Town and county look to renew fire services agreement

Ponoka County served a one year notice to terminate a long-standing agreement with the Town of Ponoka.

After Ponoka County council unanimously agreed to submit a one-year notice to Town of Ponoka to terminate a fire protection services agreement that has stood between to the two municipal bodies since 1979, the town and county are already working on constructing a new agreement.

The decision to terminate the current agreement was made after an in-camera discussion, which was held at the end of county council’s Tuesday, April 28 meeting.

“I need to share with council my concerns related to the Ponoka Fire Services,” said CAO Charlie Cutforth during discussions, which followed the in-camera session.

“I have recently had senior members of the department come to my office and express their deep dissatisfaction with actions taken in the past few months by Town of Ponoka administration related to their operations,” he added.

On separate occasions, he has had three senior members of the jointly-funded Ponoka Fire Department come to him, Cutforth explained in an interview with Ponoka News.

The last time the agreement was looked at was 1994. “This agreement is 21 years old, it needs to be updated,” said Cutforth.

On the morning of Monday, May 4, the Town of Ponoka and Ponoka County administrations met to discuss the issue at hand. Cutforth says a commitment has been made by both parties to get a new agreement underway

“We’ve been assured we’re going to try and improve the communication between the two parties,” said Cutforth.

At county council’s April 28 meeting, Cutforth stated that his intention was not to interfere with town business but he felt immediate action was needed. “In fact, the town CAO has made it abundantly clear that it is her department and our input is not really welcome.”

“She has indicated that we pay a fee to contract their fire protection services and she will decide what level of service that will be,” he added.

“Am I led to believe we pay 50 per cent of the fire department costs but have no input in what they do . . . or how they do it?” Coun. Mark Matejka asked.

“That is correct,” said Cutforth.

Cutforth says his sole purpose in bringing the matter to council’s attention is to make them aware of his concern that if actions continue as they are, the Ponoka Fire Department has a high possibility of losing its senior leadership. He also felt other firefighters would leave as well. “I am very concerned that our residents may be exposed to less than reliable and functional protection.”

The agreement states the Town of Ponoka is responsible for the operation of the department and will provide services to the county under cost-sharing conditions at a 50/50 split, says Cutforth. “This arrangement has worked exceedingly well and, in fact, the Ponoka Fire Department has been a model in the province for years for municipalities our size.”

Cutforth says the fire protection services agreement was the one thing the town and the county always saw eye-to-eye on.

A recent service partnership was officiated between the Ponoka County, the Town of Rimbey and the Summer Village of Parkland Beach.

However, following the May 4 meeting Cutforth said regional services was not something to be looked at in the near future. He added that the two municipal bodies (town and county) want to focus on getting a new agreement in place.