In response to multiple inquiries from County of Wetaskiwin residents, the county is clarifying the recent changes made to the fire billing policy.
In 1998 the County of Wetaskiwin began charging the owner or occupant of the land or the person(s) responsible for the fire with fire protection charges. Billing for Fire Protection Services continued until 2018 when county council discussed the option of covering Fire Protection Services through a special fire tax during strategic planning in 2018 for the 2019 budget.
At that time, the county calculated that it would need to collect $217,993 in order to cover the cost of Fire Protection Services based on a four-year average. The exception would be if the owner or occupant was found negligent or in contravention of the Fire Services Bylaw in which case they would receive a bill for the full cost of the Fire Protection Service.
During the review of the fire billing policy in 2018, council also considered what surrounding municipalities were doing and discovered that Leduc, Brazeau, and Ponoka County covered fire services through taxes while Clearwater and Camrose County had a user pay system where citizens were billed for fire services.
In 2019 County of Wetaskiwin Council approved a new Fire Services Bylaw that would cover the costs of Fire Protection Services through a special fire tax with an approximate budget of $300,000 annually.
The county says in 2019 the actual cost of Fire Protection Services was $197,381 which resulted in the county reducing the Fire Production Services budget to $200,000. They say this reduction was a reflection of the reduction of special fire tax amount charged to county residents.
At the end of 2021 and early 2022, county council began discussing options for funding Fire Protection Services and on April 5, 2022, council approved a new Fire Services Bylaw that re-instated the fire protection billing that had been in effect from 1998 to 2018.
County of Wetaskiwin Reeve Josh Bishop said, “it has become evident that by covering firefighting costs through taxes is leaving available money on the table where properties covered by insurance for these costs cannot be billed if we do not charge for the service.
“This leaves the residents still stuck with the costs through both taxation and insurance premiums. Additionally, rising costs and more frequent incidents would have led to a further increase in the fire services levy.”
Effective as of May 1, 2022, county residents will be charged for costs related to fire protection up to $10,000 provided that the fire was not caused by gross negligence or in contravention of the Fire Services Bylaw. If gross negligence or contravention of the Bylaw is confirmed, the party responsible will be liable for the entire cost of the fire.
Charges for Fire Protection Services will not be billed in the event of a medical first response.
The county advises residents to check with their insurance provider to ensure that their policy includes firefighting insurance to cover firefighting costs up to $10,000 at a minimum.