Christina Lake voters are being asked if they oppose a roughly $1.3 million loan to replenish the community fire department’s aging fleet and to pay for renovations to the fire hall.
The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s (RDKB’s) board of directors will pass a bylaw authorizing the loan unless 10 per cent (160) of Area C/Christina Lake voters register their objections through the regional district’s website by 4 p.m. Sunday, July 4, according to Corporate Officer Anitra Winje.
RDKB directors could put the loan to a referendum if the current Alternative Approval Process were to hit that objection threshold, but a yes/no vote “would be more complicated and expensive,” Winje said, adding that she’d not received any objections as of Thursday afternoon, June 18.
“The fire department needs this equipment to do its job,” Winje explained. “We absolutely need to make these capital purchases (for new vehicles and renovation). The question is, how do we pay for it?”
Under the terms of the proposed loan, Area C/Christina Lake voters would pay around $3 in increased property taxes next year, based on $100,000 in assessed real estate value, according to the RDKB. That number would jump to around $20 for a home assessed at $500,000 and around $40 for one assessed at $1 million.
The “typical assessed value” for single-family homes in Grand Forks was $272,000 in 2020, according to BC Assessments.
It would cost around $120,000 less to pay down a short-term loan at today’s interest rate, but this would mean steeper property tax bumps upfront, Winje qualified.
Either way, Christina Lake Fire and Rescue’s fleet isn’t getting any younger. The department’s reserve water tanker is 24 years old. Its second-line fire engine is approaching 30, while its one-tonne bush truck, used to fight wildfires, is past 40, according to Chief Joe Geary.
The working life of a frontline fire engine is 15 years, according to industry standards recommended by the Fire Underwriters Survey, which gives statistical fire data to Canadian insurance companies. A backup engine can be used for up to 25 years if it passes regular safety inspections and provided that a fire department’s main engine is still within its working lifespan, Geary explained.
The water pump on the department’s bush truck failed at a wildfire near Haaglund Road in mid-April. The vehicle now serves to carry firehoses and other tactical equipment, Geary said.
The fire hall meanwhile needs a new heating system and an exhaust removal system for its vehicle bay. As it is right now, diesel fumes from idling trucks waft through the fire hall, which Geary said is both unpleasant and unsafe.
If approved, Winje said the RDKB would hope to take out the long-term loan in the Spring of 2022. The fire department would see new vehicles and building upgrades by 2023 at the earliest, according to Chief Geary.
Christina Lake Fire and Rescue responds to an average of 125 emergency calls every year, according to the RDKB’s website.