Ponoka town council voted by 4 to 3 to adopt a new firefighter policy at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb 23, amalgamating six previously separate policies into one and introducing a new payment line for department members.
The votes were cast along the same lines as in the decision separating town’s fire services from the county, with Tim Falkiner, Sandra Lyon, Loanna Gulka and Marc Yaworski voting in favour while Mayor Rick Bonnett, Carla Prediger and Teri Underhill remaining opposed.
The adopted policy keeps the hourly remuneration at $23.33, but introduces an on-call pay, explained Alison Stangeland, human resources manager for the Town of Ponoka.
“We added on-call pay, which has been a big item in here,” explained Stangeland.
Coun. Carla Prediger suggested that with a petition request coming to the town to join a regional service with the county, it may be better to wait.
Coun. Loanna Gulka disagreed. “Right now this is the department that we have … and if I’m off base, we held a vote.”
“We also do have an active position that is in front of us that should be considered,” added Prediger.
Full changes are expected to add $9,000 to the town’s annual operations budget with the details of on-call pay being
* Weeknights from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m – $15 per day;
* Weekend days starting at midnight to 11:59 p.m. – $25 per day;
* General holidays starting at midnight to 11:59 p.m. – $50 per day;
There is on-call rotation for eight individuals on the department. It also includes the recognition of a new liuetenant position and policies for the town employees as members of the department.
Coun. Teri Underhill asked why they would be asked to approve this increase if it is not in the budget discussions. She asked what happens if council approves the policy but not the budgeting.
Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson suggested the extra cost is a way of thanking volunteer firefighters for taking the time out of their lives. He said there is additional training occuring for senior members who could then train other firefighters.
In a recent training, deputy chief Kelsey Hycha who is also a town employee, went to training to be certified to be a fire inspector. Wilkinson said now Hycha and himself can conduct inspections, which has benefits if one or the other is away.
As for town employees, they are not permitted to go to a call if they are the only ones on shift at their department. Town employees, besides Wilkinson are Hycha, building services; Dan Svitich, manager of technology services and Derrick Lewis, acting aquaplex operator.
How council must act if petition is successful
It is unclear how council must act on the petition by Deb Nicol and Jim Hamilton that brought in more than 1,100 signatures.
The petition requests that council either join regional fire services or hold a plebiscite where residents vote on the issue.
Coun. Tim Falkiner wondered what council’s requirement is if the petition is considered legitimate. CAO Albert Flootman replied he wants to have a full detail of what should happen at the March 8 meeting.
He added that based on the information he could gather in the Municipal Government Act (MGA) council would not be required to act. However, in an interview with Sandra Smith, communications manager, she said the town is following up with Municipal Affairs and the town lawyer to confirm what steps need to be taken as it is not clear in the MGA.
The area Hamilton said he looked at in the MGA and believes would require a plebiscite is section 231, sub-section 5b. “I believe very strongly my position is right,” he stressed.
He believes the petition will be binding requiring a plebiscite.
“More people voted for the petition than some councillors were voted on in the last election,” said Hamilton.
Paying for a plebiscite would fall to the taxpayers and Hamilton said he hopes council makes the right decision.
“If council wishes to waste more money, then there is nothing I can do but to force a plebiscite,” said Hamilton.
Resident challenges council on regionalization process
One resident questioned council on the whole fire regionalization process during the public forum portion of the meeting.
Debbie Hycha — sister to Kelsey Hycha who is the deputy fire chief and a town employee — questioned council on how things went. “Am I right in assuming things probably could have been done better?”
She suggests there wasn’t enough involvement from both councils and added that while the CAO position is important, councils should have had more hand in protective services.
Her second question: “What else are we going to give the county?”
Mayor Rick Bonnett said council would take her comments under advisement.
New pumper truck on the way
The town has ordered its new rescue truck for the Ponoka Fire Department and its deleivery is expected in April.
During budget deliberations $500,000 was set aside for the truck. While it has not been set, it is believed the truck will be paid for using funding from the province’s Municipal Sustainabilty Initative (MSI), which allows for infrastructure improvements such as roads and capital costs such as a fire truck.
According to Municipal Affairs, the town received $2.2 million in 2015 in MSI funding.