A TNRD editorial by Mel Rothenburger, Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD.
Life got harder for fire departments in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District on Thursday (Feb. 8, 2018) as the board of directors voted to cut off funding due to concerns about liability.
Effective immediately, community fire brigades will no longer be eligible to receive discretionary funding from electoral area directors, and fire departments currently funded through taxation must consent to fall under TNRD administration by 2022.
That means I’ll no longer be allowed to contribute to the Pinantan, Paul Lake and East Paul Lake brigades from the discretionary fund allotted to each electoral area director. This is a modest fund that can be used to help out community projects, and I’ve been able to direct some of it to the brigades for such things as pumps, radios, helmets and AEDs.
The McLure Fire Department is also directly affected. It currently operates on a tax-funded budget of about $40,000 a year. If it asks to become a TNRD-operated department, its costs are expected to go up substantially; if it remains on its own, it will be left without the taxes collected within the service area by the TNRD effective the end of 2022.
As I said in an interview with CBC Daybreak today, politicians have the right to make bad decisions, and the TNRD exercised that right on Thursday.
I completely understand concerns about liability that have been created by new regulations and restrictions mandated at the provincial level. Those changes have resulted in a higher standard being required of rural fire departments and are well-intended.
However, I’m convinced those standards can be met under the direction of the TNRD to bring the risk of liability to acceptable levels, rather than simply cutting off these organizations at the knees.
The level of community spirit and volunteerism represented by rural fire services is phenomenal, and every possible means of supporting their efforts should be thoroughly examined. They need more support, not less.
Unfortunately, TNRD staff and the majority of my colleagues on the board have chosen to act in haste. I understood their argument about the urgency but I’m disappointed that fire volunteers weren’t at least properly consulted.
At the meeting, I attempted to get permission from the board for Al Scramstad of the Pinantan fire brigade to speak to the board before staff recommendations were debated. Under the board’s procedural rules, adding a late delegation required unanimous consent.
Twenty-one directors voted to allow him onto the agenda. Unfortunately, three voted against it.
I then made a motion to postpone the recommendation until the next board meeting to allow time for the fire departments to be consulted. As the McLure fire committee is having a meeting next week, it could have discussed any input it might wish to provide to the board before the decision was made.
And, I could perhaps have facilitated discussions between the TNRD and the brigades individually or collectively.
There was certainly support for this approach. Directors Denis Walsh and Arjun Singh of Kamloops, and Carol Schaeffer of Electoral Area A in the North Thompson were among those supporting a one-meeting delay.
However, the vote was 12-12, which meant that under rules of order it failed.
I then argued against the approval of the recommendations, citing the need for more information on a number of issues. The recommendation to cut funding was approved by a vote of 18-6.
Those who voted to approve staff’s recommendation would argue strenuously that it was the best way to go, I’m sure. I’m confident they have the best interests of the region in mind, even though I disagree with them.
What I don’t understand is the unwillingness to let a brigade representative speak, and to put off a decision for a single meeting to demonstrate respect for those providing such an important service to their communities and let them bring their side of the issue forward.
This isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with a board decision, and I always try to keep in mind the possibility that I’m wrong on any particular issue. This time, though, I can’t pretend that I’m not frustrated.
The TNRD gets a lot of things right. Yesterday, they got one wrong.
The above is an abbreviated version of a post published on AreaPPost.wordpress.com. It does not purport to be objective.