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Fire services agreement may be reached in new year

With data in hand, SLRD determined to find fair, equitable solution for all

Reaching a fire service agreement between Area C and the Village of Pemberton has not been a simple task, and it seems that number-crunching is now the name of the game.

Since 1969, one part of Area C, which is adjacent to the village, has had a fire service agreement in place with the Village of Pemberton, and the other areas had been provided with voluntary fire service until this summer, when the service was revoked.

In addition to cost-sharing for fire service, Area C helped to pay for two fire trucks and a fire rescue service, which was established in 1989 to serve all of Area C and the village.

But Village of Pemberton officials say Area C hasn’t been paying its fair share, and they have repeatedly asked SLRD staff to meet with them to reach a new agreement.

Paul Edgington, chief administrator for the SLRD, says staff has been trying to gather data so they can come up with a fair agreement, but explained that the process hasn’t been easy and they have needed time to resolve data issues.

“We needed to, on an area by area basis, compile sort of property ownership records and assessed values and we just don’t have a GIS (Geographic Information System) system that pumps that out quickly,” said Edgington.

SLRD staff members are trying to figure out how outlying areas, like Walkerville, Ivey Lake, and Owl Ridge, which were not included in the previous agreement with the village, could fit into this new agreement. They need data to figure out how residents of each area could be fairly taxed for fire service.

“In order to make any kind of calculation or prediction as to what taxation will be and how… amounts will be allocated between areas, based on taxable values, we needed to break them down into several subcomponents of the electoral Area C,” Edgington explained.

A report submitted at last Monday’s SLRD meeting outlined three major cost sharing proposals, which include a flat sum based upon call volumes, apportionment based on assessed values, and an apportionment based on assessed values and population. The report rejects the first option, but says the second and third options should be considered after necessary data is collected.

“We’ve tried to put out our perspective on the issue and explain so people see in that report, which we encourage people to read, that everything is not as it appears and there are two sides to a story,” Edgington said.

A Fire Underwriters Survey, which was prepared in 2000, was also included in Edgington’s report. It assessed all parts of Area C that did not have a formal fire agreement with the village, and concluded that, in most instances, the cost of land for a fire hall combined with relatively low property values meant that fire protection wasn’t worthwhile.

“It would be too costly, particularly in light of the fact they were likely to have no offsetting reduction in their property insurance,” Edgington said.

A GIS consultant was recently brought up from Vancouver to help resolve the issues with their GIS system, and Edgington says the data collection should soon be complete. Once the data is compiled, they will explore different cost sharing scenarios and share these findings with elected officials, then conduct community consultation.

Finally, staff will make a formal recommendation on legislation and agreements will be prepared and presented to the board, provided they receive electoral assent.

Edgington says the SLRD has a strong will to resolve the fire protection issue, and now that the necessary data has been collected, he believes they will be able to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable for everyone.

“If people have a will to resolve something, it will be done.”

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy says he is pleased that SLRD staff are finally moving forward with the fire protection issue, and is hopeful that the issue will be resolved in time to be included in the 2008 budget.

“I think they are acknowledging that they need to resolve this, and that’s a positive sign,” said Sturdy.

The mayor points out that there are many steps before a new agreement is reached, but says even if they can’t find a solution by the new year, they can probably find a way to implement fire service to Area C.

“Ultimately, I want to see that we’re providing a service in an equitable way to the residents of the greater area.”