On its fourth day of deliberation, Prince Albert city council opted to conduct a review of the Fire Department in the upcoming months with an eye to building a second station in the future.
Fire Chief Chris Olsen told council that much of the information has already been collected, it just needs to be updated and solidified into a report.
“Like I mentioned, the reviews have been many and they are very relevant today,” said Olsen. “I think the work ahead of me isn’t as big as it may sound.”
The most important aspect is to ensure that response times meet a certain target and that the location allows the department to do that.
“Roadways have changed, traffic flows have changed. We’ll have to make sure that is up to date. The bulk and the body of the information justifying the need for additional stations is already there,” said Olsen.
Some discussion amongst council revolved around changing or adding a levy to pay for another station.
“How do we do that? How do we fund this and be able to not add to the mil rate?” asked Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick. “We all benefit from fire services.”
A levy means that each property pays a set dollar value, rather than have the general mil rate increase which would see higher valued properties pay more and lower valued properties pay less.
Mayor Greg Dionne said that tax payers may not care as it is still money out of pocket for them.
“Whatever you call it, a levy or a base tax, it still comes out of my pocket,” he said, quoting a taxpayer.
He was still in favour of the concept as he agrees that it should be user pay.
Coun. Blake Edwards proposed a wholesale review of the department as part of coming up with a tangible plan.
“My thoughts is that the fire department as a whole, it needs to be reviewed,” he said. “We’ve sat on a lot of these items for a long time and this includes the fire stations. We haven’t really pushed our fire department. We haven’t grown it.”
He was in favour of not only a user-pay system but looking around to see if there are options to bring in more revenue to the department.
“I look forward to having more discussions in the near future on where that can be,” Edwards said. “But I think as a council we need to listen to the ideas of the Chief that are going to come forward and get with it and put that pressure on the provincial government.”
Coun. Ted Zurakowski also said that council needs to start the conversation more seriously.
“I think it’s time that we have a conversation about how we move forward in funding our emergency services,” he said. “How do we do that with all the needs that are in front of us?”
What else can we ask them to do and what are the demands of the public when it comes to our fire department. We do need to have a conversation about the next two fire halls.”
The fire chief and administration need to be included in the discussions, he added.
Coun. Don Cody said that while the department needs to be reviewed and a fire hall discussed, council should keep in mind the impacts of changes in assessment in for the 2021 tax year that saw 60 per cent of properties get a reduction and 40 per cent get a significant increase.
“You have to remember that we had a pretty big hit last year for some people,” he said.
At the moment, Prince Albert has one station staffed with two engines. The department has 43 in-scope staff and seven out-of-scope.
Adding a second fire hall would not necessarily change the number of officers needed.
“With the addition of this ask, we could staff three stations,” Olsen told council.
A request to add four full time positions including a training officer was not granted by council but will likely come up again in another budget year.
“We evaluated the need and the need is evident” said Olsen. “That was hopefully made clear in my presentation.”