Penticton could be on the hook for 911 funding changes

Changing the funding formula for regional 911 dispatch service to a user-pay system would carry a $200,000 cost for Penticton

Changing the funding formula for regional 911 dispatch service to a user-pay system would see Penticton’s cost rise by almost $200,000 this year.

Most other areas in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen would then enjoy substantial decreases, according to a staff report presented last week at a meeting of the local government’s protective services committee.

According to the report, the 14 rural areas and municipalities in the RDOS are billed for 911 dispatch service based on the total value of property assessments in each. Under that formula, Penticton pays 38 per cent of the cost of the service, which means its share works out to $216,000 this year.

However, about 70 per cent of calls to 911 are generated in Penticton, so billing out the service based on that user-pay metric would have seen the city’s cost nearly double to $398,000 this year.

Bill Newell, the RDOS chief administrative officer, cautioned the committee that the report was for information only, as the funding model was flagged for review in a 2010 study of the dispatch system.

He also noted that the figures are based only on calls to fire departments, as statistics for police and ambulance weren’t available.

Committee members, however, seemed in favour of sticking with the status quo.

West Bench Director Michael Brydon acknowledged his area benefits from its close proximity to Penticton.

“My residents, when they call 911, are probably doing it from within the City of Penticton. It shows up as a City of Penticton statistic. So I don’t think this (alternate funding model) puts us ahead in terms of fairness,” he said.

“Let’s not try to get too scientific with something when it benefits us all.”

Angelique Wood, the director for Hedley and rural Keremeos, said most of the 911 calls in her area result from car accidents on Highway 3 involving out-of-town motorists, not locals.

“So this is a service we just all have to suck it up and pay what it costs,” Wood said.

The RDOS staff report also pointed out that if a proposed $1.6-million upgrade to the 911 system goes ahead, Penticton will be on the hook for 38 per cent of that cost too, yet will benefit the least as most improvements are tagged for areas to the south.

Summerland will pay five per cent of the total cost, representing the next highest share, even though it will also see little benefit, said Bruce Hallquist, a municipal councillor and RDOS director.

“In our case, we already have all this infrastructure in place and now we’re going to be asked to upgrade our system when really it doesn’t need to be upgraded,” said Hallquist, a former member of the Summerland Fire Department.

The protective services committee didn’t take a stance on the 911 funding model, although the issue will likely surface again as RDOS staff move along with plans to put the system upgrade to tender.