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Fire Contract with Central Huron Not Possible at this Time

Monday May 31st, 2010

Click here to view the consultants report 

After months of negotiations in which North Huron has attempted all reasonable means to come to an agreement with Central Huron for fire protection services in the northern portion of Hullett Ward - Central Huron, North Huron Council has made the difficult realization that a deal is not possible at this time.

Over the past six months, we have continually responded to requests for more information on why the proposed costs are higher than under the former Fire Board system.  We have had a meeting of both full Councils on March 1st as well as numerous documented pieces of correspondence to answer their requests for more information.  North Huron has clearly stated its case and provided sound financial numbers for its offer to provide fire protection services to part of Central Huron. 

All of North Huron's attempts to mollify Central Huron's concerns have been met with demands for more information, which we have answered.  In April, we agreed to an independent review of the two fire services hoping that this would assist us in showing that there was nothing sinister in the price to purchase services that North Huron has offered Central Huron.  That Consultant's report, privately funded by Hullet-area ratepayers, was received on May 14th and a subcommittee was struck comprised of the two Reeves and two Council members from each Municipality.  This group met on May 25th with the Consultant, to attempt to reach an agreement.  At this meeting, the report was reviewed and questions asked of the Consultant.  It quickly became clear to North Huron that the Central Huron representatives' only concern is the price not quality of service or our need to meet best practices or legislated standards and requirements.  North Huron did make a counter offer in this meeting reducing the price by $5,000, which represented monies that were within the price for the costs of a Fire Prevention Officer which made our counter-offer $100,000 per year.  This was discarded immediately out of hand by the Central Huron representatives.  In particular, Central Huron Reeve Bert Dykstra made it very clear in our meeting that he was not willing to pay any more than $50,000 and that as far as he was concerned that parties are too far apart to effect a deal.  

We are not prepared to play games with people's lives and we find the fact that Central Huron Council seems to be more concerned about our substantiated costs than response times or quality of fire services offered to their residents is abhorrent and  irresponsible. 

North Huron will not reduce its price further as we are not willing to offer a sub-standard service that we would not be willing to accept ourselves.  And we will not lower our price to a position  in which the residents of North Huron are required to subsidize costs of fire protection for the residents of Central Huron.  We also believe that this would  be patently unfair to the residents of Morris-Turnberry who have already signed an agreement based on what we consider a fair funding model.  We are confident that to lower our price would seriously affect the level and quality of service that we are morally compelled to provide to all residents, regardless of municipal boundaries.  

In 2010, North Huron paid the former members of the Blyth and District Fire Board and the Wingham and Area Fire Board a total of $838,057.92 to purchase both Fire
Board assets.  Central Huron received $170,108.76 as their share of the former Blyth and District Fire Board. 

North Huron now feels that it is essential, in the interest of public transparency to provide the independent report to the public for their review as it was presented to us by an independent Consultant.  The Consultant was Mr. Robert Branscombe a recently retired fire service professional from Eastern Ontario, who was had much experience reviewing municipal fire services.  Mr. Branscombe compiled this report, using information provided by each municipality, to allow both a better understanding of how both fire departments worked and were financed so that the Councils has a basis to facilitate negotiations.  Copies of this report are available to North Huron residents by contacting the Municipal office of from the North Huron website.  The independent review clearly states that the discretionary portion of the fire budget is between one and two percent.  The other 98 percent reflects fixed costs that are not negotiable without seriously affecting service delivery.  

In January 2009, Central Huron received notice that North Huron would not be renewing the Blyth and District Fire Board agreement when it expired on December 31, 2009.  North Huron then began the process of setting up an all-new fire department.  No contact regarding the supply of fire protection services for the Hullett area was made by Central Huron until North Huron sent a proposed offering at the start of December 2009.  Repeated offers to present information to Central Huron Council were consistently turned down until the March 1st meeting.  The Fire Protection and Prevention Act clearly states a municipality's duties to its residents for fire protection.  To ignore the fire safety of their own residents until the last minute, and then rely on the moral and ethical nature of a neighbouring municipality to provide that protection is repugnant and downright criminal.  

January 2010 began with no agreement to provide fire protection services for this area. North Huron was not legally allowed to provide service into Central Huron under provincial law without a formal agreement between the municipalities.  Coverage was only provided by a gentleman's agreement between the North Huron and Central Huron Fire Chiefs to use the Mutual Fire Aid System to provide temporary legal authority.  This arrangement was severely frowned upon by the Ontario Fire Marshall's Office and was only permitted for a short period until an interim agreement could be formalized.  Unfortunately, an interim agreement was not forthcoming and attempts to get one were continually stymied. 

At a meeting of Central Huron and North Huron staff on January 18th to further explain the costing formula, Central Huron announced that in their opinion North Huron was operating form the Blyth Station illegally and would be seeking to block our operation of the station's equipment.  Central Huron countered that they would not pursue this matter if a new agreement was financially favourable to Central Huron.  A legal opinion showed that North Huron was operating legally and the disbursement of Board assets was a separate issue from the negotiations for a new agreement.  

Throughout this period North Huron continually pressed for an interim agreement in order to protect our firefighters and the municipality from liability while providing emergency response into Central Huron.  We have bent over backward to bargain in good faith, to be open and transparent and we have been continually subjected to political games and delay tactics by Central Huron Council.   

On April 6th, North Huron received a letter from Central Huron stating that their fire department had been providing emergency coverage across their entire municipality since January 20th and as such there would be no compensation to North Huron for costs incurred from January 20th to April 7th.  Central Huron at this time asked for an interim agreement until Bell 9-1-1 polygons would change, which we expected to be May 31st.  North Huron countered that if Central Huron had been providing coverage, despite the fact that no Central Huron fire personnel were present during any of the emergency calls answered by North Huron during this period, then no interim agreement was needed and all North Huron coverage would cease on April 14th.  On April 12th, an interim agreement was signed to continue North Huron emergency response coverage.  This interim agreement was signed in the hopes that this would give time for further talks and the completion of the independent report.  It is interesting to note that to date no monies have been received from Central Huron for emergency services rendered since January 1st 2010. 

It has been intimated by some Central Huron councillors that this process has caused animosity and public concern with the departments themselves and we wish to make it very clear that we hold Chief Cooke and the Clinton Fire Department in the highest regard, as we do our own firefighters and Chief Black.  This issue is not an issue between the departments; it is at its core a disagreement between two Councils.  One Council who is clearly only concerned about price and another Council who feels that is has a fiduciary duty to do everything within its powers to ensure that our firefighters are properly trained so that they are safe and that we do our utmost to meet the numerous standards and legislative requirements.  We do this so that we can offer the best and safest service possible to our residents and our neighbours who choose to purchase fire protection form us.  

In closing, we want to re-state our position which we have put forward on many occasions to Central Huron as well as many of their residents:

1.  The most important part of the delivery of an effective fire service is that the closest station should always respond.  When an emergency occurs our ratepayers expect prompt and efficient emergency service; regardless of boundaries;

2.  We must strive to meet all safety and legislative requirements and qualifications no matter the cost.  The safety of our residents and our firefighters is our focus; they expect and demand nothing less.

 

For more information, contact:
Gary Long, CAO/Clerk
Township of North Huron
519-357-3550 x. 24