Valley residents weigh in on city budget

City of Port Alberni’s first e-town hall budget meeting allowed the public to comment on the draft five-year financial plan

Questions and concerns regarding possible cuts to Port Alberni Fire Department personnel, the museum and promotion for the Alberni Valley made up the bulk of inquiries from community members during the City of Port Alberni’s first e-town hall budget meeting.

The public had the chance to weigh in on the City of Port Alberni’s five-year financial draft plan at a Feb. 15 e-town hall budget meeting, either in person or online.

After Tim Pley, City of Port Alberni manager, gave an overview on the 2017-2021 budget draft, the floor was open to anyone wanting to make comment.

Close to 25 residents came to the council chambers but the first comments came through email.

Paraphrasing an email, city deputy clerk, Jake Martens, read one from a resident who strongly encouraged city council to maintain the present number of fire department personnel and that diminishing that number would leave the city more vulnerable to slower and less effective wait times.

According to the city’s 2017-2021 financial plan, the Port Alberni fire department may be looking at fewer firefighters on shift in the next five years in order to reduce costs.

The budget plan envisions reducing one firefighter position by attrition by 2017, and another by attrition by 2020. This would result in some occurrences of shifts being staffed by fewer than four personnel.

Travis Cross, president of the Port Alberni Professional Fire Fighters Association, spoke on this matter at the meeting.

“It seems like there has been a fair amount of questions regarding what a three-person engine response would look like compared to a four-person engine response,” Cross said. “I think it’s good that those questions are being asked because the difference is quite significant. It’s not just a modest change in the service level, it’s quite a drastic change.”

Cross explained that due to safety concerns and Work Safe regulations, a three-person engine response team is prohibited from entering a structure fire.

“If we get to a call with three on scene and there’s a fire in the building, we cannot enter to see the fire and put that fire out. It’s next to impossible to put that fire out from the outside so we will be forced to be outside until more help arrives,” Cross said. “If there’s someone in the building that we may have to rescue if we have a three-person response model we cannot go into that building.”

Urging city council to deeply consider a three- versus four-person response, Cross said with three, loss would be inevitable.

“It’s going to equal higher fire loss, financially, economically and god forbid a loss of life,” Cross said.

“If there’s someone in the building that we may have to rescue if we have a three-person response model we cannot go into that building.”

Urging city council to deeply consider a three- versus four-person response, Cross said with three, loss would be inevitable.

“It’s going to equal higher fire loss, financially, economically and god forbid a loss of life,” Cross said.

The city’s draft budget for the fire department shows a five per cent increase over the next five years.

Councillor Denis Sauve said he hopes council can make the four-person response remain.

“When I was introduced to all this information and the five per cent for the five years, I knew there was going to be an issue,” Sauve said. “The one thing I never wanted to debate with council is when it comes to our core services and public safety.”

“I do want to look and see how it would reflect our budget,” he said.

“I do want to look and see how it would reflect our budget,” he said.

Concerns regarding the Alberni Valley Museum were also raised. Resident Pam Craig, who is a member of the heritage commission, told mayor and councillors that it was distressing to hear that the museum was not a core operation of core value to them.

“This community would not be this community if it wasn’t for the history and the hard work of our parents and former members of our community which are preserved at the museum,” Craig said.

The budget does not reflect a change in status of the museum, but a process is currently being explored by city staff.

“I really urge you to take a second look at that. I know you were asking for a different model but in the end the city has to have a responsibility to partake and maintain that wonderful collection that truly is a treasure to this community,” Craig said.

More comments came in through email, Twitter and Facebook throughout the meeting. One resident voiced support for the city’s economic development advertising budget and said it is important to spread the reach of a televised promotion for Port Alberni beyond B.C.

Karly.blats@albernivalleynews.com

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