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WINDSOR – The confidential mediator's report that was intended to help resolve the issues between West Hants and the Windsor Fire Department has finally been made public.
Hants West MLA Chuck Porter announced Sept. 2 in a press release that he lobbied the provincial government to make the document public so that residents could read the report and educate themselves on the issue at hand.
“I urge all citizens of Windsor and West Hants to review the recommendations in detail. These are the recommendations that West Hants council made a unanimous motion to accept unconditionally in the form of a contract. Unfortunately an agreement was still not able to be reached,” Porter said in the prepared statement.
The Municipality of West Hants and the Windsor Fire Department have been at odds over a contract for more than five years. Both sides avoided a service interruption in the summer of 2014 by agreeing to try mediation.
The mediator filed a confidential report on June 22 after meeting with the two parties a few times.
West Hants accepted the recommendations, while the WFD sent council a counter offer. They proposed two options: Option A and Option B.
Option A, which was not made public by West Hants, was to enter into a 10-year agreement with the WFD at a reduced cost.
The funding — $340,000 annually for operations — was “below the indicators of call volumes, civic addresses served and historic expenditures as the costs are allocated between West Hants and the Town of Windsor.”
Option B was to provide 20 months of service while the two parties still attempted to negotiate a contract.
West Hants council voted on Aug. 11 to accept a modified version of Option B, saying they would use the WFD services for 20 months while they created their own fire services.
The membership of the WFD then voted to terminate service effective Oct. 23 at noon.
Just this week, West Hants council voted unanimously in favour of approving a temporary borrowing resolution for $3 million to purchase necessary fire trucks, equipment and gear, as well as lease a property at 22 Tonge Hill Road for a substation.
There has been a public outcry over the municipality forging ahead with their own fire service for the West Hants area currently covered by the Windsor Fire Department. A rally was held, and numerous letters have been sent to the province and municipal governments.
Mediator's report findings
The mediator's report found that both parties “displayed high levels of distrust for one another” and that there was a poor informational exchange between the parties.
Eight recommendations were made in the mediator's report.
The first was to create a fire services advisory committee within West Hants, which would have a general mandate to provide “fire services advance and recommendations to council following consultations with those who provide the service.”
The committee would act as a conduit between the two entities.
The second recommendation concerned operational funding, and suggests a three year base operational funding at $340,000 per year, paid in quarterly instalments.
The third recommendation concerned capital funding.
The mediator recommended the “parties agree on a three-year capital investment plan which draws down the accumulated and reserved capital funds to approximately $200,000. It is understood that some of these funds are earmarked as a grant for breathing apparatus and should be used for such purposes.” She also suggested the parties agree on a new long-term “rolling” capital investment plan, which would allow unused funds to roll into the next year.
Fourthly, the mediator discussed ownership and assets.
She suggested the assets “should remain under beneficial ownership of the municipality and legal ownership of the Windsor Fire Department Society. Neither party may unilaterally withdraw assets from the other.”
West Hants council has long maintained it should own all fire equipment.
Her recommendation states “where financing options require the legal ownership of the asset to rest with the Municipality of West Hants, then the parties may explore leasing arrangements which allow for the same intent as set out in this recommendation, where each benefits from some aspect of ownership and does not, at all material times, have the ability to unilaterally make decisions on selling, retiring, replacing or using the asset during the term of the contract.”
The fifth recommendation involved the duration and termination of the contract.
She noted that it would be a three-year contractual relational, during which “neither party may withhold funding, nor services, unless otherwise mutually agreed.”
The sixth recommendation notes that since there was no formal contract in place between 2010 and 2015, when the WFD was still providing service to West Hants, that the “parties negotiate a go-forward agreement and consider any outstanding amounts as having formed part of an already elapsed contract.”
She wrote that “While WFD may see this recommendation as inherently unfair, it must be noted that capital contributions were made by West Hants, which were held in reserve and not expensed.”
The seventh recommendation indicated any items not mentioned in her report could be subject to arbitration should a dispute arise.
The final recommendation was for the parties to “openly and honestly share information, respond to inquiries, establish the fire advisory committee, work towards an agreeable long-term capital investment plan... and generally work to rebuild a collaborative and co-operative relationship that needn't be characterized by a public withdrawal of services or withholding payment for those services.”
More to come...
To get up to speed with the ongoing dispute, visit: http://www.hantsjournal.ca/News/Local/West-Hants-Fire-Services-583/content/1.