The Windsor Fire Department has extended a counter offer to West Hants in hopes of preventing the looming fire services termination deadline at the end of the month.
On Monday night, June 23, the WFD membership voted in favour of having their executive try again to find a solution that would allow for mediation to occur and prevent the long-standing service between the volunteer firefighting force and the county from coming to an end.
In the most recent correspondence to West Hants, the WFD modified their initial request for the payment of all outstanding arrears owing for their services. They are now requesting a smaller portion be paid up front in order to secure mediation. They have once again offered to sit down with the county's director of finance and another staff member to go over the WFD's financial records. They have also indicated they hope to secure mediation to allow negotiation for future service and the payment of remaining arrears. Failing a mediation on the arrears, they are proposing council accept binding arbitration to settle the payment of arrears.
Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess indicated the members had a “clear desire to move on this quickly” to try to prevent service disruption.
“At the end of the day our members have given one more large gesture of good faith in hopes to avert any interruption of fire service and continue to work with West Hants for the long term best interests of our friends, neighbours and community,” he said in an email.
The WFD's lawyer, John Shanks, sent a letter June 24 to council's solicitor, Peter Rogers, outlining the WFD's latest offer.
West Hants council already had a special meeting on the books for today, June 25, to discuss a landfill contract. In light of the new correspondence from the WFD and the pending June 30 deadline for the termination of fire coverage, council added fire services to the agenda. They spent an hour behind closed doors discussing the latest offer with the municipality's lawyer.
When the council session reopened to the public, the following motion was made: "That council empowers the warden, acting CAO and municipal solicitor to attempt to negotiate an interim fire services and mediation arbitration agreement with the WFD as discussed with council in camera with such modifications as the above mentioned negotiators may consider appropriate."
The motion passed unanimously, with Coun. Victor Swinamer not voting as he had declared a conflict of interest. Councillors Shirley Pineo and Gary Cochrane were both absent from the morning meeting.
Warden Richard Dauphinee spoke briefly to the motion that was passed, assuring the public that neither himself, nor the acting CAO, will be at the negotiating table. They will, however, have the authority to approve, decline, or suggest changes to an agreement with the WFD in hopes of securing a truce prior to June 30 at noon.
“If there is something that needs to be tweaked, rather than have to call a special council meeting to drag this out, it can be done quickly. That's all that is about,” said Dauphinee. “We're not going to be in there hammering it out with anybody.”
After the meeting adjourned, one of the handful of people in the public gallery asked Dauphinee to provide more details on what the motion means for the county residents.
Dauphinee noted that their lawyer will be preparing another letter and sending it to the WFD's lawyer to try to work out an interim agreement that would allow the two entities to enter mediation and thus allow service to continue.
“We're working very hard to resolve this and... I'm hoping and praying this does resolve it,” said Dauphinee.