Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) directors have temporarily doused debate on who should fund the Kootenay Boundary Fire Service, resolving to fund the primarily east-end department from revenues generated from the Waneta Dam south of Montrose.
Up until 2018, the revenue from the dam was going straight into the RDKB’s general administration budget. Then, a majority of directors voted to pull $300,000 of the dam money and put it straight to the fire service, which is based in Trail. Debate flared up again last week, when East End directors asked their colleagues to up the ask by another $200,000.
For director Vicki Gee’s Area E tax base, the $300,000 reduction in general administration funding created a $48,000 impact on her area, she told the table at the Feb. 27 meeting.
Arguing against the further ask, Gee noted that there are big income generators at either end of the regional district, Big White in the West, and dam revenues in the east.
“I see quite a difference there,” she said. “At Big White, it’s coming out of people’s pockets – it’s the taxation on their homes and their businesses,” she said, calling the move to reallocate funds from a budget that benefits all of the regional district to one that she and other West End directors say is of little benefit to them “grossly unfair.”
Gee’s area boasts three fire services – the Kettle Valley fire department, the Beaverdell fire department, and the Big White fire department. At a town hall meeting last month, Beaverdell firefighters indicated that much of their equipment, often acquired second-hand from Big White, is becoming more and more outdated but the service’s budget is quite slim.
In 2018, when changes were made to fire services in the east end – dispatch service changes and expansions, mainly – the board had agreed to divert the funds to cover the newly incurred costs. At the time, Marguerite Rotvold (Midway) and Roly Russell (Area D) cautioned that their support would only be for the one year.
In 2019, the East End Services Committee renewed its request for the funds, that time to hire a deputy fire chief. Midway’s director opposed, along with directors for areas D and E.
“We strongly feel this is a shared service,” said East End Services Committee chair and Area A director Ali Grieve.
Grieve argued that the Kootenay Boundary Fire Service has benefitted the West End in the past, serving the area during emergencies, such as the 2015 Rock Creek fire and the 2018 floods.
“The transfer of money from Area A dam revenues, in my opinion, is also your investment in a service that has been used in both communities – our community,” Grieve said.
Chief Administrative Officer Mark Andison clarified that expenses for such aid, when under an Emergency Management B.C. mandate, are covered by the province for the period of service. Though, the robustness of any department – staff, equipment, training – is not covered the same way.
“This has nothing to do with fire services,” said Area D director Roly Russell, “It is a decision by a voting majority at this table to reallocate funding from a regional service supporting all to the smallest group possible while still holding the voting majority.”
Instead of upping the taxation requisition for 2020, Grieve and Trail director Robert Cacchioni proposed that the additional $200,000 be covered by withdrawing that amount from the RDKB’s general surface, which sits at around $5 million. That fund, Andison said, has been built up to cover upkeep of RKDB facilities and is currently being studied for an asset management plan that should indicate what a healthy reserve should look like.
Russell and Gee also spoke against the surplus solution, noting that it would mean drawing half a million dollars from reserve for taxation smoothing in 2020 alone – or roughly half of the amount the RDKB has earmarked in its reserve to lessen the tax burden.
“It seems backwards,” Russell said, “to be eating that much into these reserves,” arguing that the board should exercise caution before eating into reserves before understanding the needs for a surplus in an asset management plan.
In the end, East End directors voted to take $200,000 from reserves to smooth taxation requisitions for 2020, but the stop-gap solution will mean that the discussion could flare up again in the 2021 budget talks.