Starting May 1, fire services in the town and county of Ponoka will fall under one umbrella.
Town of Ponoka council held a special meeting Wednesday afternoon just after its first day of budget deliberations to discuss the fate of the Ponoka Fire Department (PFD).
Over the last few weeks, administrations with the town and county put together a proposed agreement that would see the county take over the town’s fire services operations.
“This agreement was based largely on the previous agreement between the town and county, of course switching the roles and updating a number of clauses,” CAO Albert Flootman told council.
Outlined within the proposal is how the operations and transfer process will take place, which includes the department providing the personnel needed to protect town and county residents.
Rates and costs
Ponoka County will provide all the apparatus needed to take calls within the town.
Costs for services will be based on Alberta Transportation fees that the county fire department collects on highway roads.
As for rates, fees will be tallied on a per call basis with hourly rates which are: $615 per hour per rescue truck and $185 per hour per command unit.
To work within those amounts, the town will pay the county $35,000 quarterly ($140,000 per year), which will be reconciled by the end of the year.
Where the Town of Ponoka will contribute each year is to a capital replacement program. The amount is set at $70,000 per year and that cost will be reviewed every five years.
“This amount will be reviewed every five years under this agreement,” said Flootman.
Currently the PFD pays a per capita fee to the Red Deer Dispatch Centre, of which the county does as well, however, 911 dispatch fees will be absorbed by the county under this agreement.
One thing the town cannot breach is purchasing new fire equipment. Flootman feels this is fair as it would cause confusion if the town were to buy fire apparatus when it doesn’t have a service.
There are two pieces of equipment Ponoka County will purchase at their depreciated value, which are the town’s new rescue truck, Engine 16, and the ladder truck, Ladder 9.
Engine 16, with its new equipment is valued at approximately $380,000 and Ladder 9, due to its age, will have no cost value.
If the county is unable to respond to a fire in town, said Flootman, the department would then rely on mutual aid. However, he added that Engine 16 will be set aside mainly for use within the town.
The county will provide monthly fire call reports, insurance and other necessities such as workers compensation and training.
This deal also leaves the town’s fire hall as its own as the county already has its own hall.
Flootman said this means the town is able to do with the hall as it wants.
From a financial perspective, Flootman spoke in favour of the proposal.
He said the PFD budget sits at around $450,000 per year and he expects the town to pay the county about $210,000 per year for services based on a certain number of calls.
“It literally would cut our fire services costs in half,” said Flootman.
Coun. Clayton Nelson asked about the history of the department when the PFD handled both the town and county calls and how often there was a fire within town and county at the same time. Flootman wasn’t able to say exactly how often but confirmed the status of Engine 16 staying within the town.
Coun. Kevin Ferguson asked about the one-year termination clause outlined within the agreement. He worried about the chances of the county pulling out of the agreement.
Flootman suggested the chances of that are slim. However, he added that it is possible to establish a fire department within one year considering that the county did the same.
Mayor Rick Bonnett said the county affirmed that all PFD members are welcome to apply.
“We’ve got significant dollars of training for our guys,” said Bonnett.
“We’re actually in an unusual situation,” added Flootman. “We have in excess of 50 firefighters within the communities.”
He added that there’s a strong core of qualified firefighters within the departments.
Council voted unanimously in favour of the request to join with the county. Coun. Sandra Lyon was not in attendance due to medical issues.
Speaking to Ponoka News, Bonnett said with council going through budget deliberations it needed to consider the next steps for the department, another reason for the special meeting.
“We need to know where our costs are going forward,” said Bonnett.
There is also the consideration of what will happen with the town’s only full time fire services employee, Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson, however, Bonnett declined to comment stating that is a personnel decision for Flootman.
“We looked at this from the side of cost savings to the community,” explained Bonnett.
He pointed out that Ponoka County council still has to make a decision. In speaking with Reeve Paul McLauchlin, a special conference call meeting was set for Thursday morning at 9 a.m., however, with council members busy with calving season and some not in the country, the meeting was moved to a later date.
McLauchlin did say that the county takes the decision seriously, which is one of the reasons for the special meeting.
Web poll results
Ponoka News posted a web poll related to town council’s decision with this question: Do you think the Town of Ponoka decision to have Ponoka County take over fire services was the right decision?
Out of the 142 votes, the majority — 117 or just over 82 per cent — agreed that it was the right decision while 22 — 15.5 per cent — were a firm “no” and three stated they were unsure.
The web poll is not an official Town of Ponoka poll and was posed merely to gauge readers’ reactions.