Bud­get brings big bucks

Large sur­plus gives boost to towns and fire de­part­ments

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON

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.

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