By Chet Greason
Town Council has made good progress towards establishing the 2018 budget, reviewing the operating budget reports from the municipality’s different departments at a meeting held at the Municipal Operations Centre on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Council will have its next budget meeting on Jan. 30 and, if all runs smoothly, potentially pass the final budget in March.
Currently, residents are facing a 1.35 per cent combined increase to the average home’s tax levy. The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) upped the average home’s assessment from $238,250 to $244,500, while the province’s education levy reimbursement will be 2.35 per cent.
The result, should no further changes be made to the draft budget, will be an increase to the annual tax rate of the average home of roughly $46.
Repairs cleared for fire truck
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Al Strathdee expressed his concern that the town was not saving enough money for the eventual replacement of two of the Fire Department’s trucks. One, an aerial truck, was built in 1991. It is slated to be replaced in 2019. The other, a pumper truck, is scheduled to be replaced in 2021.
“It could be a very large investment,” said Strathdee. “I see equipment here that’s 20 to 30 years old… I’m concerned we’re not putting enough away in case of an emergency.”
He cited a deadly fire in Listowel in March of 2011 that was deemed preventable and claimed the lives of two volunteer firefighters. Since then, he said, local agencies were under greater scrutiny to ensure both firefighters and the public are protected and equipment is up to date.
Councillor Bill Osborne mentioned that Fire Chief Richard Anderson had recently addressed the state of the aerial truck at a public meeting concerning a potential new development in the North Ward on Jan. 9. He asked Anderson, who was in attendance that day, to reiterate his comments, leading to a grave assessment of the 27-year-old vehicle.
According to the Fire Chief, the aerial truck failed a test this past summer in which it was unable to produce a vacuum and draw water out of a pool. While the ladder still functions and the truck is still able to draw water from a pressurized source- as it did at a barn fire last week that killed 1,800 pigs- Anderson says the test failure is a cause for concern.
“It’s an uncomfortable feeling to go to that kind of a situation with your fingers crossed,” the Chief said of the barn fire.
The town will also receive less money for the truck on a trade-in if it has faulty equipment. Should the broken vacuum system remain the buyer’s concern, the municipality can expect less cash-in-hand when they look to replace the aerial truck next year.
Anderson added that the needed repairs to the vacuum system would cost between $5,000 and $7,000. The new vehicle could cost anywhere from $400,000 to $750,000, depending on whether it’s bought used or new. The size of the new truck would also factor into cost. The current truck’s ladder, at 50 feet, can hold about 250 lbs, enough for a single firefighter to attack a blaze from a high vantage point. A new 75 foot ladder can hold over 500 lbs,
enough to hold two firefighters as well as a potential rescue.
Anderson also felt that a relatively new truck could be purchased from the United States, where it is the policy of the Department of Defence to replace vehicles after only eight years.
“And aerial trucks aren’t used much,” he added. “That’s why they’re called ‘parade trucks.’”
Council decided they would rather pay for the repairs than risk the current truck breaking down in an emergency, and passed a motion to do so.
“Say there’s a house fire in the country and it didn’t draw, resulting in a loss of life,” said Osborne, adding such a situation was almost certainly a liability for the town. “It’s quite clear that not enough money is being set aside.”
Anderson expects the aerial truck to be out of commission for one to two weeks while the repairs are completed.
Councillor Lynn Hainer noted that a constituent had expressed concern over the Fire Department purchasing used equipment.
“I want it brand new too,” answered Anderson. “But I’m not going to buy anything that’s not going to carry us into the future.”
Councillor Don Van Galen brought up an interesting point: If a newer, bigger aerial truck was purchased, would it fit within the bay of the current Fire Hall? Anderson considered the possibility of either finding a shorter truck or saving on space by reducing flies and ladders before answering that, yes, a new truck will likely not fit.
“But I’ll do my best to find one that does,” he said.
The town’s Director of Building and Development, Grant Brouwer, said that the municipality will probably pay more for a shorter truck anyway, and that it will likely cost between $20,000 to $30,000 to extend the current vehicle bay.
Van Galen called it “a small price to pay for peace of mind.”
Strathdee felt that there was still not enough money being put away for the second truck slotted to be replaced in 2021, even after considering a stipend paid by the neighbouring township of Perth South for the fire coverage it receives from St. Marys.
Osborne suggested that Council first finish the 2018 budget, decide what’s available in capital, “then see what we need and where it will come from.”
Town Hall HVAC plans postponed
Tentative plans for a new Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system at Town Hall have been postponed until it’s clear what the town will pay for the new fire trucks and potential renovations at the Fire Hall.
A motion to remove the HVAC system from the 2018 budget was passed by a narrow margin following the discussion regarding the aerial truck at Tuesday’s meeting.
The HVAC system was expected to cost around $110,000.
Van Galen, a proponent of the Town Hall renovation, urged his fellow councillors to keep the upgrades in the budget until clear costs of all considered projects were understood.
“If we remove it, we won’t get any answers,” he said. “Why not leave it in, get the answers, and then make decisions?”
The new HVAC system is part of a plan to utilize the auditorium in the Town Hall more often, allowing it to host more events. Brouwer said additional changes beyond the HVAC weren’t necessarily needed at the venue at this time, although the town will likely want to consider new and more accessible bathrooms at some point.
CAO Brent Kittmer told Council that staff could have reports from all concerned departments regarding the matter completed within three months, but councillor Carey Pope said she couldn’t support the investment at this time.
“There’s too many critical investments needed,” she said. “I can’t support it being in the budget this year.”
Van Galen suggested tabling the HVAC motion until Council receives the reports from staff, but his motion was defeated in a recorded vote 4 – 3, with Pope, Strathdee, Osborne, and Councillor Jim Craigmile voting against.
The motion to remove the HVAC system from the 2018 budget was passed by the same margin, with Van Galen, Hainer, and Councillor Tony Winter casting the dissenting votes.