Morris-Turnberry mayor asks for fire services fee based on assessment

HEATHER BOA Bullet News WINGHAM – The Township of North Huron is offering to enhance fire services as it negotiates a new fire services agreement with the Municipality of Morris-Turnberry but it won’t budge on the price tag, the township’s administrator told a joint council meeting recently.

It offered a five-year contract with inflation indexing when the agreement for fire services expires in 2013 that will include services of a fire prevention officer, smoke alarm campaign and a review of the boundary agreement that may result in an extended coverage area during the meeting Thursday night at the Columbus Centre in Wingham.

But it stopped short of making cuts to a budget that would see it spend $1.1 million on capital and operating expenses in 2012.

“We can’t sacrifice the safety of our fire fighters. We’re not going to sacrifice the standards or our commitment to clients. We’re not going to sacrifice the safety of your residents or our residents,” said Gary Long, who is the chief administrative office in North Huron.

“So slashing our fire department budget is not an option. In fact, it would be dangerous and irresponsible,” he said.

On Jan. 1, 2010, North Huron formed its own fire department, headed by a full-time fire chief, with fire stations in Wingham and Blyth. At that time, two fire services boards that served the area were disbanded: the Wingham and Area Fire Service Board, which was owned and operated by the Municipality of Morris-Turnberry, Township of Howick and Township of North Huron; and the Blyth and District Fire Service Board, which was owned and operated by the Municipality of Morris-Turnberry, Municipality of Central Huron, Township of North Huron and the Township of Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh.

The Township of Howick also created its own fire department when the boards were disbanded, with a fire station in Gorrie.

Paul Gowing, who is mayor of Morris-Turnberry, said the presentation by North Huron offered the first movement on a fire services agreement since they signed the agreement in 2010.

“That’s a great, positive sign here this evening,” he said.

He said the information would go back to his council for discussion, since it was the first time they were seeing the new information. However, he went through a previously prepared presentation, and explained why the municipality has considered other options to a fire service agreement with North Huron, including establishing its own fire department.

Gowing said as a result of the disbandment of the fire services board, Morris Turnberry has no ownership in a fire services board or a fire department, leaving it with no control over operations or capital purchases.

He said during a large-scale event, like the tornado that ripped through Goderich in August 2012, there is no assurance that Morris-Turnberry will receive adequate coverage since the agreement says it’s at the discretion of the fire chief whether to dispatch a fire crew to Morris-Turnberry when they’re already on the scene elsewhere.

He said fire costs for Morris-Turnberry increased 230 per cent while the area serviced by North Huron’s decreased to 63 per cent from the time when fire services was provided through a board to the first year of the agreement with North Huron in 2010.

“That seemed to be an insurmountable increase,” said Gowing.

He suggested the fee charged to his municipality would be more equitable if it were based on assessment and if it were not charged for funds set aside in annual budgets to purchase new vehicles and equipment, since his municipality does not have ownership in capital. The communities with fire service agreements with North Huron – Morris-Turnberry, Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh and Central Huron – contribute 51.42 per cent of funds to reserves for capital purchases.

“Is this right?” Gowing asked.

Instead, he calculated that if Morris-Turnberry were not charged for capital and a few other items, its contribution to the budget would be 32 per cent, which he said is more in line with its assessment.

Gowing said other communities with fire service agreements with North Huron should be invited to the table if comments reported in the media May 28 by the municipality’s reeve, Neil Vincent, that any money not paid by Morris-Turnberry would be picked up other participating municipalities were correct.

However, in a letter to the Municipality of Central Huron dated June 20, Long said no additional costs would be assumed by the participating municipalities if Morris-Turnberry were to create its own fire department.

At the end of the meeting, Vincent said questions from the audience could be directed in writing to the appropriate council.

Written by on June 29, 2012 in Blyth, Morris-Turnberry, North Huron, Wingham - No comments

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