It was a bad decision

This week's editorial tackles the town's decision to have two separate fire services.

And so it happened, the dragged-out saga of the fire services dispute between the town and the county ended with a vote by the town council in favour of separation, but not without controversy, and much to the consternation of Ponoka townsfolk.

Even just a short glance at the comments on Ponoka News Facebook page from residents of the community gives a clear impression of the widespread damnation of the decision taken by a majority of 4 to 3 votes, with most of the comments blaming specifically the four councillors who voted in favor of separation.

It goes without saying that the decision is pushing the limits of rationality, to put it mildly. And let’s not forget that representatives of the community who were present at the town council meeting did indicate, in no uncertain terms, their opposition to creating a division in the provision of a vital service for community safety. Yet, councillors, supposedly representing members of the community, voted against their wishes regardless of what was said.

Given the circumstances, people are more than justified to question the reasoning behind the choice made by the four councillors.

Let’s look at the comments made by them: Coun. Yaworski is reported to have said town’s costs would increase if the county’s fire department grew. Well then, what about the costs taxpayers of Town of Ponoka will incur when the town will have to buy a lot of new equipment to maintain a full-fledged fire department for only a few weekly calls, if any? Because in the new order of things, county’s fire department will be responsible for all highway calls and bush fires, etc. Town of Ponoka fire department will only be responsible for calls within the town limits. How many fire calls have there been in the town over the years? One wonders if the proper math has been done to back the claim that town’s costs will increase if it joins the county’s regional umbrella.

Councillor Gulka said “We didn’t do it,” suggesting the county did it. Really? If one goes back through the reports published in Ponoka News, it is very easy to see that the whole controversy started with the now ousted CAO Rachel Kunz making arbitrary decisions, including recruitment decisions, affecting the fire department, without consulting the county, which was actually paying half the costs of the town’s fire department. Paying half the costs, county should have had a 50/50 say in decision-making, but the town administration deprived the county of the right to be a part of that process. And Gulka said ““I cannot support the motion because I cannot support an agreement that doesn’t have 50/50 say,” demanding an equal power to affect decisions in an arrangement where the county will bear three fourths of the overall costs of maintaining the fire service in addition to half of the costs of any operation within the town limits. In other words, Gulka wants to have 50/50 say when town bears much less than half the costs of the new regional fire service. One wonders why… Could it be related to the rumours and the controversy surrounding the conflict of interests (actually allegations of nepotism) which the Economic Development Board considered serious enough to mention in official correspondence to town council?

Councillor Lyon said “I don’t think you can put a price on something that is an essential service.” Then the question comes what made Lyon think that the essential service wouldn’t be provided to town residents if the town joined the county’s regional organization.

It looks like many people think that separation is a disservice to the community of Ponoka. The question is whose interests this decision serves.

After the local elections in October 2013, there was such a positive atmosphere in the community with talk of a “fresh breeze” and a “new direction”. Now, 28 months and a bad recruitment decision later, that atmosphere has vanished completely and “negativity” seems to have made a comeback with residents back to wondering how Ponoka will ever find the right kind of leadership to take the town to growth and more prosperity in harmony and unity.