I’M NOT SURE who came up with the graphic to begin with, but I first saw it on a tweet by internationally recognized urban planner Brent Toderian of Vancouver.
Simply put, the graphic states that a city can have stable services and low taxes if it has more density. Or low taxes, with less density but service cuts. Or stable services and less density with high taxes.
I thought of Toderian’s post this week as the City of Kamloops’ preliminary budget was rolled out for council by Kathy Humphreys, the City’s corporate services director.
One of the biggest items of the budget for the City of Kamloops is fire protection. It accounts for over $20 million of the City’s budget, of which $18 million is wages and benefits. Fire protection is paid for almost entirely from city property taxes.
As the city grows, there is a call for more fire protection at the edges. There are more people living in Dallas, more in Westsyde. As the city grows outward, there is discussion about adding more firefighters, along with more halls, equipment and supports.
Currently, Fire Station No. 4 in Westsyde is manned by two career members and backed up by paid on-call firefighters. Fire Station No. 5 in Rayleigh/Heffley Creek and Fire Station No. 6 in Barnhartvale are manned by paid on-call firefighters and backed up by other stations.
There is an ongoing discussion of whether the No. 4, 5 and 6 halls should have more staffing, in which case the halls would have to be renovated or rebuilt.
The rule that less density (i.e. urban sprawl) and stable services but more taxation is true.
Firehalls are built to provide response times. The goal of the City’s fire department is to respond to urban and suburban calls within seven and a half minutes. For rural properties, the goal is a response rate just under 16 minutes. If Kamloops keeps building more and more at the fringes, then more fire services at the edge of the city are inevitable.
When Kamloops Fire Hall No. 7 on Aberdeen Drive was built, it was to ensure residents in the southwestern quadrant of the city of Aberdeen, Pineview and Dufferin had suburban response rates.
Putting more fire fighting resources at the edges of the city would address response rates as well as coverage, when units are moved from one part of the city to another to provide backup.
As long as we are all okay with paying more and more for services, urban sprawl is okay. The current $20 million budget pays for 115 career and 28 auxiliary firefighters plus supports.
In the meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Hamer-Jackson asked whether the City needed 30 more firefighters. Staff wouldn’t answer that question, putting it off until the future when a report on fire services will be brought to council. But if that was the case, the current $20 million budget could easily grow to $24 million. And that doesn’t cover the additional costs of buildings.
An increase of $1.3 million in the City’s budget equals about a 1% tax increase. Adding new firefighting resources would have a significant impact on individual property owners’ taxes.
We can maintain services as the city sprawls, but only at the cost of higher taxation.
Nancy Bepple is a Kamloops City councillor with a strong interest in community building projects.