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City of Powell River Council urged not to enter into agreement with firefighting cost recovery agency

Presentation expresses concern regarding potential retaining of Fire Marque services
OFFER CRITICISM: Jim Blom and Sherry Burton made a presentation to City of Powell River’s committee of the whole and presented petitions with more than 1,600 signatures opposed to the city entering into an agreement with Fire Marque to recover firefighting costs.

City of Powell River councillors heard more opposition to a firefighting cost recovery initiative that the city is contemplating.

At the October 5 committee of the whole meeting, Sherry Burton and Jim Blom made a presentation expressing concern about the city retaining the services of Fire Marque to recover firefighting costs from insurance companies.

Burton said she and Blom are Powell River residents and property owners. She said Blom is a retired captain with more than 27 years’ experience with the Surrey Fire Service. She said she is a retired paralegal with more than 39 years’ experience in civil litigation, insurance, corporate/commercial and securities law.

Burton said first and foremost, she and Blom wanted to state that their stance with regard to the fire department cost recovery process was not a criticism of Powell River’s International Association of Fire Fighters members and auxiliary firefighters.

“We have the utmost respect for the firefighters of this community, the jobs they do, and the risks they endure,” said Burton. “However, based on our collective experience and research, we are critical of the city entering into an agency agreement with Fire Marque and the proposed fire department cost recovery and emergency services bylaw. Specifically, we are critical of the intrusive nature of filing claims against private insurance policies for emergency services, which are already paid by property taxes.”

Burton said equally disturbing is that these bylaws only apply to those with insurance. She said some insurance policies have unlimited fire department coverage, versus others with set limits.

“It is inequitable that some insurance policies will pay significantly more than others,” said Burton.

She said cost recovery makes sense for services such as marinas, boat launches and recreation centres because users, not the public at large, benefit.

“Protective services, like roads and health coverage, are provided to everyone equally and are funded 100 per cent by taxpayers; fire services protection is already cost recovered,” said Burton. “Another grave concern is the potential for financial ruin of a property owner whose debt for fire department charges is added to the tax roll and who is unable to pay, via insurance or otherwise, in a timely manner.”

Petition results provided

Burton said there has been limited communication from the city regarding this proposal. She added that during two committee of the whole meetings in August, the committee determined that the number of letters received in opposition represented a minority opinion. In early September, Burton said she and Blom were motivated to initiate a petition, both online and in paper format, to determine the extent or limit of opposition in the community.

“To date, we have gathered over 1,600 signatures to the two petitions,” said Burton. “We note 96 letters of opposition have been received by the city, some from business owners. Only three letters of support have been received, from fire chiefs of volunteer departments in Ontario, who are clients of Fire Marque and are individuals who do not live, work nor pay taxes in Powell River.”

Burton said petition comments provided via the online petition portal clearly demonstrate the frustration, anger and opposition to the proposed cost-recovery process.

“The petition numbers, comments and opposition letters received clearly demonstrate people do not want the cost recovery process, nor to engage with Fire Marque,” said Burton.

She added that should the city ignore public opposition and implement these bylaws and the agency agreement with Fire Marque, it risks creating a fear among property owners and tenants not to call 911 in the event of an emergency.

“We bring this to your attention based on personal experience,” said Burton. “Immediate family members lived in rural Oregon, an area covered by a volunteer fire department that direct-billed residents. An incident occurred, and fearful of a large bill, the fire department was not called. The result of that was catastrophic.

“If the city considers nothing else, it needs to consider how creating such a fearful environment would best serve the community at large.”

Councillors thank presenters

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she wanted to thank Burton and Blom for all the work they had done in organizing the petition.

“It’s an incredible amount of work and it’s very much appreciated that you would go to this extent to try and get the feedback of more community members,” said Leishman. “We were limited in how much outreach was done so it’s very much appreciated.”

Councillor Jim Palm said he also wanted to thank Burton and Blom for all the fine work they had done.

“In all of my time here sitting in this chamber, I’ve never seen an expansive petition go as far as this has,” said Palm. “This is an issue that has obviously caught the attention of all of our residents in Powell River. Thank you for bringing it to light for us.”

Councillor Cindy Elliott said she echoed her colleagues’ thanks.

“All of your comments,” added Elliott, “are definitely not falling upon deaf ears.”