Budget brings big bucks
Large surplus gives boost to towns and fire departments
The provincial government’s election-year budget is getting a thumbs-up for money being put towards municipalities and fire departments, though at least one local chief would like to see more energy directed towards measures to recruit firefighters.
Chief Aaron Hillier of the Green’s Harbour and Hopeall Fire Department said the $ 4.9 million put towards the purchase of new trucks and equipment — a $1.5 million increase over the Budget 2010 figure — is good, but there’s always more the province can do to help fire departments.
“ The way it is, everything we need to buy for the fire department, the government does not give you any break at all. It’s almost like you get treated the same as a commercial business — they charge you right to the nose. Any break at all will help for sure.”
Some $3.9 million will go toward the purchase of fire trucks, while the remaining $1 million will be used for purchasing new fire equipment.
In 2006, Hillier’s department secured a new fire truck at a cost of $200,000. It was a 50-50 deal, and Hillier said the department has another five years to go before it will be paid off. Since then, he said the government has offered better deals and appears to be doing more over time to help fire departments.
The fire chief expects his department will need a new equipment van in a couple of years to replace a 20-year-old vehicle.
An ever-present issue for his department is the lack of fire hydrants in the area. There are some locations where access to water is limited for firefighting purposes because they are too far from bodies of water to set up a hose.
“ You have to depend on the other communities who are close to us to help us out, which is no problem, because we have a good relationship with them. Still, sometimes a few minutes can make all the difference.”
The budget also includes a new non-refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters. Chief Hillier said it’s a good move by the government, but more should be done to encourage new members to consider joining the department.
“ There’s not much encouragement for getting new members. That’s the biggest problem — we need to get young people involved.”
Hillier recently went to get prices on new jackets for fire department members, and received a quote for approximately $100 per coat.
“It’s too bad there’s not something more to help towards that stuff, because that’s what gives the fire department an appearance. People see you out and around more and it gives you a bit of pride.”
Operating grants get a boost
For municipalities, there was a $4.6 million increase to municipal operating grants, bringing the program up to $22.4 million.
“ The municipal operating grants were something communities relied on, and back years ago they were taken away. It’s nice to see the government is starting to give back,” said Harbour Grace Mayor Don Coombs.
Harbour Grace will be among those eligible to benefit from a 30 per cent increase for towns with a population between 1,000 and 3,000. Communities with a population of less than 1,000 receive a 50 per cent boost, and towns between 3,001 and 7,000 will get a 20 per cent boost. Those with a population over 7,000 will witness a 10 per cent increase in operating grants.
“ We’re an old municipality,” said Coombs. “A lot of our infrastructure is old, and our town has grown with the additions of amalgamated areas in the last 15-20 years, so that gives us an opportunity to provide the proper services to all residents of our town, which they all deserve.”
An announced $ 140.8 million will also be spent on new and ongoing municipal infrastructure projects, according to the budget.
With an eye towards the aftermath of the May 2 federal election, Coombs hopes municipalities will also hear good news from Ottawa in days and months ahead.