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Local governments in spat over fire commission

Local governments in spat over fire commission

The proposed dissolution of the Gibsons and District Fire Protection Commission by the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is ruffling political feathers. The Gibsons and District fire service area includes the Town of Gibsons and rural areas E (Elphinstone) and F (West Howe Sound), but two of those three areas are not on board with the decision.

Gibsons Town Council discussed the matter at their Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 7 in response to a letter signed by SCRD Chair Garry Nohr requesting that Gibsons consent to “remove the requirement for a joint Fire Protection Commission.”

“I’m a bit surprised that they sent this to us without having entered into any kind of discussions beforehand,” said Gibsons Mayor Wayne Rowe. Rowe noted that a key responsibility of the commission is to develop the fire service annual budget.

“I’m a bit concerned when we’re the major funder of this function that we would abdicate this to the regional district,” said Rowe.

Councilor Silas White, who represented the Town at the SCRD board in 2016, agreed.

“I find the letter baffling. ‘After careful consideration,’ it says, ‘the board approved dissolving the commission.’ I was on the board. I don’t remember that. I don’t remember dissolving it or the careful consideration,” said White.

A staff report presented to the SCRD’s Corporate and Administrative Services Committee on Oct. 27, 2016 made recommendations on the future of 15 advisory committees, including the fire commission. Committee minutes record that the committee voted in favour of the recommendations, but the Town’s representative did not feel the matter was fully discussed.

“There was no formal discussion or direction on the fire commission specifically, and even if there were, I think for the SCRD to unilaterally make that decision would have been problematic,” said White.

Area F Director, Lorne Lewis, in an interview, agreed with White.

“This shouldn’t have been lumped in with the advisory committees,” said Lewis. He said that he had voted in favour of dissolving the commission “by mistake”, not realizing that the fire commission was included in a list of SCRD advisory committees.

Area F Director, Ian Winn, in an email, defended the decision to disband the commission.

“The way it was written in the bylaws stated you had to have the commission to do the budget,” said Winn. “That aspect of the commission is still valuable and still required and we could do it in a different way.”

Winn stressed that the SCRD needed to streamline its meeting process and not hold more meetings than are absolutely needed. But he admitted: “Communications on the fire commission changes with the Town of Gibsons could have been handled
better.”

In order to dissolve the Fire Commission, which was established under an SCRD bylaw in 1996, the SCRD must pass an amended bylaw and then submit it for the approval of the provincial Inspector of Municipalities. Gibsons Council voted unanimously to not consent to dissolution of the Commission.

Donna McMahon

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