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Fire plan too rich for taxpayers blood

Two new fire halls at a cost of $7M and 40 new fire fighters over 10 years is too much for the Kelowna taxpayer to absorb.

That was the feeling of Kelowna City Council before it tabled the fire department's 10-year Strategic Plan.

Fire Chief, Jeff Carlisle, had planned to present the lengthy document to council Monday, however, after receiving feedback from council upon release of the document last Thursday, agreed to table it in favour of further consultation.

"There were three issues council asked me to look at: financial sustainability of the plan, the use of paid on call members and the downtown fire station and the call volumes," says Carlisle.

"I would assume we'll get together with council, go through those issues, do some other consultation to address those three points."

Carlisle says if council is not comfortable with it the time needs to be taken to get it right.

"We've always said that this is a road map and the direction we want to go. Every step of the way where there were increases in costs, council has the ultimate authority whether those resources are given," says Carlisle.

"We understand the economic and fiscal restraint necessary during these times and for that reason, it's (plan) flexible, it can move, it can change."

The plan calls for construction of two additional fire halls in the city within the next 10 years. One in Glenmore which is part of the current Strategic Plan and is in the works.

The other, which caught many on council by surprise is a new hall to service the KLO/Glenmore area.

Cost of construction is pegged at $7M along with $2M in annual operating costs for each hall utilizing newly hired career firefighters.

"I'm not sure this is affordable. I think it's great to have all these different response times but I think 40 members over the next 10 years works out to a 7% or 8% tax increase alone, just to have that," says Councillor Andre Blanleil.

"Plus the buildings on top of that. And, we're not seeing huge growth right now so I look at it that we need more work on the financial side to make that plan more viable."

Blanleil also believes the plan did not address utilizing volunteer fire fighters more effectively.

"(There is) not a lot of good use of our volunteers. Volunteers have been a huge part of the fire department over the last 15 or 20 years and probably much longer than that," says Blanleil.

"This plan doesn't really expand on the volunteers. It's really just paid firemen in yet volunteers have been a key part of keeping our costs effective over the last number of years."

He says in the case of the RCMP, they are using more Auxiliary members to to help offset the cost of policing in the city.

Carlisle says the plan he prepared for council is basically the same as the one currently in use except for the addition of the new fire hall in the KLO/Gordon area.

"We looked at it from a risk perspective and in that area there was a gap in the coverage that we believe we need."

He says nothing will change if the new Strategic Plan is held up for any length of time.

"It's status quo. We still operate out of five stations. We have three career paid on call stations and we will keep that system going and we will do the best we can."

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