Despite opposition from a trio of directors, the regional district on Thursday finally passed its 2013 budget.
Approval of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen’s financial plan had been held up by a proposed $1.6-million capital expenditure to upgrade the fire dispatch system.
The cash will fund the purchase of new equipment that will regroup 16 fire departments into three zones, each of which will share a radio link to the Kelowna dispatch service. Penticton’s fire department receives about 70 per cent of the region’s calls and will maintain its own link.
Rebuilding the dispatch system was recommended last year by a consultant who told RDOS directors that luck alone has prevented a major mishap due to the antiquated and improperly installed equipment in place now.
Still, two RDOS directors feel the upgrades will actually result in downgrades for their communities and prompted them to vote no to the entire budget package.
In Summerland, the new zoned approach will see the community lose its direct link to Kelowna dispatch even though the community will pay a five per cent share of the system overhaul, according to the funding formula in place for the service.
“The breakdown of the costs on that are not fair to our community,” said Orv Robson, a Summerland district councillor who represents the community as an RDOS director and voted against the budget.
Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells, also an RDOS director, gave a similar explanation for his opposition.
“I’ve got a fire department with 500 years’ (combined member) experience and they asked me to vote no,” Wells said.
“We’re not happy, we’re not satisfied, so my vote on the whole budget has to be no.”
He added that Osoyoos plans to seek out other options for fire dispatch service and may consider withdrawing from the RDOS system entirely.
The other RDOS director to vote against the budget was Helena Konanz, an alternate and Penticton city councillor.
She said afterwards her opposition stemmed from the 5.8 per cent increase in the RDOS requisition to Penticton, which bumped the total up to $1.3 million for 2013. Konanz noted the city was able to draft a budget with no tax increase and felt the RDOS should have done the same.
The biggest drivers of Penticton’s requisition increase were labour costs for 911 dispatchers in Kelowna, plus boosts for the regional trails strategy and sterile insect release program.
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer also voted against the RDOS budget at meeting two weeks earlier based on opposition from his fire department’s opposition to the dispatch upgrade plan. He said Thursday, however, that his firefighters had reversed their stand and he could now support the budget.
All told, the RDOS financial plan sets out for 2013 an operating budget of $28.9 million, up about $400,000 from last year, and capital expenditures of $20.7 million. The total requisition to all municipalities and electoral areas is set at $13.1 million.