Last week the District of Peachland held its first public engagement session for the proposed new protective services building.
At their information session, the town laid out why the fire department needs a new building and what it is expected to cost taxpayers if they agree to borrowing, a question that will be put to them in the form of a referendum on Oct. 15.
The total cost of the building is estimated at approximately $20 million. The town is pursuing grant opportunities to offset some of the cost, but this fall they will be looking for voter approval to borrow $17.5 million.
The maximum estimated cost per household is $401 annually in the form of a parcel tax, which would be $34 per month for 30 years, at an assumed rate of 4.3 per cent. That estimate is based on the current number of properties within the district so costs will decrease with an increase of households and development.
“The plan is to phase in the project, so the parcel tax would be phased in,” said director of finance Garry Filafilo. “It won’t be an immediate hit.”
Filafilo also noted that about $200 in parcel taxes will be removed soon, including a sewer main force parcel tax that’s been in place since 1998 and set to expire in 2023.
“That means effectively there would only be a $200 increase in parcel tax,” said Filafilo.
Currently the fire department is located on 3rd St but the plan is to construct a new building in the more centralized lot the district owns at San Clemente Ave and 13th St.
The municipality says improved community safety is the number one reason for relocating the fire department to a larger, more centralized location.
Relocating next to the highway would improve emergency response times as currently paid-on-call firefighters must travel through traffic-calmed Beach Ave to get to the fire hall and once they’ve found a parking spot nearby and they’re there, fire trucks must also leave through Beach Ave, where the speed limit is just 30 km/h.
The new building would be located away from Beach Ave and is designed to have on-site parking for firefighters, which would contribute to improved response times.
“Being by the highway, our response times would improve by probably two to three minutes, which is significant. That would be a huge improvement to the safety of our citizens,” said fire chief Dennis Craig.
The fire department’s current building, Station 21, is about 60 years old and was never designed to be a fire hall. Originally it housed the public works department and later morphed into a fire station.
“There are a lot of code violations in this building,” Craig told the View. “As you can tell right now, when the trucks are in here we have no exit out of the building. Even though there are these great big bay doors, these bay doors don’t count as emergency exits. You need a man door that opens and closes. All of our man doors are blocked by trucks.”
The fire hall is so small that the last time they bought a truck it had to be customized to fit and it barely squeezes in and out.
The new building design has larger apparatus bays that will allow for “a more functional response to emergencies.”
As the community gets more four-storey walk up buildings, the town is eventually going to need an aerial ladder, said Craig.
“Currently we have an agreement to use West Kelowna’s aerial, but eventually we’re going to need our own aerial. Fire underwriters are going to mandate it and we physically can’t put an aerial in this building.”
The new location for the fire department is being called a protective services building rather than a fire hall because it isn’t yet determined if BC Emergency Health Services will be invited to join the fire department in the new building.
The municipality is in discussions with BC Emergency Health Services, which is operated by the province, but a decision about whether or not to include them in the building will be deferred until after the referendum, when the town will have a clearer idea of the budget they have to work with.
“This has been in the making for a long time, and now is the time to do it,” said Mayor Cindy Fortin. “It’s not going to get any cheaper, let’s put it that way.”
The referendum will be held at the same time as the civic election, with opportunities to vote by mail in advance or at your local polling station.
A second public engagement session will take place prior to the referendum.
If you missed the open house you can view the information package at peachland.ca/firehall.