At their last regular meeting, Peachland council unanimously gave third reading to a bylaw that would allow the town to borrow up to $17.5 million for a protective services building to house the fire department, Peachland Community Policing, and possibly the local BC ambulance service, as well. The building may also include a small office for the RCMP, CAO Joe Creron said.
Third reading of the bylaw paves the way for a referendum, which will take place in conjunction with the municipal election on Oct. 15, when taxpayers will decide whether or not to allow the town to proceed with borrowing.
“One of the reasons we want a referendum in conjunction with our election is it saves us $25,000,” explained Creron.
“If the referendum fails, then at that point we can’t build a fire hall. If the referendum is successful, we still can’t proceed until council gives us the approval through a fourth and final reading. Plus, we need to find out what the final costs are. All through the process, even when we have a final cost, council can still stop and say, ‘hold on’.”
A new building for the fire department is estimated to cost about $20 million, although Creron noted that 30 per cent of that cost is contingency.
The town is looking to borrow a maximum of $17.5 million, which would have a significant tax impact.
The maximum estimated cost per household is $401 annually in the form of a parcel tax, which would be $34 per month for 30 years, at an assumed rate of 4.3 per cent. That estimate is based on the current number of properties within the district so costs will decrease with an increase of households and development.
About $200 in parcel taxes will be removed soon, including a sewer main force parcel tax that’s been in place since 1998 and set to expire in 2023.
The town’s finance director says that means effectively there would only be a $200 increase in parcel tax.
“How are we going to be creative?” asked Creron. “We’re going to look for grants, we’re going to consider partnerships and we’ll look at a variety of ways to try to figure out how to bring this in so it’s palatable for our community and affordable.”
Creron also said that after the referendum they may choose to delay construction of the building for a while to work out partnerships, get grant funding or wait for more parcel taxes to fall off.
“We will do our very best to try to bring this in so it’s affordable,” said Creron.
“We need also to remember that the existing fire hall has value and that can be offset against the additional cost of the new facility somehow,” said Coun. Keith Fielding.
Director of finance Garry Filafilo said the parcel tax for the building would be phased in. He also mentioned that the town could look at selling assets they don’t need.
Currently the fire department is located on 3rd St but the plan is to construct a new building on a lot the district owns at San Clemente Ave and 13th St.
The municipality says improved community safety is the number one reason for relocating the fire department to a larger, more centralized location.
Relocating next to the highway would improve emergency response times as currently paid-on-call firefighters must travel through traffic-calmed Beach Ave to get to the fire hall and once they’ve found a parking spot, fire trucks must also leave through Beach Ave, where the speed limit is just 30 km/h.
Peachland fire chief Dennis Craig estimates the advantages of the new location would improve response times by two to three minutes.
“Given the nature of wildfire and the threat it poses to the community I think we’re certainly going to need an upgraded protective services building at some time in the near future and certainly the cost is going to be significant,” said Coun. Mike Kent.
“I believe the town is desperately in need of a new fire hall and will support this, but I also would caution those working on this project to make sure that we get an appropriate fire hall and that the manner of construction and the manner in which it is constructed is the most efficient possible and that the best value is driven out of this project at every turn of the page,” said Coun. Terry Condon.
Coun. Patrick Van Minsel said he also is supportive of the project, but questioned Filafilo about where this would leave the municipality’s borrowing power.
Filafilo said his conservative estimate is that the municipality would have an additional $5 million in borrowing capacity, based on 2020 figures from the province. 2021 figures won’t be available until November, he said.
“This is very necessary for this community,” said Mayor Cindy Fortin.
The fire department’s current building, Station 21, is about 60 years old and was never designed to be a fire hall. Originally it housed the public works department and later morphed into a fire station.
An open house was held last month but only 31 members of the public attended. A second public engagement session will take place prior to the referendum.
Those who missed the open house can view the information package at peachland.ca/firehall.