Staffing increases have been stripped from the regional district’s 2014 budget.
The board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen had been considering expanding or creating four positions in bylaw enforcement, human resources, communications and climate action planning at a total cost next year of $136,915.
Opposition to the plan was led at a workshop Thursday by Allan Patton, the director for rural Oliver, whose tax requisition for next year is already projected to increase by 10 per cent to $1.4 million.
“I’ve got to be on the record saying no to these substantial increases. I’ve got too many increases happening here. Ten per cent is just unacceptable,” said Patton, who put forward a successful motion to eliminate the proposed staffing changes.
Directors are also grappling with a recommendation to standardize pay rates across the region’s volunteer fire departments.
A staff proposal suggested seven departments be placed into three tiers based on call volume and officers paid accordingly. Volunteer firefighters would also get $20 an hour during call-outs.
The biggest estimated hit to taxpayers would be in Willowbrook, where firefighters don’t currently receive any pay and the average household would be taxed an extra $233.05 a year.
“Willowbrook has never come to me to say they want money, because they realize that half the Willowbrook Fire Department is the Willowbrook taxpayers,” said Patton.
Other directors were concerned that RDOS staff brought the proposal into the budgeting process, rather than dealing with it ahead of time, and that the idea came seemingly out of the blue.
Some, however, were in support of increasing pay for firefighters.
“We have a great team and I’d hate to see us lose some of those members because of the pay,” said said Naramata Director Karla Kozakevich.
“Our guys are dealing with dead bodies, they’re saving lives, they’re dealing with some pretty gross stuff that a lot of us here would not want to.”
The board agreed to have a smaller committee study firefighters’ pay and make recommendations.
The budget is expected to get first reading at the Dec. 19 board meeting, then be put out for consultation in the new year. The tax requisition for 2014 is tentatively set to rise by 3.5 per cent to $13.7 million.