Further to my emails of Sept. 6, 2015 and Sept. 10, 2015, I would like to turn around the focus of my comments to offer you a number of options to positively resolve the contract dispute between the Windsor Fire Department (WFD) and the Municipality of the District of West Hants.
The three options for solution that are most talked about in West Hants are as follows.
1.) Accept the municipality’s decision and go with the new fire service as proposed.
While council has approved this action unanimously, it is accepted by few citizens and taxpayers, if any, in the West Hants area, particularly by those citizens of Mount Denson, Falmouth, Three Miles Plains and Vaughans — the present fire protection area serviced by WFD.
2.) Have the West Hants council agree to allow a plebiscite in the affected areas as provided by provincial legislation.
If they are confident in their actions, council has nothing to worry about. If the citizens vote against the actions taken, council must rescind its action and negotiate a deal with WFD in good faith.
3.) The citizens have the right under Section 358 of the Municipal Government Act to request a hearing at the UARB to be annexed to the Town of Windsor.
Gentlemen, you should be aware that because the municipal council is not willing to listen to its citizens, actions are already started to raise petitions for at least 10 per cent of the affected citizens in each fire protection area so that an application can be made to the UARB for these areas to be annexed to the Town of Windsor. And this action is totally within their rights if the minister or the municipality will not act to resolve this matter.
However, there is a preferred option to resolve this matter.
4.) Presently, the WFD fire protection services charge of $514,000 per annum is paid for out of the general tax rate of the municipality. The total fire protection costs for the municipality and the former Town of Hantsport is approximately $2 million based on the 2014 municipal statistics. I understand that this works out to about $0.15 on the tax rate. I further estimate that because the WFD fire protection area is the fastest growing areas of the municipality, this general rate raises about $1.1 million for fire services.
My suggestions and recommendations are as follows.
1.) The municipal council continue to pay $514,000 per annum to the WFD until March 31, 2016.
2.) In the 2016 budget, municipal council separate fire protection services from the general tax rate and assess each area of the municipality by an area rate.
3.) Municipal council appoint a community committee for the WFD fire protection area and allow the committee to set an area rate to cover the fire services provided by WFD for operations and capital and have this area rate added to their tax bills.
The Municipal Government Act sets out in detail in Section 27 the ability for community committees to be set by municipal council. The MGA Section 27 (1) states that council may establish, by policy, a community committee for an area. Further, Section 27 (2) states that a policy establishing a community committee shall a) define the boundaries of the area for which the committee is responsible and set out the duties of the committee; and b) include such other matters as the council deems advisable. Section 27 (3) states that the powers and duties of a community committee may include: (a) monitoring the provision of services to the area for which the committee is responsible and recommending the appropriate level of services, areas where additional services are required and ways in which the provision of services can be improved; (b) the establishment of one or more advisory subcommittees; (c) making recommendations to the council respecting any matter intended to improve conditions in the area for which the committee is responsible including, but not limited to, recommendations respecting (i) inadequacies in existing services provided to the area and the manner in which they might be resolved, additional services that might be required and the manner in which the costs of funding these services might be raised, (ii) bylaws or regulations, including those regarding planning, that are required, and (iii) the adoption of policies that would allow the people of the area to participate more effectively in the governance of the area.
The appointment of a community committee is particularly important in this situation because of Section 27 (3)(c) (iii), which allows the people of the area to participate more effectively in the governance of the area.
I honestly believe that the above noted recommendation will resolve this matter and bring some closure.
I look forward to your leadership to resolve this dispute.