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Council motions pass for more Penticton firefighters, city-supported housing

Councillors dealt with an unusually high number of motions on Tuesday, Dec. 20
Penticton firefighters investigate a fire at the Penticton Fairfield by Marriott on July 25, 2022. (Mike Biden photo)

The Dec. 20 council meeting in Penticton was an unusual one, with five notices of motion from councillors getting passed out of six on the table.

Many communities can go years without a single notice being brought forward; Penticton has seen eight so far after just three council meetings since the Oct. 15 election.

The votes covered a range of topics, including having city staff look at the costs of introducing a living wage policy for city contracts and employees, a pause on the Lake-to-Lake Bike Route, having staff come up with options on how the city could institute a Car 40 program without the province if necessary, the options for using city-owned land for affordable housing and hiring additional firefighters.

Currently, the Penticton Fire Department runs three-person crews on their engines, with a goal of reaching 40 members for four-person crews. That would meet the industry standard and would allow for a single engine to have enough crew to make an entry into burning structures, an issue that was brought up during the council’s discussion.

“The tragic events at Lakeshore, are an example where three firefighters in the truck had to wait for the next truck from the south end before they could enter that building, and I think that we don’t want to take chances with our citizens,” said Watt.

Council dealt with a host of notice of motions, including one that called for the City of Penticton to immediately hire four firefighters. Costs will be phased in by adding one firefighter to the budget for four years with the difference being funded from the general surplus.

After discussion, that motion which was brought forward by Coun. Campbell Watt, was passed by a 5-2 vote, to the applause of members of the public in council chambers.

Councillors James Miller and Helena Konanz voted against the motion after stating their preference to have the discussion about additional firefighters be included during budget deliberations in the new year as part of the regular process.

“I realize this is a big step and we could wait until the budget and the completion of strategic planning,” said Watt. “I believe it’s naive to think that we wouldn’t make the safety of our community one of our top priorities and waiting until the budget will add months to moving forward to a goal that is long overdue.”

READ MORE: Second senior dies after Saturday apartment fire in Penticton

READ MORE: Penticton firefighters understaffed and facing burnout: Union

Mayor Julius Bloomfield’s two motions both passed, the first of which called for staff to be preparing options for how Penticton could implement a Car 40 program. The program pairs a mental health professional with RCMP to respond to mental health emergencies and has been implemented in other cities including Kamloops. The motion was quickly passed without discussion or questions from councillors.

The second motion asked that staff prepare a report focused on the possibility of the city providing land for affordable housing projects, potential locations and types of housing needs, including worker accommodations, and approximate costs.

In addition to looking at the city’s inventory of owned land, Bloomfield said that he would like the report to also include potential sites where they could develop in collaboration with neighbouring properties and partnerships either with private entities or other levels of government.

A motion from Coun. Isaac Gilbert to have the City of Penticton examine a living wage policy was passed. Staff will prepare a report that examines the potential cost of implementing the policy and it will be reviewed as part of the 2023 budget.

Coun. Konanz’s motion that the remuneration rate paid to members of council be frozen and that the annual adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) not be applied in 2023 passed by a vote of 5-2. Coun. Watt, who was one of the votes against the freeze, had asked staff whether it would be possible to donate the increase and receive a tax credit instead.

The last motion of the night was from Coun. Amelia Boultbee, which called to pause the final phase of the Lake-to-Lake Bike Lane in order to review lessons learned and receive ridership information.

That motion was defeated in a 3-4 vote, with Mayor Bloomfield and Couns. Ryan Graham, Isaac Gilbert and Watt opposed.

According to the city, as with any large project, council will receive a review of the entire project once it is complete as best practice.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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