Council considers appointment of select committee to work on new fire hall plan

A Town of Creston select committee is likely to be struck as a response to the defeat in December of a borrowing referendum to construct a new fire hall.

A Town of Creston select committee is likely to be struck as a response to the defeat in December of a borrowing referendum to construct a new fire hall.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, Council referred back to staff a proposal by town manager Lou Varela to appoint a select committee to consider fire hall options and make recommendations. Staff were directed to draft terms of reference and outline a process.

“There have been two recent occasions where select committees were appointed,” Mayor Ron Toyota said at the meeting. He referred to one for input on the Official Community Plan and another to examine issues and options for Town-operated cemeteries. Both committees included elected officials, staff and local citizens.

A similar approach was taken by the RDCK following passage of the borrowing referendum to upgrade Creston & District Community Complex and add an indoor aquatic facility. Local residents were appointed to a design team, which included staff and experts, but not elected officials, who had to approve the team’s recommendations before they were acted upon.

The motion considered by Council directs:

“That staff develops a communication and consultation strategy for Council’s consideration with associated budget, regarding next steps for addressing the existing fire hall’s deficiencies and long term solutions;

“And further, that staff provides Council with a framework to consider for the establishment of a select committee to provide input regarding short- and long-term solutions that are supported with necessary technical expertise.”

The motion was passed shortly after Myrna Johnson, president of the Committee for an Affordable Fire Hall, told Council that the group is available “to assist the Town in exploring future fire hall options.”

She did not elaborate on how the committee could assist and added that she “would not be taking questions at this time.”

“We recognize we are not the elected officials for the Town and that it is not our responsibility to come up with a Plan B,” she said. “We are looking forward to hearing the mayor, council and town staff’s evidence-based options for an affordable fire hall in the near future.”

Johnson also stated that the committee had filed a request for materials related to plans for a new fire hall—including a “design development plan”—under the Freedom of Information Act, and asked that the Town waive the fees associated with fulfilling the request.

Asked about the committee’s request, Town Manager Lou Varela said on Wednesday that there will be no fee charged for at least some of the requested information.

“Fees associated with an FOI request are legislated under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Section 75),” she said. “Fees can be waived under the Act for documents that relate to a matter of public interest (in this case public health and safety). We will not be charging for these as part of the FOI request. Other fees, such as staff time in excess of 3 hours, will be charged for if applicable. The Town maintains its commitment to be communicative and cooperative moving forward.”

“I understand these issues have been deeply dividing for the town, and I am hoping we can all work together, as a community, toward the common goal of providing a safe and efficient work environment to our firefighters in order to overcome those divisions,” Johnson said in closing her presentation to Council.

In other Town Council news:

• Council agreed to send a letter of support in response to a District of Kelowna request with respect to lobbying the province for a share of the cannabis tax sharing formula. Taking the position that municipalities will bear a burden of costs associated with the legalization of marijuana, the District of West Kelowna proposes municipalities receive 50 per cent of provincial cannabis taxes.

• Council approved a contract to continue to provide regional fire services to defined parts of RDCK Areas A, B and C, including Arrow Creek and Erickson. Changes to the previous five-year agreement include an automatic renewal provision unless either party gives notice of a desire to renegotiate the terms.

“All costs, net of revenues, including operating, capital and reserve contributions for the fire protection will be shared based on assessed values. The change in language will increase the regional areas to be fully participating in all costs of the service,” said the staff report to Council. “Services will be billed based on budget with any overages or savings applied to the next year as an adjustment. This is a change in the prior agreement where the amounts were fixed with annual CPI (consumer price index) adjustments. Now the Areas will be fully participating in all risks and rewards of being partners in the service.

“The language provides for the sharing of the costs of a new Fire Hall when built.”

The agreement also states that Area Directors will be invited to attend any Town of Creston budget discussions where fire services are discussed.

The RDCK board already authorized the signing of the contract at its December meeting.

• Three readings were given to an amendment to the Inter-Community Business License Bylaw to add Salmo to the list of participating municipalities (Rossland, Nelson, Creston and Castlegar). An inter-community business license can be purchased by qualifying business that do business in multiple jurisdictions, reducing the cost and time burden for such businesses.

• A minor change to the Delegation of Authority Bylaw will allow staff to waive the booking fees for municipal properties when the applicant is a registered, locally-based, non-profit organization. Previously, waivers had to be approved by Town Council.

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