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Firefighting cost recovery services bylaws fail to move forward at City of Powell River meeting

City council votes to do no further work on fire department insurance supplement
TURNED DOWN: Protesters gathered outside of City of Powell River council chambers to express opposition to a fire department cost recovery services bylaw, and an agreement with a company called Fire Marque to recover them. Council voted not to proceed with the bylaw and the agreement.

City of Powell River council voted unanimously to proceed no further with fire department cost recovery services bylaws.

At the October 7 city council meeting, which drew a large crowd outside council chambers expressing opposition to the initiative, councillors listened to presentations from Westview Ratepayers Society, Fire Marque’s national municipal accounts manager Chris Carrier, and city fire chief Terry Peters, before deciding to abandon a bylaw related to cost recovery in the case of fire, plus an agreement with Fire Marque.

Peters said the city had been looking into cost recovery for some time. He said staff had put a lot of effort and time into the proposal.

“We’ve done a lot of research and provided, to the best of our ability, answers to the many questions, being collaborative and factual,” said Peters.

He said he had not received a lot of correspondence from people regarding Fire Marque. He said he has stated publicly on several occasions that if someone has questions about his department, he is available for discussion.

Peters said there was an elephant in the room. He said there has been a lot of unsubstantiated information presented with great hype.

“It’s unfortunate, because it amplifies the negative content over social media,” said Peters. “I just want to point out that we are part of the community, we want to protect our community and do that to the best of our abilities. We have excellent staff and we’re working with that.

“Part of what we are doing here is research for the community, working cooperatively with you as council, and we’ve certainly done that.”

Peters said the Fire Marque program had been vetted by staff over the last six years. He said he had chatted with many fire chiefs from across the province and it will be on the docket for the coming fire chiefs’ convention.

“I, as the fire chief, would never stand here in front of you and raise costs in people’s taxes from what they already pay,” said Peters. “If I believed that I’d be the first person to shut this down. I see this as a good thing for our department; it’s good for the entire community, because it brings public education.

“Probably the biggest thing of all, we need to have a bylaw in place in case we have that catastrophic or major event in our community. We have to have the bylaw in place to enact it to get us back on our feet.”

Peters said public concerns had been heard and the city went back to its lawyers to revise the draft bylaw.

“The way the bylaw is written is simply for the city,” said Peters. “It’s been vetted by our lawyers, who have said we have to have this in place if an event should happen. Our recommendation was to go with Fire Marque, but that’s your choice.”

Mayor Dave Formosa asked if the bylaw itself was passed, that it would not retain the services of Fire Marque, and Peters said that was correct.

Councillors' comments

Councillor Jim Palm said council chambers were full of people opposed to Fire Marque.

“It’s difficult to get a read of just simply dealing with the bylaw because I don’t know where the public stands on just the bylaw, especially with its modifications,” said Palm. “I am going to suggest, instead of voting on this tonight, that we send the revised version of the bylaw back to committee of the whole, so we can go through the process, get a good grip of what is intended, and who it might affect. I’d like time to study this and let the public weigh in on it and then bring it back at a later date if we see fit.”

Councillor Maggie Hathaway said this community is a leader that is great for initiating pilot projects, but in this case, she said she would rather be a follower and let a larger urban area take the lead.

“My suggestion is we backburner it and lobby at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) to get other people interested,” said Hathaway.

Councillor George Doubt said there were a number of recommendations in the report that Peters had submitted to council. He said there was an alternative recommendation, so he was going to move one of the alternative recommendations, that the city proceed no further with fire department cost recovery response services bylaws.

Doubt said he was going to vote for the alternative recommendation and the reason he was voting in favour of not proceeding any further with the bylaw is simply because there is too little return on investment.

“I read the chief’s report about the cost the fire department would be subjected to if they were to have to make this collection on their own and I don’t think the resulting income would be enough to make all of the process worthwhile,” said Doubt.

Councillor Rob Southcott said a lot of disaster costs in British Columbia are paid for by provincial emergency funding. As for the question about funding city services through a business or publicly, Southcott said he has been a believer in public funding for services, and that’s tax funding.

“A large number of vocal, local citizens have loudly expressed that view as well,” said Southcott.

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said she supported the alternative recommendation of not proceeding further and said there must be a way of protecting the community in a catastrophic event. She added that the city should lobby the UBCM and AVICC and make sure communities are protected in the case of catastrophic loss and that homeowners and municipalities are not at risk of paying above and beyond what they would in a normal situation.

Formosa said he didn’t see anybody saying “hey, let’s do this.”

“It’s the opposite,” added Formosa. “A whole lot of people are saying ‘let’s not.’ For $10 or $15 grand, if I knew it would cause this much trouble, I would never have brought it up.

“We pay for the insurance, but you don’t want to collect it, let the insurance companies keep it.”

Council voted that the city proceed no further with the bylaws.