Meeting addresses concerns about fire service refereundum

A meeting on the proposed fire referendum service in the Rock Creek area last week drew a crowd with lots of questions.

The meeting on Oct. 5 was held to discuss the potential of creating a fire service area in Rock Creek and the Kettle Valley

A meeting on the proposed fire referendum service in the Rock Creek area last week drew a crowd with lots of questions about the impact of the proposed taxation and insurance premiums.

The meeting, hosted by Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) staff and Area E director Vicki Gee, was meant to inform residents before the referendum on the subject on Nov. 5. The referendum will now be the fifth on the subject, the last happening in 2011 and narrowly defeated.

Gee gave a presentation on the proposed taxation, notably focusing on how much individuals will be taxed. The rate for residential properties is $3.02 per $1,000 in building value. Gee specified this is not on the total value of the land—just buildings only. For instance, a house worth $100,000 will pay $302 in tax.

“I am not neutral on this,” Gee said. “I think it is the basis of everything we need to have to be a healthy, sustainable community.”

The audience seemed generally supportive of the referendum, many offering up praise for the Midway fire department and their continual hard work. Midway Fire Chief Walt Osellame was also on hand to answer questions, and shed some light on why this is a necessary service.

“We can’t tell you how many times we got calls from people asking us to please come and we could not leave the area,” Osellame said. “The fire service is not about anything except helping people, especially on a volunteer crew. Yes I know there are finances involved, and I know they will talk about that again, but in terms of fire service, it is only about helping people.”

Some members of the audience questioned how the service would benefit them on extremely rural properties, including one man who spoke out against the referendum due to the inaccessibility of his home up an extremely long unpaved driveway.

The original fee for service agreement was created in 2009 after a referendum on fire protection for the area failed. Gee said the service was in response to many people asking about what they could do.

After some questions from the audience, local insurance agent and Midway resident Doug McMynn stood and answered some questions about insurance rates going down as a result of the fire service. He said while each resident needs to shop around with their company and look at alternatives, many residents could see a break that comes close, if not entirely offsetting the cost of the added tax.

“Go back to your insurance companies and find out,’ McMynn said. “In the village you pay more on taxes but a lot less on insurance. Out in the valley it is the opposite. [Right now] you have to decided whether this is a viable way to protect the people of Rock Creek and the Kettle Valley.”

Gee said that as audience members could tell, she really believed the service would be good for the area and could be a jumping off point for even more extensive coverage. However, they have to start somewhere, she said.

The major differences this year compared to previous years and referendums is that finally, the service will not be starting from scratch. There are already volunteers, training, and some equipment in place, making it easier to get off the ground, Gee said.

“We need to be able to attract young people, to attract business and new business here—having this kind of service is critical to that. This is not just about what might happen to someone’s house,” Gee said.

“This is about our entire community.”