Coun. Jackie Watts and Dep. Reeve Bob Sergeant presented council in person Wed. Jan. 27 with a summary of the fire master plan committee’s last meeting.
With the current agreement expiring at the end of 2021, the committee hopes to streamline the agreement to eliminate red tape and efficiency amongst departments and administration.
The agreement exists between Starland and the three villages within. The county also operates three additional departments.
The current structure of the agreement has Starland paying for much of the current expenses according to Watts and Sergeant who represent the county of this committee.
It was also noted many pieces of equipment and capital are reaching their end of life, showing a need for upgrades/costs coming sooner rather than later.
A few options were discussed.
Keep the agreement as is; Change to a regional fire department structure where all departments are under Starland County with the villages paying a contract fee for fire services; rewrite the agreements and continue to bill for all fires within the county; or implement a tax levy if allowed to all residents and businesses.
For the last option, this money would be collected and put into a fire budget to operate and eliminate charging for personal fires but continue to bill for highway services.
Watts, who was backed by Sergeant in her summary, felt the system should move towards a single fire entity.
With the county bracing itself for major expenses in upgrading old equipment, she said in the report “We need to make sure that we can find money to allocate and not be left waiting or forcing a decision that could financially hurt our neighbours.
“With one fire service, departments would have a clear cut funding stream and not be relying on different councils to make decisions.
This could also offer the fire chiefs a little bit of autonomy and could provide them with a small budget to keep their departments supplied with everyday equipment they need.
They would be able to track and replace things as well.
With discrepancy in fire invoicing, revenues are different for each department which has been said to ‘unfairly target’ certain departments as they have no forced policy for billing.
“Invoicing has been left to the chiefs and not all are following the current policy which makes this an unfair practice for the chiefs that are invoicing.
If a tax levy were issued this would alleviate invoicing from our volunteers and give the fire protection a clear budget to operate under,” said Coun. Watts.
As for the villages, their revenue would decrease but also their expenses for purchasing equipment, covering utilities and capital purchases.
“Another reason to change is that our current employees are getting every year closer to retirement and a new, simpler agreement should be reached for any incoming new staff to understand and operate correctly.
She added that she would like to see some departments with specialized training to offset costs associated with training and equipment as well as look more into the legality of volunteers issuing fire permits as to avoid potential lawsuits.
Council began a discussion on this topic, beginning by agreeing that the plan should be adjusted to be simpler in nature.
“We are not abandoning the villages – just adjusting,” said Watts. “It’s not a cost savings measure but one that is easier to manage after.”
The panel of councillors agreed it was a good idea to present this idea to Morrin, Munson and Delia councils for further discussion.
The next fire master plan committee meeting will be held March 25.