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West Hants residents rally against council's handling of fire services


WEST HANTS – Residents upset with recent council decisions rallied outside the municipal office Aug. 25 wearing buttons supporting the Windsor Fire Department and carrying signs. The rally was held prior to West Hants' regularly scheduled committee of the whole meeting.

As the protestors were setting up, CAO Cathie Osborne came outside to tell them to remove all of the signs they had taped on the brick walls near the building's entrance. She said they did not request prior authorization to hang them.

Osborne then tore down a few signs, which did not sit well with some of those gathered at the municipal complex.

At least one person pointed out that the taxpayers technically own the municipal building. The remaining signs were removed without incident.

Shortly thereafter, two RCMP officers arrived in uniform and stood outside the council chambers for the duration of the meeting. Action from them was not required.

Donna Britten was one of the concerned West Hants residents that turned out for the rally.

“I just feel that the municipality's councillors aren't representing what the people want. I was hoping enough people would come out and show them that this is not what we want. We want the Windsor Fire Department to stay in,” said Britten.

Council's latest decision involves severing ties with the WFD after five years of failed contract negotiations.

Britten urged council to put their decision to the public.

“Let the people vote. If this is what they think we want, let us vote. I'd like to see a plebiscite,” she said.

Tom Calkin is a member of the Avon Region Citizens (ARC) – a group of concerned residents from the areas of Hantsport, Windsor and West Hants that plan to bring “the best possible municipal government to our area.”

He said the rally served as a way for citizens to peacefully show council they are unhappy with recent decisions, especially pertaining to the WFD.

“We're asking for hard information so that we know exactly how the decision was made. We want to know where they are going with the situation,” said Calkin.

ARC's goal is to have at least 40 per cent voter turnout for the next municipal election, and unseat those currently serving on West Hants council that are not listening to the public.

 

Resident raises five key concerns

Geraldine Miller, of Falmouth, was one of the driving forces behind getting the rally set up. She was also on the agenda that night to make a presentation to council to relay the concerns of the general public.

When she took to the microphone, Miller said she was speaking on behalf of many concerned citizens.

“We have watched, for several years, West Hants council's disregard for following the wishes of citizens in the areas served by the Windsor Fire Department,” she began.

“We believe council never intended to reach a settlement. Information has been misleading or not available,” she said. “It was obvious after months of negotiations that failure was likely.”

West Hants council made a motion Aug. 11 to accept Option B, which was presented by the Windsor Fire Department, to use them for fire protection coverage for 20 months. They modified the motion to allow for them to begin setting up their own fire service to cover the areas currently protected by the WFD.

Later that week, the WFD membership voted and announced they would cease coverage after two months. Option B suggested a 20-month time frame so that they could continue negotiations.

Miller said she was advised she could not ask questions during her presentation, so she provided five points she would like council to respond to.

“We want council and municipal staff to guarantee that our fire insurance rates will not increase as a result of this action,” she said, providing the examples that John Redden, a specialist with the Fire Underwriters Survey for the Atlantic Region, gave in 2014 that showed fire grades would be impacted.

Her second point involved “all the confidential data presented to council by the negotiating team.” This, she said, would present the public with all of the information so they could form their own opinions.

Thirdly, Miller discussed the situation in Vaughans. The Southwest Hants Fire Society (SWHFS) and the WFD partnered years ago to have a substation built and manned by trained WFD firefighters. The land that Station 2 is on is owned by the Vaughan United Church and is leased to the SWHFS. That lease stipulates the WFD as the fire service provider.

“The current station lease could be lost with this new station,” Miller noted, as Vaughans would fall under West Hants' fire service district.

Miller pointed out that previous cost estimates provided by council were not accurate. A few different prices came forward when council initially examined creating their own fire station in 2013.

“We want your new cost estimates, properly done and presented to us very soon,” she said.

Finally, she requested that “citizens, businesses, and residential seniors' homes to be able to negotiate with the Windsor Fire Department for fire service coverage. These contracted fire services costs or a part of them should be deducted from our portion of the municipal fire service tax.”

Council received Miller's written report, which was presented on behalf of the ARC. Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane thanked her and said they would take her words and concerns into consideration.

Later in the meeting, council indicated there would be a special council meeting held Aug. 31 at 5 p.m. It was noted that they will be considering a development agreement for a property on Tonge Hill for a fire substation. Stay tuned to the Journal for more details concerning that development agreement.

 

As the protestors were setting up, CAO Cathie Osborne came outside to tell them to remove all of the signs they had taped on the brick walls near the building's entrance. She said they did not request prior authorization to hang them.

Osborne then tore down a few signs, which did not sit well with some of those gathered at the municipal complex.

At least one person pointed out that the taxpayers technically own the municipal building. The remaining signs were removed without incident.

Shortly thereafter, two RCMP officers arrived in uniform and stood outside the council chambers for the duration of the meeting. Action from them was not required.

Donna Britten was one of the concerned West Hants residents that turned out for the rally.

“I just feel that the municipality's councillors aren't representing what the people want. I was hoping enough people would come out and show them that this is not what we want. We want the Windsor Fire Department to stay in,” said Britten.

Council's latest decision involves severing ties with the WFD after five years of failed contract negotiations.

Britten urged council to put their decision to the public.

“Let the people vote. If this is what they think we want, let us vote. I'd like to see a plebiscite,” she said.

Tom Calkin is a member of the Avon Region Citizens (ARC) – a group of concerned residents from the areas of Hantsport, Windsor and West Hants that plan to bring “the best possible municipal government to our area.”

He said the rally served as a way for citizens to peacefully show council they are unhappy with recent decisions, especially pertaining to the WFD.

“We're asking for hard information so that we know exactly how the decision was made. We want to know where they are going with the situation,” said Calkin.

ARC's goal is to have at least 40 per cent voter turnout for the next municipal election, and unseat those currently serving on West Hants council that are not listening to the public.

 

Resident raises five key concerns

Geraldine Miller, of Falmouth, was one of the driving forces behind getting the rally set up. She was also on the agenda that night to make a presentation to council to relay the concerns of the general public.

When she took to the microphone, Miller said she was speaking on behalf of many concerned citizens.

“We have watched, for several years, West Hants council's disregard for following the wishes of citizens in the areas served by the Windsor Fire Department,” she began.

“We believe council never intended to reach a settlement. Information has been misleading or not available,” she said. “It was obvious after months of negotiations that failure was likely.”

West Hants council made a motion Aug. 11 to accept Option B, which was presented by the Windsor Fire Department, to use them for fire protection coverage for 20 months. They modified the motion to allow for them to begin setting up their own fire service to cover the areas currently protected by the WFD.

Later that week, the WFD membership voted and announced they would cease coverage after two months. Option B suggested a 20-month time frame so that they could continue negotiations.

Miller said she was advised she could not ask questions during her presentation, so she provided five points she would like council to respond to.

“We want council and municipal staff to guarantee that our fire insurance rates will not increase as a result of this action,” she said, providing the examples that John Redden, a specialist with the Fire Underwriters Survey for the Atlantic Region, gave in 2014 that showed fire grades would be impacted.

Her second point involved “all the confidential data presented to council by the negotiating team.” This, she said, would present the public with all of the information so they could form their own opinions.

Thirdly, Miller discussed the situation in Vaughans. The Southwest Hants Fire Society (SWHFS) and the WFD partnered years ago to have a substation built and manned by trained WFD firefighters. The land that Station 2 is on is owned by the Vaughan United Church and is leased to the SWHFS. That lease stipulates the WFD as the fire service provider.

“The current station lease could be lost with this new station,” Miller noted, as Vaughans would fall under West Hants' fire service district.

Miller pointed out that previous cost estimates provided by council were not accurate. A few different prices came forward when council initially examined creating their own fire station in 2013.

“We want your new cost estimates, properly done and presented to us very soon,” she said.

Finally, she requested that “citizens, businesses, and residential seniors' homes to be able to negotiate with the Windsor Fire Department for fire service coverage. These contracted fire services costs or a part of them should be deducted from our portion of the municipal fire service tax.”

Council received Miller's written report, which was presented on behalf of the ARC. Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane thanked her and said they would take her words and concerns into consideration.

Later in the meeting, council indicated there would be a special council meeting held Aug. 31 at 5 p.m. It was noted that they will be considering a development agreement for a property on Tonge Hill for a fire substation. Stay tuned to the Journal for more details concerning that development agreement.

 

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