West Hants council readjusts how they fund the Windsor Fire Department

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on June 11, 2014
Although the Windsor Fire Department has been without an agreement with the Municipality of West Hants for about four years, the volunteer firefighting force continues to provide service and mutual aid to rural residents.

The Windsor Fire Department is one step closer to getting paid for the services they've provided the county over the past year.

For the second time since early 2013, West Hants council has voted in favour of adjusting how they fund the Windsor Fire Department (WFD).

At their regular council meeting June 10, council discussed a number of issues pertaining to the outstanding fire services contract with the WFD. Coun. Shirley Pineo broached the subject of the volunteer firefighting force not being paid.

Pineo suggested council's motion last year that changed the requirements necessary for the WFD to get paid was confusing.

Prior to requesting monthly receipts for operational expenses, the municipality would issue lump sum payments to the WFD for fire protection. Although the WFD has continued to provide fire service to the county, they have not been paid for their services, nor have they provided detailed receipts, since April 2013.

“It would be impossible for them to bring in a gas receipt and say $10 of it was for Windsor and $9 was for West Hants. You can't expect them to bring in every receipt and break it down between the two units,” said Pineo.

She then suggested all council wanted to see was the WFD's operating costs, with the WFD retaining the receipts as back up in case they were required.

Warden Richard Dauphinee concurred.

“When you do your income tax, you don't send all the receipts in,” he said.

Dauphinee noted that he originally suggested council change how they fund the WFD because he thought it would solve some of the outstanding issues between the non-profit fire society and the municipality. Instead, it resulted in the WFD not being paid for more than a year. Dauphinee noted the outstanding funding the municipality would typically pay for the WFD's fire coverage is still sitting in a fund ready for the WFD to claim once they provide receipts.

At Tuesday night's council meeting, Dauphinee stressed they were not looking for detailed receipts, rather a breakdown of operational expenses.

“I don't think any of us are looking for nickels and dimes,” he said, noting that they “don't need 59 cent receipts.”

Pineo said the WFD and the general public perhaps didn't understand the intention of council's 2013 motion.

“The whole idea is that we're expecting them to come in and show every pair of boots and every single item that they've purchased and I think that's the wrong message that's gone back to the fire department,” said Pineo.

“I think it's just about time they came in, they gave a blanket figure and said 'this is what it costs for operations' and get their cheque and then they have their money.”

After much discussion, plus some confusion over the exact wording of the April 9, 2013 motion, which the CAO double checked and read aloud, council agreed the intent of the motion wasn't clear.

The motion read that “the Municipality of West Hants fund the operations of the Windsor Fire Department based on receipts submitted monthly and that the remaining funds be held in a capital account.”

Coun. Randy Matheson made a motion to change the current arrangement for funding the Windsor Fire Department's operational expenses. The change would see the WFD get paid once they provide a list of operation expenses that are based on receipts, but those receipts don't have to be produced – just available as back up.

The warden said the change would be retroactive, allowing the WFD to come in and get paid for the services rendered over the last year.

“They just have to bring their read-out and get it to staff and staff (will) cut a cheque and after that, we do it quarterly.”

Council voted unanimously in favour of modifying their funding arrangement with the WFD, with Coun. Victor Swinamer abstaining from the vote as he declared a conflict of interest prior to the start of the discussion.