I don’t see myself as a critic but rather as a problem solver who is trying to resolve the matter between West Hants and the Windsor Fire Department (WFD) before Oct. 23.
For those that know me and my efforts over the last month, there is no one in West Hants who has tried harder to find a solution to the impasse between West Hants and the WFD in the current fire dispute.
In a recent letter to the editor, I took issue with Coun. Randy Matheson’s assertion that the municipality has paid too much to the WFD and I countered that the cost of West Hants providing the same service would cost more for less coverage, particularly in the Falmouth area.
Subsequent to my letter and prior to its publication, I undertook quiet discussions with both parties to this dispute and met separately with the two senior representatives of West Hants and the chief of the WFD. Both of those meetings went very well.
As a result of those meetings, I came up with a solution to the impasse that I very strongly believe would resolve this matter and allow for a new long-term contract between the parties.
When I asked for a meeting for Oct. 8, to present my solution I was advised by the warden: “I certainly appreciate your effort but as I stated previously, council has made the decision to move forward. We can meet at a later date to discuss the future relationship with Windsor Fire Department and their role in our new fire service plan if you’d like but I’m unclear as to why we would meet at this time.”
Clearly, West Hants has no interest in resolving this matter even though a solution is available due to my direct discussion with each of the parties — a discussion that has been sorely lacking in the past in order to articulate issues between the parties and to come up with a resolution. The mediator threw up her hands in frustration and the province has no interest in getting involved. Therefore, I undertook to talk to the parties to try and find common ground. I have done that.
The warden articulated three issues in my letter that he disagreed with.
1.The representatives of West Hants said they are not hiring four new staff for fire services. However, it was said by them in the meeting that West Hants would have four county employees, who are trained as firefighters, carry fire gear in their trucks so as to respond quickly to fire calls.
As far as I personally know, the only full time municipal employee trained at present is the Hantsport fire chief. The hiring of any additional full time employees for whatever department to cover fire services will mean increased costs and taxes to the ratepayers of West Hants.
2. The warden states that West Hants did not know that the WFD was handling a $1 million reserve until the mediator’s report came out.
WFD was clear to me that they provide their consolidated financial statements to West Hants each year along with their 15 year capital replacement plans and that West Hants was in agreement with the expenditure of over $400,000 for breathing apparatus which would come out of the reserve along with provincial and Town of Windsor money.
To say that they don’t understand the financial statements and know what is being spent is more then a bit offside on their part, in my opinion.
3. The warden states that West Hants will not be borrowing $10 million for a new Three Mile Plains (TMP) substation. He does say that the cost should be under $2 million for TMP.
They told me in our meeting when I met with them that they were also looking to build a new fire station in Falmouth. I think the fire marshal and themselves realize that they need to fill the gap in their current plan, especially when the Windsor Elms seniors residence is looking to do a private contract with the WFD due to concerns with coverage and protection.
If we assume this will be another $2 million along with the expenditure of another $1 million for trucks to cover the area we are at $5 million over and above the current approved amount of $3 million. Because things usually take longer and cost more then anticipated, I assume that the total will come in at $8 to $10 million of new borrowings. The annual debt servicing will be significant. This is an added cost to the West Hants taxpayers.
What I was trying to do in my previous correspondence was show that the cost of the new West Hants fire service cannot be cheaper than the WFD cost.
By selectively denying certain items, the warden has very effectively defused the situation expressed in my letter while not admitting to everyone that tax costs will be higher.
The WFD direct cost for fire protection is currently $0.05 per $100 of assessment. This will be replaced by the new West Hants fire service cost of at least $0.13 and quite possibly $0.18 on $100 of assessment. It will be three years before I can confirm it but it will come to pass. After 45 years of dealing with municipal finances in Nova Scotia, I am absolutely sure of that!
Ira Mac Innis,