County of Wetaskiwin may change firefighting billing

Currently ‘user pay,’ may go to countywide fees on tax bills

The County of Wetaskiwin may change the way it bills people for firefighting service after a discussion at their regular council meeting Oct. 4.

Director of Emergency Services Mike Zajac presented councilors with a memo regarding how the county bills people when fire departments work on their property.

“On March 27th, 2018, correspondence was received from the Winfield & District Fire Department Society requesting that the County of Wetaskiwin investigate the introduction of a County Fire Services special tax which would be added to each property owners annual tax invoice,” stated the agenda item.

“The revenue earned from this requisition would be used to cover all operating expenses of the Winfield & District Fire Department for the provision of all necessary emergency and fire services required in their district.

“At the May 1st, 2018 council general meeting council approved a review of fire service and special tax for the County of Wetaskiwin be discussed at the 2018 Strategic Planning Session for consideration in the 2019 Budget process.

“On July 3, 2018 at the council general meeting, council tasked administration to calculate the costs to have taxation cover emergency responses, instead of the current fee for service model currently being utilized. Council wanted to have the information prior to the November 1st, 2018 Strategic Planning Session.

“If Council approved to implement a special tax to raise revenue for operating expenses for fire services this would be in addition to the annual special fire protection area tax collected from each fire zone to fund the Capital Fire Equipment Reserve.

“The County of Wetaskiwin Fire Services currently operates under Fire Bylaw 2016/44 and each fire society invoices for operational costs based on a user pay system. Implementation of the taxation for the emergency response fees would require amendments to Fire Bylaw 2016/44.”

The council memo included a chart that showed the four-year record of what firefighting costs added up o for all fire departments. Zajac noted the figure of $7.68 per $100,000 of property value to cover firefighting services. He also noted, however, that negligence isn’t included; anyone who starts a fire is responsible for the damage that it causes.

Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers noted that with a user-pay system, fire departments have to hand a firefighting bill over to property owners who may have just lost everything they owned. She stated that insurance can cover certain property losses, but firefighting costs are separate. “So many people do not know they have to pay for firefighting charges,” said Rooyakkers.

Councilor Lyle Seely said he’s also heard complaints from residents that they had to pay for the fire departments to deliver medical first response services.

The memo also stated that nearby Clearwater and Camrose counties both bill the user for firefighting services, while Leduc, Brazeau and Ponoka Counties have a taxation system to pay for them.

Councilors will discuss this issue during their strategic planning session.

They agreed to accept Zajac’s presentation for info.

Stu.salkeld@pipestoneflyer.ca

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