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Emergency dispatch debate bogs down budget

A photo from a consultant
A photo from a consultant's report showing a fire dispatch radio repeater attached to a dilapidated barn near Princeton. It's one of the items slated for improvement under a $1.6-million upgrade plan.
— image credit: Submitted

Continued debate around upgrades to the area’s fire dispatch system stalled adoption Thursday of regional district’s 2013 budget.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen board was scheduled to vote on a new five-year financial plan that includes a $1.6-million capital expenditure for the upgrade work. However, chief administrative officer Bill Newell suggested final adoption be postponed for two weeks to give directors more time to reflect on the contentious issue of the dispatch system upgrade.

A consultant hired to study the system told the board in November that luck alone has prevented a public safety mishap due to antiquated and improperly installed telecommunications equipment.

Acting on that consultant’s advice, RDOS staff recommended directors approve in the budget a plan to borrow $1.6-million to implement a new zoned-approach system. The consultant also outlined another option for a one-to-one system that would carry a $2.1-million price tag.

The zoned approach would group 16 fire halls into three zones. All departments in each zone would then share a direct radio link to dispatch in Kelowna.

The Penticton Fire Department, which receives 70 per cent of the region’s calls, would maintain its separate connection to dispatch, and upgrades elsewhere would include updated equipment and a new radio repeater on Okanagan Mountain.

The one-to-one approach would connect each fire department directly to dispatch by radio. But Newell said the zoned approach, used in the Central Okanagan, offers “the best value for the best levels of service.”

Some directors, however, said it would be a step backwards for their community.

Orv Robson, a Summerland councillor who sits on the RDOS board, said the new system would eliminate his fire department’s direct link to Kelowna.

“We don’t need to downgrade our service to meet the zoned service, and that’s what we’re being asked to do,” Robson said.

“I have a problem with that. So does the fire chief and the mayor and council.”

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells said his fire department is also set against the proposed system upgrade because its existing equipment is sufficient.

“Here we sit on the political side with very, very limited information against the people who are using it and putting it into operation every day,” Wells said.

The upgrade would be paid for according to a funding formula based on assessed property values in each RDOS area and municipality. That means Penticton would pay 40 per cent of the cost, despite receiving the least benefit from the upgrade.

Even still, Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said he’s “very comfortable with what’s proposed” because it’s for the good of the region.

After about an hour of debate, second and third reading of the budget passed with Wells, Robson and Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer opposed. Final adoption was pushed back to the March 21 board meeting.

The RDOS budget sets this year’s tax requisition on residents at $13.1 million, up about $600,000 from last year.  It includes an operating budget of $28.9 million and capital expenditures of $20.7 million. The bulk of RDOS revenue comes in the form service fees and grants from senior governments.

 

 

 

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