Tlellians will vote next Saturday, Nov. 11 on a plan to fund the Tlell fire department with local taxes.
Run as a service of the North Coast Regional District, the newly funded fire department would receive up to $25,000 in operating funds in the first year, and up to $30,000 in the second and following years.
Mike Racz, the NCRD director for the area, says he thinks it’s a good idea, and most people he’s spoken with support it, too.
“Volunteers run out of time, especially when they have to do their own fundraising,” Racz said.
“It’s about saving them from volunteer burn-out, and keeping the service up.”
Providing firefighting and rescues between Tlell and Dead Tree Point, the Tlell Fire Fighters Association says it has run on a shoestring budget for the last 20 years, funded mainly by annual membership fees and other fundraising.
Regular operating funds would give Tlell firefighters a chance to follow a long-term plan for replacing equipment, and running as an NCRD service would save money and time on administration.
Capital costs, such as buying a new rescue vehicle, would continue to be funded by one-time grants — the Gwaii Trust Society has awarded such grants to Tlell firefighters in the past.
Racz said no one likes to see their taxes go up, but firefighting is a vital service, and invaluable when needed.
With a $25,000 budget, the average Tlell homeowner would pay $182 a year or $15.16 per month for the service, while the average business owner would pay $289, non-profits $58, and farms $4.
Out of the 165 properties in the Tlell fire service area, most are classified as residential homes, and just 15 are classified as farms, which have a much lower assessed value according to BC Assessment policy.
Another option — one not included in the yes/no referendum because it would mean adding a third question — is to pay for Tlell firefighting with a flat tax for each parcel of land.
Under that set-up, all property owners would have to pay between $165 and $152 a year, including vacant landowners who don’t even have a residence on their property.
Besides freeing up firefighters to focus on firefighting and emergency planning, Racz said running Tlell’s fire service through the NCRD rather than as a self-funded firefighting society would make it easier for Tlell to sign mutual aid agreements with surrounding Haida Gwaii villages. Skidegate firefighters could agree to back-up their colleagues Tlell, and vice-versa, he said.
“That might be another benefit, more of a longer-term value.”
Voting on the Tlell fire service plan will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Tlell Fire Hall.
The referendum question will be: “Are you in favour of establishing a service within a portion of Electoral Area D to provide taxation funding to assist the operational costs of the Tlell Fire and Rescue Department?”