A new spirit of cooperation between Salt Spring Island’s biggest water provider and its fire district — the two largest improvement districts on the island — was formalized last week, with the local entities agreeing to work together on common goals.
Focusing on ensuring sufficient water supply for fire suppression and the “efficient and responsible” use of drinking water supply, a 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) and the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District (SSIFPD) was approved at the fire board’s meeting Monday, Oct. 16.
Last month, the NSSWD board approved a draft of the agreement, which includes a laundry list of monitoring, recording and reporting for both parties, establishes points of contact for both districts and lays out a framework for regular meetings.
It also has SSIFPD contributing a fire suppression water service fee, a pay-for-water arrangement that CAO Rodney Dieleman said was a great deal for both groups.
“We contribute [to NSSWD] for water services, and they will dedicate money for hydrants,” said Dieleman, pointing to a new program of annual hydrant inspection and maintenance for the roughly 175 hydrants within the fire district, which will become the responsibility of the water district. “We feel it’s a really good agreement; it’s a more equitable way of taxing for that hydrant maintenance.”
Importantly, said SSIFR Fire Chief Jamie Holmes, the MOU doesn’t bind either district to specific costs or fees — meaning the respective boards will still be able to make financial decisions on their own.
“There’s nothing in this agreement that talks about any dollar figures,” said Holmes. “It’s more ‘can we work together?’ And ‘do we have common interests moving forward?’”
Maintaining a hydrant is a more complicated endeavour than might be imagined, according to Holmes, and NSSWD has properly certified staff to do the work.
“There’s multiple sections in the hydrants,” said Holmes. “What we’re expecting on maintenance is that the valve seals are checked — each one has a rubber seal that goes with it as well — that is all lubed, exercised and flow tested — wear on the threads is checked, and typically there’s fresh paint to prevent rust and deterioration.”
Trustees were unanimous in voting to approve the measure, which will be signed by the board chair of each district. The SSIFPD board also approved bylaws for levying taxes at the meeting, relevantly finalizing a late plan to add another $50,000 to the budget for improving firefighting water availability — a nonspecific apportionment that seems likely to go, at least in part, towards the new agreement.
Ratepayers within the district can expect a roughly 10.6 per cent total increase in taxation over 2023, as SSIFPD looks toward a budget of $5.14 million. That number represents a larger budget increase than last year’s 7.9 per cent hike, but less than 2022’s 11.1 per cent increase.