Viewpoint – Fire district budget input wanted

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By STAN SHAPIRO

Salt Spring’s Fire Rescue Service keeps busy all year round.

Nothing makes this clearer than the number of emergency calls answered so far in 2018: 176 call outs were directly fire related and about the same number were medical assistance related. Another 60 involved the department in providing other forms of community assistance while a surprisingly high number of call outs, 37, were “rescue related.” 

The summer is an especially busy time for our fire service with three of the most recent fire responses involving potentially very serious wildfires that were, fortunately, put out before either anyone or any property on Salt Spring was damaged. Considerable time and effort was also spent publicizing the total burn ban and making our community increasingly “Fire Smart.” And our department was, for the second straight year, asked to send both firefighters and equipment to deal with wildfires in other parts of British Columbia.

While all this was happening, the fire board trustees elected by our community were also actively involved in providing policy direction and guidance. One of the most important tasks they carried out this summer was preparing the budget for 2019. A draft budget for next year is now ready but the fire board is looking for community input, lots of it, before that budget is finalized.

Of course, many items in any budget remain the same year after year, while others increase along with the cost of living. That’s all reflected in next year’s fire board budget, but so are some additional proposed expenditures — transfer to reserves for apparatus replacement ($137,350) and new fire hall ($300,000). These are the items on which the board especially wants your feedback. In particular, starting this coming budgetary year, should the fire board’s annual budget include an amount to be put into a reserve to help cover the costs of a new fire hall? And if it does, how much should that amount be, what is the tax increase, and how much would future fire hall borrowing costs be reduced if this is done?

Information on the board’s proposed 2019 budget and the thinking behind it will be presented to the community at a public meeting to be held at the Lions Hall on Monday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. Those attending will be provided with ample opportunity to provide feedback both on the proposed budget and its approach to funding of major apparatus replacement and a new fire hall. There will also be time for you to raise other issues related to the board and its management responsibilities,

Please do not miss the opportunity, on Oct. 1, both to receive information and to provide it. Only after the feedback received at this public meeting is carefully considered, will the fire board finalize its 2019 budget.

The writer is a public member of the fire board’s communications and marketing committee.

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