RDOS will seek second opinion, voter consent on dispatch upgrade

Board votes to have third-party expert look at $1.6-million recommendation for new fire dispatch system in South Okanagan and Similkameen

Not everyone on the regional district board is happy with the plan to rejig the area's fire dispatch system.

Not everyone on the regional district board is happy with the plan to rejig the area's fire dispatch system.

An expert will be hired to provide a second opinion on a consultant’s report that recommended a $1.6-million upgrade of the regional fire dispatch system.

The November 2012 report from Planetworks Consulting suggested the antiquated dispatch system operated by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is at risk of failure. The consultant provided two options for replacement, one of which was then included in the RDOS 2013 capital budget.

Public assent is required to borrow the cash, however, and the RDOS board voted Thursday to obtain it through the alternate approval process, which requires only those against the borrowing to register their opposition. If 10 per cent of eligible voters sign up, a full referendum would be triggered.

Some board members, however, are still uncomfortable with the planned upgrade, which would group 16 regional fire halls into three zones and keep Penticton’s direct link to dispatch in Kelowna.

West Bench Director Michael Brydon said the consultant produced “one of the worst reports I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading.”

He said the report is too technical and covers too many issues, which makes it difficult for directors to understand and explain to the public why the upgrade is needed.

As a result, “We’ve not done a good job of providing a business case for this very large investment to our voters, (such as) why we need it, what are we going to get, what are we going to lose,” Brydon said.

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells noted that the dispatch service itself, currently provided by the Kelowna Fire Department, is going out to tender, and since one of the presumed competitors is based in Surrey, it might be a mistake to orient a system upgrade to Kelowna.

“Maybe this is just a little bit premature,” Wells said.

Despite some objections, the board voted 13-4 to proceed to the alternate approval process, with Wells, Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer, Summerland Councillor Bruce Hallquist and Okanagan-Falls Kaleden Director Tom Siddon opposed.

Borrowing $1,640,000 over 10 years is expected to result in annual payments of $210,000, which would cost property owners $2.54 per $200,000 of assessed value.

Following that vote, the board unanimously agreed to find a third-party expert to review the consultant’s report and go over it with directors.

RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell said Friday the expert will likely be a fire chief from outside the area who has knowledge of telecommunications, and he expects the hired help will appear before the board at its next scheduled meeting in late May.

It will likely be few months before the 30-day alternate approval process opens, Newell added, since permission is needed from the B.C. government and the board will have to OK the wording of the question put to electors.

The RDOS estimates there are 68,640 eligible voters in rural areas and member municipalities who can take part in the process.