From the Mayors Desk

New Fire Hall for the Next 50 Years

NOTE: This is my 91st From the Mayor’s Desk article, originally published in the November 2017 edition of I Love Creston. All figures and amounts discussed here are updated for the 2018 pre-referendum. Please visit the 2018 Referendum for Borrowing page to view the current information on the proposed fire hall project. You can also pick up a paper copy of these questions and answers at Town Hall.

Our community is growing! The most recent Canada census data (2016) indicated our population to be at 5,351. As we continue to grow and develop, we need to plan strategically for our infrastructure. And our infrastructure includes more than pipes and roads; it also includes municipal buildings.

A key piece of our municipal infrastructure is our fire hall. Did you know that this building, located on 10th Avenue North, is a converted grocery store that was built in the 1950s? Our fire department moved into that building in 1982. Many years later we now serve a population base that extends beyond our municipal borders; providing fire protection to approximately 8,000 people. Our department has grown, our service provision has grown, regulatory requirements have grown and now we are faced with the need for a new fire hall.

So why do we need a new fire hall?

  1. The health and safety of our firefighters is paramount, and our existing fire hall is unsafe as a result of inadequate ventilation/air exchange and a lack of space for an effective decontamination process, among other things.
  2. Our community needs a fire hall to be up and running in the event of a natural disaster (think extreme winds, snowloads, seismic activity or even wildfire).
  3. The existing 1950s grocery store and associated site are simply too small for the present day services that our department provides.
  4. Renovations to the existing fire hall would not be able to address all of the deficiencies associated with the existing building and site.
  5. If renovations were to be undertaken as an interim measure, they would render the fire hall inoperable for a significant period of time.

Can our community afford to be without an adequate fire hall and associated site? Can we continue to ask our volunteers to work and train in a building that could negatively affect their health and safety? Would you be willing to serve in this kind of capacity under these conditions?

But what’s the financial cost?

NOTE: Updated with 2018 financial costs

There’s a lot of talk throughout the community that our taxes are simply too high right now to take on more borrowing, and I understand that no one likes to pay more taxes. So what are we asking the community to consider borrowing? The answer is a maximum borrowing amount of $4.5 million and we know that’s a lot of money. But there are three things we should consider when contemplating this request to approve a maximum amount for borrowing:

[updated from 2018 referendum information]

  • The maximum project cost for a new fire hall-only building would be $5.5 million.
  • Council has committed $1 million from capital reserves to reduce borrowing. We may further be able to reduce the actual cost of the project through grants, donations, or sale or lease of the existing building. The challenge is that we can only pursue these kinds of solutions after our community has approved the maximum amount for borrowing
  • The RDCK has signed an agreement for fire protection which commits up to $1.55 million of the maximum project cost.
  • On a worst case scenario, if we needed to borrow the entire $4.5 million for the fire hall portion of the project, how would this impact municipal taxes? After reducing the cost of borrowing by $1.55 million (RDCK share), the Town of Creston is responsible for the repayment of a maximum of $2.95 million. This works out to $22.60 per $100,000 of assessed value of your home. For an average home in Creston this is $53.56 per year.

I’ve also heard the sentiment expressed that we already pay extraordinarily high taxes in Creston, before the proposed borrowing for a fire hall. This claim simply isn’t true when we lift our heads and look around the province for comparisons.

  • Of the 161 municipalities in BC, 81 communities pay higher residential property taxes and charges than we do in Creston. This is based on taxes for a representative house within each community, which in Creston has an average assessed residential value of $236,699. This approach allows us to compare apples to apples when we consider municipalities that have on average either more expensive homes or less expensive homes. It should be noted that most of the communities that pay less residential property taxes than Creston also receive less service (no recreation complex, no policing costs, etc.).
  • Of the 35 municipalities with a population between 5,000 and 15,000 people (these populations also pay for policing like we do), 27 of these tax more per capita than Creston.

I would encourage you to visit the Town of Creston website and visit the 2018 Referendum for Borrowing page to make sure you have all the information on the proposed fire hall project. You can also pick up a paper copy of these questions and answers at Town Hall.

Whether you vote yes or no at the upcoming referendum, cast your vote based on facts!