Wednesday, May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

Fire district’s draft budget tops $5 million

A draft fire district budget for next year has been put before trustees, with another large increase and a strong indication that inflation, rather than costs for a new fire hall or other capital projects, holds the reins.

Approved by the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District’s Finance and Audit Committee in July, the $5.09 million 2024 draft budget proposal represents another year of increasing costs and corresponding taxes — a 9.47 per cent hike from the previous year’s $4.65 million, according to chief administrative officer Rodney Dieleman, who presented the draft to trustees Monday, Aug. 21.

That’s higher than last year’s increase of 7.87 per cent, Dieleman noted, but still lower than 2021’s 11 per cent bump — and none of it is for capital improvements.

“Of that increase, there is no increase for new capital equipment, new buildings or any capital increases at all,” said Dieleman. “All of the increases are for operational expenses.”

Dieleman pointed out cost pressures for firefighting tend to follow inflation for regular consumers, only more so.

“Fuel for fire trucks isn’t cheap, and our electricity bills go up just like yours,” said Dieleman. “But things like firefighting clothing doesn’t go up in price at the same rate as blue jeans in the store; it goes up exponentially faster, because of a lack of suppliers and even materials.”

Against a backdrop of higher fire equipment prices, the budget reflected an expressed target of keeping administration costs to less than 10 per cent of budget, Dieleman said, which was met — “We don’t really want to have a heavy administration,” he said. But staffing costs beyond administration will see increases next year due to wage contract settlements, themselves a product of inflationary pressure.

“Most of it is wages back paid,” said Dieleman. “If you watch the news, nurses, policemen and firefighting professionals are getting large contract settlements. We had to catch up with almost 7.5 per cent back pay and current wage increases for next year.”

And while Dieleman said he believed those contract settlements will return to historical normal in coming years, for the moment it’s going to steer the budget upward.

“Right now, everybody’s feeling the inflation,” said Dieleman, “and that has a trickle down effect on all operations.”

Trustees voted to receive the 2024 draft, and to make plans to present the proposal to the public at a special town hall meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14 — which will also include information on the district’s five-year strategic plan and “all information available” on the new fire hall.

“It will be at the Community Gospel church, a big open meeting space,” said board chair Rollie Cook. “It’s structured simply as a conversation, with everyone sitting in a circle. And we’ll go for as long as it takes.”

Trustees also passed a motion reiterating support for the new fire hall project and the fire hall steering committee’s work in particular; that passed 6-1 in favour, with trustee David Courtney recording a vote in opposition.

Courtney later offered a motion to reverse previous board decisions and “consider a Plan A and a Plan B concept” for the new firehouse, and had brought another that would amend the board’s policy manual to include language on spending money “wisely.”

Neither motion received a seconder, although the latter was referred to the planning and policy committee for discussion.

A website page dedicated to the new fire hall project also went live this week.

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