South Peace News
The Town of McLennan is agreeing to pay more for fire services, but just not as fast as the M.D. of Smoky River would like.
McLennan town council decided at its Nov. 9 meeting to ask the M.D. to move toward a 60-40 split instead of the existing 75-25, but at a steady increase beginning in 2022 and reaching 60 per cent in the 2024.
However, the M.D., which pays the majority of the $325,000 annual deficit, is asking for the 60-40 split immediately in 2021.
McLennan’s proposal – the same as the Town of Falher’s – in a new five-year agreement, is to pay 75-25 of costs in 2021, 70-30 in 2022, 65-35 in 2023, and 60-40 in 2024-25.
The current agreement expires Dec. 31.
A meeting was held Oct. 28 with the M.D., McLennan, Falher and Village of Donnelly attending. All municipalities, and the Village of Girouxville, share in costs.
“She was a pretty tense meeting,” said Councillor Sue Delaurier, who attended. Each council brought forth ideas on the budget.
“And the M.D. didn’t budge,” said Delaurier.
In 2020, McLennan paid $33,000 based on the 75-25 split. In the 60-40 proposal, McLennan would pay $51,900.
Councillor Dwayne Stout was ready to play hardball.
“What would happen if we didn’t pay it?” he asked.
“Arbitration,” replied Delaurier.
“Do you think they’d let us go without fire protection if we didn’t pay?” asked Stout.
“No,” replied Councillor Eckhard Christen.
Delaurier said the five highest years McLennan operated its own fire department was an average cost of $45,000.
“Not that much of an increase,” she noted.
“I don’t have a problem paying the 60-40,” she added, but made it clear council has to have representation in decision making.
Councillor Terry Calliou was not surprised the M.D. was asking for more money since their revenues were down sharply.
“The M.D. want and want and wants,” said Delaurier.
“Where is it going to end?”
Christen favoured a 70-30 split.
“70-30 is better than 60-40,” noted Calliou.
Stout was clearly not happy with past decisions.
“They have the Taj Mahal of fire halls,” he said.
“Drones and quads and four-by-fours. They did pretty good over there,” he added.
Council was concerned over the take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the M.D.
“I was surprised,” said Christen. “Here is the [budget]. Take it or leave it.”
“I don’t know where this is going to go,” added Delaurier.
“This is a hard one. The increase I’m OK with.”
She added she agreed with Donnelly Mayor Myrna Lanctot, who suggested a regional fire services board with regional representation.
Stout was leery.
“It’s easy to micro-manage,” he said. “That’s not our job.”
“What is your proposal” Delaurier asked Stout. “What would you do?”
“60-40,” replied Stout.
Christen said he was fine with an increase as long as M.D. taxes increased because taxes in McLennan would have to also rise to pay the increase.
“We can’t go back to our residents and ask them to pay more [if the M.D. does not],” said Christen.
Calliou was convinced who would benefit most with the M.D.’s [proposal.
“By the end of the day, who will come out the best. The M.D.”
Delaurier persisted on the move toward 60-40.
“We can’t fail our taxpayers on not having fire service,” she said.
Stout reiterated a stance at an earlier meeting when he said each item [service] on the tax bill should be clear for residents to see, so they would know exactly what they were paying for each service.
Delaurier reminded council the increase the M.D. was asking for may be spent on arbitration costs.
“We’re willing to meet them at 60-40. Not just in one year,” she repeated her stance.
“I just think it’s an essential service and I don’t want to lose it.”
“We can’t pay 60-40 this year,” said Stout. “This is our proposal.”
“I think it’s fair enough,” said Delaurier.
And if the offer is refused by the M.D.?
“Back to the table in December,” said CAO Lorraine Willier.