After a months-long controversy about a petition to extend fire protection to West Creston residents, the final decision will be determined by referendum this fall.
“We will have a referendum during the November local government election,” Regional District of Central Kootenay Area C director Larry Binks said on Monday. “This will be at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.”
Binks said the effort to extend certified fire protection to West Creston properties arose out of the creation of a community land use bylaw.
“It was identified as a real need,” he said. “I started out by talking with the West Creston Fire Protection Society, then having conversations with the Town of Creston about the possibility of contracting the service.
“There was no appetite for referendum at the time and we decided to take the petition route. A petition was sent to every property owner.”
Animosity grew when Binks extended his own deadline for petitions to be returned by two weeks in January.
“This has pitted neighbour against neighbour and we have had people living in fear of arm twisting and intimidation,” he said. “We need to be able to into the sanctity of a voting booth and state our preference.”
A slight majority of property owners signed the petition to initiate certified fire protection, but the slim margin set off a trigger of concern. After consulting with RDCK management, Binks said a concern that the province could reject the petition results because the numbers were so close.
“It is clear to me as director for Area C that we need to go to referendum,” he said. “There will be no taxation for fire service this year. The petition has been dropped.”
In a typical regional director election, if a candidate is elected by acclamation, no polling station is set up. Now, however, a polling station will be manned regardless.
“In the event that no election is needed in Area C, voters will still be able to cast ballots in the referendum and the cost will be about $4,000,” he said. “That is still cheaper than a stand-alone referendum.”
While Binks says he regrets the controversy that has divided his community, he remains committed to the importance of extending fire service to residents.
“I know I would save about $700 a year in insurance, but more important, it’s about safety,” he said. “Fire protection helps prevent physical, emotional and spiritual damage. I still support it.
“But we need to heal and move forward, no matter what voters ultimately decide.”