Franklin River Road residents will receive fire protection services in 2013 at 2012 prices.
Port Alberni city councillors voted to maintain the 2012 fee for service level, and to explore options with the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District over the next 12 months.
The city has a three-year old agreement with Franklin Road residents that provides them with fire protection services.
In exchange for the service the residents pay fees based on the assessed value of their homes, much like how city residents pay.
The problem isn’t the service but rather the formula used to calculate it, Port Alberni Fire Chief Time Pley said.
Several factors have combined to increase the fee over the maximum amount permitted under the ACRD’s bylaws.
Those factors include: significantly increased assessed values of properties in the Franklin Road area; new construction in Franklin that has inflated values; low growth in the city; a freeze on industrial taxes; and a 100 per cent surcharge for lack of water supply to fight fires in Franklin, a report noted.
Spiraling assessed property values in Franklin are having the biggest impact on the increasing fee, Pley said.
Based on a one dollar per $1,000 assessed value of an average home, the fees have gone from $492 in 2011 to $587 in 2013.
By comparison, fees for city residents have gone from $160 in 2011 to $185 in 2013.
The city council motion freezes the Franklin fees at the 2012 value of $576.
Delivering fire protection on a regional level remains a strategic goal of the city’s, and incremental progress has been made in this area, Pley said. “We’re on a path to regional fire service, but that path is going to have some curves in it and this is one of them,” he said.
Business is business, Coun. Hira Chopra said.
“At the end of the day it cost us this much to provide the service. Someone has to pay or the taxpayers will have to,” Chopra said.
The city actually earned money because there have been no fires, so the fee is akin to a form of insurance, he added.
If the city gives Franklin residents a break then it’s a slippery slope with other entities the city has such a contract with, like First Nations, Chopra said.
“If we give them a break then others are going to want a break too,” he said. “We should stick to our principles.”
Franklin homeowners have been caught off-guard and breathing room is needed to manoeuvre, ACRD Cherry Creek director Lucas Banton said.
“If residents buy fire insurance then the premium they pay is less than the fee to the city,” Banton said.
It’s an economic issue, Banton said, and residents have hit a threshold.