Fire pro­tec­tion costs, and pays

The Compass - - OPINION -

Fire pro­tec­tion ser­vice is one of those anom­alies like in­surance. Ev­ery­one hopes they never have to use such ser­vices, but those who have them must sleep bet­ter know­ing they are there if ever needed.

Peo­ple in ru­ral New­found­land have been blessed with fire pro­tec­tion ser­vices pro­vided by vol­un­teer fire de­part­ments. Al­though fire­fight­ers are not paid, the ser­vice they pro­vide is not en­tirely free. While mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties save a lot of money in labour costs, a fire depart­ment does cost money to op­er­ate, in equip­ment - for ex­am­ple $837,000 aerial lad­der trucks - and train­ing.

In towns like Car­bon­ear, those costs are passed on to tax­pay­ers as part of taxes they pay for the ser­vices they en­joy.

The Car­bon­ear Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment also pro­vides fire pro­tec­tion ser­vices to the neigh­bour­ing lo­cal ser­vice district of Fresh­wa­ter, for which the town coun­cil charges an­nual fees. The lo­cal ser­vice district is re­spon­si­ble for col­lect­ing those fees from their house­hold­ers.

An is­sue is cur­rently smoul­der­ing be­tween these two par­ties over out­stand­ing fire pro­tec­tion fees go­ing back al­most three years.

Ac­cord­ing to town of­fi­cials, the lo­cal ser­vice district agreed to pay the fees in a deal reached be­tween them in 2004.

Af­ter al­most three years with no pay­ment, the town has now ap­pealed di­rectly to Fresh­wa­ter res­i­dents. Coun­cil has told res­i­dents it “ has pro­vided as much le­niency as pos­si­ble and a mu­tu­ally agreed plan for prompt pay­ment of these fees should now be ar­ranged.”

Some Fresh­wa­ter res­i­dents ar­gue their lack of mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter and sewer ser­vices hin­ders fire­fight­ers’ ef­forts in pro­vid­ing the same level of pro­tec­tion en­joyed by their Car­bon­ear neigh­bours. There­fore, Car­bon­ear should not ex­pect them to pay as high an amount as its own more ad­e­quately cov­ered res­i­dents.

One of the op­tions open to the town un­der the agree­ment is to pull the plug on the fire pro­tec­tion ser­vice al­to­gether.

The town does not rel­ish the thought of hav­ing to take such dras­tic ac­tion. It’s an op­tion the town may have to con­sider as a last re­sort af­ter all oth­ers have been ex­hausted.

There is more to this story then we have been able to present to our read­ers this week. We re­gret be­ing un­able to present both sides.

We did at­tempt to get the lo­cal ser­vice district’s take on the whole is­sue, but they de­clined our in­vi­ta­tion to present their con­cerns, pre­fer­ring in­stead to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly by let­ter with their res­i­dents first.

No doubt their let­ter will out­line their con­cerns, and we anx­iously look for­ward to read­ing it.

All we wanted to ask were ques­tions like: Why the fee had not been paid; and what is their re­sponse to the let­ter Car­bon­ear coun­cil sent to their house­hold­ers etc?

While Fresh­wa­ter res­i­dents do have some le­git­i­mate con­cerns about the ser­vice, these is­sues are not with­out so­lu­tions, some of which have al­ready been sug­gested by the fire chief.

If the lo­cal ser­vice district agreed to this deal with Car­bon­ear six years ago, then an agree­ment is an agree­ment is an agree­ment.

When­ever one of the par­ties does not live up to its end of the bar­gain, there must be rea­sons for do­ing so. So what are those rea­sons?

That’s all we wanted to be able to pass on to our read­ers to give them a more com­plete pic­ture.

As has al­ready been sug­gested, while they may save the nom­i­nal ser­vice fee in the short term, in the long run, Fresh­wa­ter res­i­dents could end up pay­ing far more in in­surance premi­ums than they are sav­ing, should they lose their fire pro­tec­tion ser­vice al­to­gether.

If it comes down to it, tak­ing away a vi­tal, life­sav­ing ser­vice like fire pro­tec­tion is go­ing to be a gut-wrench­ing de­ci­sion for any coun­cil to have to make. We don’t think it’s go­ing to come to that. It’s too hot an is­sue to be moved to the back burner - one that needs cool heads to pre­vail.

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