RE: November 1, 2017 letter from Director Parker re rural fire services agreement.
While not surprised by Director Parker’s egregious letter regarding attempts to negotiate a new, modern fire services agreement for a specified area within Area B of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, we are disappointed. The letter casts a dim light on the sincere efforts of the City to negotiate a fair agreement that is in the best interests of all parties. The letter attempts to influence public opinion about the intent of Council and City administration with misleading and incorrect statements.
The City will not negotiate a critical agreement such as this through the media and takes serious issue with the suggestion both in the media and during a CSRD meeting last month that the City’s position amounts to blackmail. Nothing could be further from the truth. The City’s Communications Policy requires the City to provide information about City decisions and activities by providing the relevant objective facts and that is the intent of this letter.
Turning now to the content of Director Parker’s letter. It was the City that initiated the process to negotiate a new fire services agreement several years ago and that culminated in the presentation of a draft agreement to CSRD staff to start more formal negotiations in the Spring of 2016. Of course an important agreement such as this was drafted by a lawyer, why Director Parker takes issue with that is incomprehensible. No one at that time was requested to sign it as Director Parker asserts. It was the start of negotiation, a method by which people settle differences including compromise or agreement while avoiding argument and dispute.
After discussion of that first draft agreement with CSRD staff it was amended to reflect our discussions and a further draft was provided to the CSRD by the City’s solicitor in April of 2016. Since that time, the City has made sincere attempts to negotiate a replacement agreement for one that is 37 years old that meets the needs of the rural fire protection area, providing adequate response to protect property and persons in the fire service area and our Revelstoke firefighters. During 2016 the draft agreement was amended to reflect the status of negotiations and City staff became concerned about the pace of negotiations and became of the view that a replacement agreement was not a priority for the CSRD.
During negotiations it was suggested by CSRD representatives that the draft agreement stipulating that the level of firefighting to be provided in the rural area would be limited to exterior attack was intended to force the rural area into providing building inspection services. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is unimportant to the City whether or not there is building inspection in the rural area but it needs to be understood that the status of that has implications for the level of service the City is prepared to provide. Simply put, the City is not prepared to risk the lives or safety of our Firefighters by sending them into buildings and structures at unknown levels of completion or renovation and compliance with the BC Building Code.
In regards to a premium on payment for the service by rural residents, that has become somewhat common in other jurisdictions and recognizes the large liability that accrues to the service provider and administration costs that are not necessarily recovered in the operating budget for the service. Protecting the interests of City taxpayers and negotiating an equitable deal is what this is all about. Director Parker says that a 12.5% premium on assessment for the service “amounted to an increase in taxes of 167 per cent) to Area B residents.” At last month’s CSRD meeting an amount of $500,000 was
tossed around as the price of a water tender. It is irresponsible to toss out numbers not grounded in fact and a poor means of ‘negotiation’. So who pays what? The CSRD’s auditors report that for the year 2016 the rural residents paid 6.57% of the Fire Department’s operating and capital costs. That means that City taxpayers paid the remainder, being 93.43%.
Director Parker says: “The request for capital costs is grossly unfair given that we have paid into the Operations, Capital and Reserves…for 37 years.” With what equipment does Director Parker think the City has responded to fires in the rural area over those same years? Of course the rural residents should contribute towards capital equipment costs. Even if the CSRD acquires a water tender that will not be the only piece of apparatus that the Department will utilize when responding to fires in the rural area.
In regards to capital contributions, in her letter, Director Parker states: “He (Mr. Chabot) 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.” The Fernie rural fire service area has made contributions to capital, operating and reserves for likely as long as the Revelstoke rural fire service area and continues to do so to this day. In a five-year renewal agreement for those services in rural Fernie, signed in 2008, the rural residents agreed to pay a 12.5% premium for the service, purchase a water tender and contribute $250,000 for upgrades to the City’s firehall. The Kault Hill Fire Suppression Agreement between the City of Salmon Arm and CSRD includes a 10% premium for capital and administration costs.
It is truly unfortunate that the CSRD has only now come to realize the obvious, failure to agree on a replacement agreement before the end of the year would mean that as of January 1, 2018 fire protection services in the specified area of Area B would no longer be provided. In December, 2016, at the direction of City council, a notice of termination was provided to the CSRD, specifying a termination date of December 31, 2017. This gave the CSRD another year to negotiate an agreement, in good faith, and make financial plans to acquire the water tender. To characterize the City as a villain in this matter speaks volumes about the “good working partnership” that exists between the City and Director Parker.
A draft replacement agreement that was approved by Council has been submitted to the CSRD Board for their consideration. Time is running out and this important matter needs to be settled. Formal negotiations have been ongoing for 20 months now. A new, modern rural firefighting agreement for rural fire protection is in the best interest of all parties and remains a priority for the City
Councillors Brothers, Duke, English, Nixon, Orlando and Sulz
– City of Revelstoke