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  • Gayle Baker

Want to Talk About a New Firehall for Salt Spring?

March 25

Surprisingly, only nine came to this ASK Salt Spring gathering in the Library Program Room - and three of them were our special guests: Fire Chief Jamie Holmes, Fire Trustee Chair, Rollie Cook, and local consultant, Bruce Cameron! We thought that Salt Springers were interested in the proposed new firehall. Were we wrong?


Despite the small number, the conversation was rich and, as the first of many outreach events before the firehall referendum, it was a good soft launch for the upcoming events. Each of these community engagement opportunities have been designed to make sure that all Salt Springers have the opportunity to fully-understand the details of this proposed new firehall. To be notified of all these events, subscribe at: (https://saltspringfire.com/e-mail-notifications/).

After offering a Territorial Acknowledgement, Rollie began by explaining why the Fire Trustees are moving forward to get voter support for a loan to build a new firehall. He told us that, in 2015, Fire Underwriters Survey (https://fireunderwriters.ca) offered our fire department a list of their deficiencies. At the top of this list was the need for a new firehall. The current firehall failed on a number of criterium, including:


  • It is not earthquake retrofitted. Expectations are that, in a significant earthquake, the building will be badly damaged, also rendering firefighting vehicles and apparatus useless when most needed. (Did you know that there were 13 earthquakes in our area in the first two months of 2022?)

  • Its central location makes it very difficult for firefighters to access it quickly, especially during those frequents times when Ganges is crowded with tourists.

  • It does not offer the required facility needed to decontaminate firefighters and their equipment after being exposed to a fire.

  • Our current firehall was built during the winter of 1959-60. The Salt Spring it served over 60 years ago was markedly-different from today’s community. The current firehall is simply not built to address the needs of today’s radically-increased population and buildings.

  • Our current firehall is also in desperate need of repairs. (A contingency fund has been set aside to deal with deficiencies between now and the move to the new firehall.)

When asked why voters would approve this funding request when they have defeated four firehall referendums in the past, our guests believe that they are proposing what Salt Springers want: a very basic building offering everything needed but no frills.

Formerly, the proposed firehall was 18,0000 square feet; this proposed firehall is only 11,000 square feet. In the last referendum, Trustees designed a firehall to meet the needs of the next 50 years; this far smaller hall is designed to meet current needs. But, our fire folks are keeping an eye on the future by designing a building that can be easily expanded - with a small increase in footprint due to the limits of the donated Brinkworthy property as well as designs to allow the addition of a second floor.

Why is this smaller building still so very expensive - estimated at a whopping $13.7 million? Much of the expense of this relatively-simple building is due to very stringent (and expensive) provincial building requirements for all emergency service structures. Also, all building costs have risen dramatically in the past 8-9 years. We were warned that these costs will is continue to increase. If the referendum fails again, it will cost more to build a new firehall later.

Voters will be asked to approve a provincial loan of $9.7 million at an attractive rate, estimated at 2%, a rate that is expected to increase. This loan request is $3 million less than the estimated cost of the building due reserve funds as well as a CRD contribution. Trustees have said that a yes vote will not result in any increase in our fire taxes, currently estimated at approximately $89 a year per household. They repeated several times: A yes vote will require no additional taxes above the level already being paid by taxpayers.

The sale price of the current firehall - currently an unknown - will also be a factor in reducing the loan needed. This amount may not be as high as earlier anticipated as the site is zoned for emergency buildings and the parking lot (currently owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) is envisioned as a park by Island Trust. These hurdles may make the property less attractive to developers; leaving many to believe that - if the new firehall is approved - the current firehall would be better-utilized as a community amenity. We were told that there may be good news soon concerning local acquisition of the current firehall.

Why couldn’t we reduce the loan by selling the Central Firehall? While appearing to be a logical choice, we learned that, among other reasons, insurance requires a certain number of fire trucks for safe coverage of all residents. It would be far more expensive to expand the size of the proposed firehall to accommodate these required vehicles than to leave them at the Central Firehall. (We also learned that the buildable area of the Central property is deceivingly-small as it also accommodates the septic system of Central Hall.)

When asked whether the salaries of firefighters could lead many to vote no, we learned - contrary to local rumor - that all IAFF unionized firefighters throughout BC make almost exactly the same salary. (Firefighters in the Maritimes make the lowest salaries; Saskatchewan pays the second lowest, and BC firefighters earn the third lowest salaries in Canada: (https://www.livingin-canada.com/salaries-for-firefighters-canada.html).

What’s next? FireTrustees are launching a robust community engagement to answer all your questions. If you have not yet taken the survey, please begin by completing it. Results will be compiled and reported soon: (https://saltspringfire.com/planning-for-tomorrow/)

Then, attend one of the many community events in April and May. They will be designed to answer all your questions as well as having some fun. Remember: Do subscribe so that you know about upcoming events: (https://saltspringfire.com/e-mail-notifications/).

If all goes as planned, the referendum for this promised new firehall will be at the end of June. In efforts to get more voters to participate, this referendum will be mail-in, so expect a ballot in your box. And, complete and return it! While almost twice as expensive as a normal referendum - $20,000 compared to $10,000 - there is plenty of research to support the belief that a mail-in vote will generate a far better return.

Despite the low numbers, our special guests addressed a good supply of difficult questions. As 1:00 approached, we asked them what we had forgotten to ask. While we did pretty well, Rollie did remind us that we had not talked about why Fire Trustees - unpaid volunteers - care so deeply about this proposed firehall. He will sleep better knowing that we have provided the firehall needed so that our amazing firefighters can better protect us. When participants were asked if they were convinced, half said, I’m sold! while the other half was still shaking their heads about the expense of - in one participant’s words - basically a really big garage.

However participants vote, they all clearly appreciated the honesty and genuine efforts for full transparency offered at this ASK Salt Spring gathering. (Thanks, Fire Chief Jamie Holmes, Chair Rollie Cook, and Bruce Cameron!)

Please join us Friday, April 1, 11-1, in the Library Program Room to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.

While we follow all gathering protocols, please understand that it is also your responsibility to asses risks. While we hope to see you at the Library Program Room, we also look forward to gathering under the apple trees in the United Church Meadow when weather warms.

And. . .if you join us, dress warmly as we hope to open up the wall of glass

to further enhance our safety.

What do you want to ask him?

  • What has been learned from our weather emergency?

  • Can you give us a preview of the 2022 Legislative session?

  • Do you think a review of the Islands Trust Act will be undertaken in the near future?

  • Any suggestions about addressing our road concerns from a totally new perspective?

  • What’s next for the Police Act Review Committee?

  • What’s happening in efforts to protect our old growth?

  • And?

See you Friday, April 1, 11-1 at the Library Program Room to welcome Adam!

Any question, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

asksaltspring.com

Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15

(Our Partners. . . .

Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library -

is being paid for byIsland Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.

Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer.

What a team!)


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