A vote to divert $300,000 in annual income from a dam near Montrose to fund the RDKB fire service divided east and west at a Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) meeting last month.
The decision, made Oct. 30 at a Board of Directors meeting in Grand Forks, means that instead of flowing straight into the regional district’s general administrative fund, the money will instead go to supporting the east end-heavy fire service for at least the next two years.
“It’s an expensive service. I know that,” said Area E director Vicki Gee at the meeting. “However, that fire department is also getting the benefit of what the money’s paying for and the rest of us aren’t,” Gee said, noting that the RDKB fire service responds primarily to calls east of the Paulson.
“I really think we should look at doing something that is more equitable across the whole regional district and not be pitting each other against who puts so much tax in.”
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.
The most recent renewal of the request asks for two years more – $600,000 in total – be diverted once again to the expanded fire service. Directors voted 12 to seven in a weighted vote to approve the request. Directors representing areas C, D and E voted against the motion.
“I’ve always agreed that Area A should get some money from that dam – I’ve always agreed with that – but to tie up all that money for the next three years I think is totally unfair to this table,” said Area C Christina Lake director Grace McGregor.
East end directors, meanwhile, argued that the RDKB fire service benefits all of the Boundary – noting that the department, which is stationed in Trail, has attended emergencies in the Boundary during flooding events and major fires.
”This was a very difficult decision for the east end to make – one that wasn’t made lightly,” said Area A director Ali Grieve. “We looked at all kinds of services and options – we were sure we were going to find something – we didn’t.”
Currently, the RDKB Fire Rescue is made up of more than a dozen career firefighters, another 140 or so paid on-call fire fighters, and provides fire protection services to approximately 25,000 people in the east end of the RDKB.
“We’ve got a really good fire service now in the east end and it’s also come to the aid of people in the west end in fires and emergencies,” said Fruitvale director Steve Morissette. “It’s there when you need it, throughout the regional district.”
Nevertheless, west end directors expressed concern about extending the diversion of funds from the RDKB’s central coffer.
“I think there are other services where this money could go to that could benefit everyone and not just a portion of the regional district,” Gee said.
RDKB chair and Area D director Roly Russell also voiced concern about about the reallocation.
“I don’t think that this is a conversation around fire service,” Russell said. “I think that this is a conversation around how we re-allocate what is currently a shared revenue across the region from an industry that is based in Area A.”
“The facts are, our current expenditures and fire service are currently at $5.8 million,” said Grieve, “We don’t know what else to do. There’s no more decisions left for us to make. This was kind of a last straw for us, so it is about fire service for us.”
Russell noted that Area D has seen tax increases to maintain its fire protection agreement with the City of Grand Forks. Residents of Christina Lake also voted for a local tax hike to hire on a fire chief.
As part of the Columbia basin, dams located in the east end of the regional district are a strong source of revenue for the jurisdiction as a whole.
“This table is becoming more and more the haves and the have-nots,” McGregor said, when explaining her opposed position. “We’re the have-nots because we’re not in the Columbia Basin Trust.”
–With files from Katrina Powell