hants council settled so they may continue to serve the community.
Windsor's fire chief says it's time for West Hants to pony up the outstanding funds owed to the volunteer firefighting force so that the two entities may enter mediation on even ground.
Scott Burgess penned a letter to West Hants CAO Cheryl Chislett June 13 that outlined the Windsor Fire Department (WFD) executive's stance.
“As the municipality is aware, requirement of payment of the full amount of arrears to the WFD by West Hants was established by a unanimous vote of our membership as a precondition to entering into mediation to resolve the current impasse and provide a stable framework for future fire service in the areas of West Hants serviced by the WFD,” wrote Burgess.
“We are optimistic that once the full amount of the arrears has been paid this mediation can take place immediately in order to prevent the interruption of fire services.”
Burgess was referencing the operational costs for the past 15 months, as well as the capital funds that were withheld since 2011-12 pending a successful contract negotiation.
As of the end of this month, Burgess said “the total current arrears based on this proposal are $813,556.25” and indicated the WFD proposes “interest upon these amounts” that will be “determined at a later date, perhaps in the context of the proposed mediation.”
The breakdown Burgess provided for the outstanding amounts owing is as follows: 2011-12 – $40,000; 2012-13 – $40,000; 2013-14 – $497,595 Station 1 and $89,250 Station 2 (Vaughan); and 2014-15 – $124,398.75 Station 1 for the first quarter and $22,312.50 Station 2 for the first quarter.
Burgess suggested West Hants’ staff and advisors, the WFD executive and advisors, and Mark Peck, as the representative for the provincial government, meet to “map out the future course of mediation, including the list of issues to be canvassed within the mediation, and a selection of an appropriate mediator to assist the parties.”
He said the WFD executive is willing to meet with West Hants and Peck “at any time to advance this matter” prior to the June 30 deadline.
Burgess said if the outstanding payment issues are resolved, then their action to cease service would no longer be necessary.
Warden Richard Dauphinee, the spokesperson for council, said they had hoped entering into mediation would put the WFD's decision to cease serving the county on the backburner.
“We thought, once we agreed to go in mediation, that that wouldn’t happen, but it appears that he's holding fast. He wants all of his money, which – by the way, there's no contract in place. There hasn't been for four years,” said Dauphinee.
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“It's like Councillor Matheson said the other night. You know, we really don't owe any money... Now, in saying that, we're not going to stick anybody for any money, we never have and we appreciate the service we've received.”
Dauphinee stressed that all the WFD has to do to be paid is bring in their list of operational expenses and a detailed capital replacement plan.
“We want to pay (them).”
In late May, Jerry Wood, the director of finance for the municipality, discussed the outstanding funding situation between West Hants and the WFD with the Hants Journal.
He stated that all of the funds owing are available, should council instruct him to release them.
“That is set up as a liability so that depending on what happens, that money is still there. If council directs me so, I can certainly pay it out,” said Wood.
In 2011-12, Wood said the municipality paid the WFD $433,100 and an additional $80,000 for Southwest Hants (Station 2). However, council instructed staff to withhold an additional $40,800.
“In 2011-12, the same amount was paid for rural and what was held back was the budget increase that was given to all fire departments,” said Wood, noting council approved an increase for each county-funded fire department that year.
The following fiscal year, 2012-13, another $40,000 was held back.
Then in 2013-14, council changed how they funded the Windsor Fire Department, requiring them to provide receipts for operational expenses. Although they have continued to cover West Hants, the WFD has not been paid since April 2013. They also have not provided a detailed breakdown of expenses. This month, council said the intent behind their April 2013 motion may not have been clear and changed the requirement, noting the WFD does not have to produce the receipts. Rather, they are just required to produce an itemized list in order to receive their outstanding operational expenses. The capital funds are another story altogether, as Dauphinee said council wants to receive a detailed replacement plan so they can budget for future capital expenditures.