As many of you may be aware, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) has been in discussions with the City of Revelstoke regarding our shared Fire Services Agreement. The original agreement was put in place in 1980 and was in need of an update. The CSRD initiated the process and we were hopeful that we could come to a suitable agreement that works for both the City of Revelstoke and Area B residents in the Fire Protection Service area.
Generally when an agreement is negotiated the two parties have discussions and work together to make sure both parties are treated fairly and equitably. In the case of this supposed negotiation, we were handed a draft agreement that had been vetted by a Fernie lawyer and approved by council with a request for us to sign.
That initial agreement was not acceptable to the CSRD. It stipulated that Area B residents in the service area [249 properties] purchase and pay the entire cost of a 3,000-gallon water tender that is acceptable to the City of Revelstoke and that those same residents purchase a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV), also acceptable to the City, to enable the fire department to suppress fires in the BC Hydro drawdown zone lands.
There were numerous other items in the agreement including that the level of service will be reduced (exterior suppression only), due to the lack of building inspection, and to add insult to injury, it also included an increase of 12.5 per cent over the cost that city residents pay for their full service.
The agreement amounted to an increase in taxes of 167 per cent to Area B residents.
We were given a deadline of Dec. 31, 2017 or the service would be summarily cut off.
We have diligently tried in good faith to find a way to negotiate a suitable agreement but have been met with the steadfast response that we must meet their terms. I should add that it was pointed out to us by Mr. Chabot that it would be far more expensive for rural residents to pay for fire insurance without the service than to pay for the tender and service provided at 12.5% more than municipal residents. This is tantamount to blackmail.
The request for capital costs is grossly unfair given that we have paid into the Operations, Capital and Reserves of the Revelstoke Fire Protection Service for 37 years. The amount we have contributed to municipal reserves over the last six years alone is $100,548. We also contributed $598,909 towards operating expenses in that same period. And we have been contributing since 1980.
Over the course of time our staff has managed to deal with a few items including the request for the UTV. BC Hydro has been very helpful in discussions with the CSRD and has committed to donate $50,000 to the CSRD to purchase the equipment that will be used on their lands. This is very good news and I am pleased to see that level of co-operation between neighbours.
Due to the fact that the deadline imposed by the City was fast approaching the Board of the CSRD sent a request to have the deadline extended so we could figure out a way to implement a financial model over the longer term to enable the purchase of a tender that would not create undue hardship on our residents.
I attended the regular council meeting on Oct. 24 where discussion of our request took place. Basically their response to our request was to give us a six-month reprieve until June 30, 2018 to prove to them that we can deliver a new tender to them by Dec. 31, 2018.
Mr. Chabot explained his position regarding the process to council. He pointed out that charging rural areas for capital costs as well as a premium for service was not unprecedented. He pointed to Fernie and a small rural area outside of Salmon Arm. What he didn’t tell them was that neither of the areas had contributed to the capital, operating and reserves of the municipalities fire services for many years prior. He was comparing apples to oranges.
Council bought his line and held fast with the demands. Despite the fact that Mayor Mark McKee argued against charging us any premium, council agreed to charging us a 10 per cent premium instead of the 12.5 per cent.
Mr. Chabot also told council that the City has had discussions with the CSRD since 2013 regarding the need for a new tender. I am aware of those discussions and have emails between Mr. Girard and myself about upgrading the service for Area B. Mr. Girard informed me in 2014 that it was too late for the 2015 Fire Department budget but he would try to get it on the next. There was no discussion at the time of the CSRD paying for the tender. It was assumed that it would be paid for by the contributors to the service, City and Area B Service area residents.
I reminded the city councillors about the good working partnership that we have had for our cost-sharing functions in the past and that I would like to see that relationship continue. However, it will be difficult to move forward with an agreement in this case when there is generally a lack of good communication regarding this matter.
Council is being provided with a one-sided perspective, vetted by an outside law firm, and is being advised to take a position that is unfair to their neighbours, friends, and family in Area B. And they are going along with it.
Something is terribly wrong here and it needs to change.