Council reviews fire services report

Citizens invited to weigh in on the topic at public hearing Feb. 25

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on February 8, 2013

Money talks.

The draft fire services report prepared for the Municipality of West Hants suggests the municipality would save about $7 million by building a new fire station to cover areas of West Hants serviced by the Windsor Fire Department.

More than 70 people crammed into the municipal council chambers Feb. 6 to hear the results of the fire services report.

CAO Cheryl Chislett stressed that no decision has been made by council regarding the future of the municipality’s partnership with the Windsor Fire Department (WFD).

“We’re nowhere near where people think we are… and we have not made any commitment.”

In presenting the report prepared by West Hants’ fire service co-ordinator, the municipality’s finance director, Jerry Wood, said cost estimates suggest the new fire station would ring in at about $14.6 million over a 25-year period starting in 2016. Projections based on a three per cent increase over the same timeframe imply that sticking with the contractual services provided by the WFD would cost the municipality about $21.7 million.

“At this stage it’s a projection based on what information we have,” Wood noted.

He said building a new station from the ground up in West Hants would not impact the tax rate.

“It’s less than the money we are going to pay out on the contract projected.”

The proposed five-bay station would be equipped with two new demo vehicles, three used vehicles and one utility vehicle. The location of the fire station has yet to be confirmed; meaning the purchase of land is not included in the final tally.

Regardless, Wood said the report found that a new station would mean “significant financial savings” for the municipality, but acknowledged that “there is a lot more to fire services than numbers.”

Coun. Shirley Pineo was the first councillor to raise questions about the report. Members of the public were not permitted to comment at the special committee of the whole meeting.

As it stands, Pineo noted, operations at the Southwest Hants Fire Station in Vaughan, which is commonly known as Station 2, are managed by the Windsor department. She asked if the annual operational expenses for Station 2 should also be included in the projected cost of building a new station.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars for Station 2 is a number put in to give it a reasonable projection at this time,” said Wood, who also noted that WFD financial records show that $37,000 was spent on operating costs at the substation in the fiscal year ending in March 2009.

Coun. Jennifer Daniels, the representative of Vaughan, asked the fire services co-ordinator, Wayne Swinamer, if the report includes numbers based on the specific equipment needs of Station 2.

“I’d have to say right now that Station 2 wasn’t really part of what I was doing. My job was to price up a new fire station,” Swinamer replied.

Daniels, the only councillor to publicly question the report aside from Pineo at the meeting, then brought a constituent’s concern to the table.

“Where Mr. Swinamer was an active member of the Windsor Fire Department and is currently on suspension — and this report strictly deals with funding issues — I question the integrity of this report,” she said.

Daniels asked council if Swinamer’s past experience with the department could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

“It’s not a conflict of interest,” Warden Richard Dauphinee replied.

“It was checked out legally, and (there’s) no conflict of interest and I believe Mr. Swinamer is very professional and has done his job well.”

Coun. Victor Swinamer and Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane both declared a conflict of interest at the beginning of the meeting, and removed themselves from the discussion because they each have a close relative serving on the Windsor Fire Department.

Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess, Swinamer’s son-in-law, said the department’s executive wishes to thoroughly review the numbers reflected in the study before publicly commenting on the details contained within the report.

“We just want to continue to protect the citizens,” he said, following the meeting.

“We’ve done that for 60 years and we wish to continue to do it.”

Citizens will have the opportunity to express their thoughts on the ongoing fire services report at a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Three Mile Plains Community Hall. To read the report, visit: https://admin.unis.transcontinentalmedia.com/media/issues/pdf/9521.pdf.