Deputy fire chief Stephen Hanna and fire chief Michael Burgess stand with Saanich Fire Department’s new fire engine in May 2016. Local officials are still assessing the effects of five communities leaving Saanich’s fire dispatch system. Saanich News file photo

Saanich extends fire dispatch agreement with departing communities

Saanich will continue to dispatch fire services to five communities for several months longer after council Monday approved amendments to the existing agreement.

The municipality stands to earn almost $300,000 combined from Colwood, Esquimalt, North Saanich, Sidney and View Royal under the terms of the amendment.

While the quintet has announced plans to contract fire dispatch through the Lower Mainland community of Surrey, the transition has taken longer than anticipated.

The approved amendments extend a temporary service agreement between Saanich and the departing communities until Dec. 31, 2018.

It was scheduled to run until April 30. The new agreement now runs until the end of the year, but allows for earlier termination with a notice of 60 days.

The fees that Saanich starts to earn reflect the higher rates that council had approved in November 2017 – the very same higher rates that the five communities cited in their earlier decision to cut their ties with Saanich and seek a new contract with Surrey said to be cheaper than what Saanich could offer.

Surrey’s annual fees for the five communities would range from $44,000 (North Saanich) to $103,400 (Colwood) for 2018. Saanich’s rate for the five communities range from $91,200 (North Saanich) to $196,200 (Esquimalt).

Surrey’s charge for the five Island communities would rise over the coming years, but remain below Saanich’s rates. Consider the figures. In 2022, Esquimalt would pay Saanich $219,100, Surrey $107,711. Overall, the total difference between Saanich and Surrey would be more than $1.5 million over five years.

Monday’s decision marks the second time Saanich council has extended its temporary arrangement with the five communities, and 2018 budget talks included some discussion about finding ways to stop the pending departure of the communities, as Saanich signalled its willingness to discuss terms with the departing communities.

Mike Burgess, Saanich’s fire chief, said in late March that the five communities had not yet formally announced their decision to depart, and suggested that Saanich could improve its cards by offering them a longer extension under the lower rates.

Saanich, it appears, has not chosen that route.

Saanich’s decision came after Sooke councillors raised concerns about the effects of having Surrey handle fire dispatch for the five Greater Victoria communities.

“I’m very concerned about these municipalities taking fire dispatch outside the region,” said Coun. Kerrie Reay.

She noted among other points that the entire emergency dispatch system is designed with the local CREST emergency radio system in mind.

“[Greater Victoria] has aligned our technology on a regional approach and if they’re going to an outside contractor, I have some real concerns about whether there’s a level of risk management assessment done in terms the impact it has on the rest of the municipalities,” said Reay, who has sat on the CREST board for the last six years. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the Capital Region to have three or four municipalities go elsewhere. There’s an impact for us.”

– With files from Kevin Laird

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