The Southside Volunteer Department is going to have to wait for the regional district to complete an “in-depth review of the financial situation of all rural fire departments” before the firefighting corps can replace its broken-down engine.
That’s according to Jason Llewellyn, planning director for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN).
Before any money is invested in replacing the engine, the RDBN is planning to complete a “detailed department review,” a process expected to be complete this summer, said Llewellyn in an email exchange with the Lakes District News.
“This way, if more funds are needed, we can go to the public with a clear plan and concrete information regarding the fire department’s long-term needs and the taxation implications,” he said.
The Southside volunteer fire department is currently “not meeting requirements” for fighting structure fires, according to volunteer fire chief Evan Plesko. In an interview, Plesko said the department’s firefighting capacities are generally limited to smaller wild-land fires.
Reserve fund worth $107,000
The RDBN has a reserve fund worth $107,000 for replacing equipment for the Southside fire department, and another $15,000 for maintenance and repair services, according to Llewellyn.
The regional district makes decisions about how those funds are spent, “in close cooperation with local fire departments,” according to Llewellyn.
The local firefighting corps is funded by a property tax on residents of the Southside fire protection area.
That tax, which is levied by the RBDN, currently stands at $1.44 for every $1,000 of taxable property. About $40,000 was levied in 2017, according to Llewellyn.
Consent needed for tax hike
Regulations allow the regional district to raise that rate by up to 25 percent every five years, without going through with a referendum or other process indicating “consent” from the public, said Llewellyn — but the RDBN already raised that tax in 2016.
That means the tax can’t be raised until 2021, unless the RDBN “obtains the consent of those persons being taxed.”
But before asking taxpayers to cough up the extra cash, the RDBN wants to complete its financial review.
“If the review indicates that increased taxation is necessary to maintain service levels, the RDBN may initiate the process to obtain approval from residents in the service area for the necessary taxation increase,” said Llewellyn.
He added that the RDBN “enjoys a good working relationship with the Southside Volunteer Fire Department” and that the two organizations are working together to “to confirm their long-term needs in a manner which provides best value for service for taxpayers.”
Llewellyn also said the RDBN “takes advantage of grant opportunities available to rural fire departments.”