Voters will get say on $1.6-million emergency dispatch upgrade

Public approval needed to borrow cash to fix regional 911 system in place for South Okanagan and Similkameen

Voters will get a chance to weigh in on the proposed $1.6-million upgrade of the regional 911 dispatch system.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the  Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen includes a staff report that recommends directors initiate an alternate approval process to gain the public’s authorization to borrow the necessary funds.

Unlike a referendum, the alternate approval process requires only those against the borrowing to register their opposition. If 10 per cent of eligible voters do so, a full referendum would be triggered.

The staff report does not indicate who is considered an eligible voter within the RDOS. It does note, however, that borrowing $1,640,000 over 10 years is expected to result in an annual debt servicing cost of $210,000. That will cost property owners $2.54 per $200,000 of assessed value.

An overhaul of the dispatch system was recommended in November 2012 by a consultant who told RDOS directors that luck alone has prevented a major public safety mishap due to the antiquate setup in place now.

The upgraded system would group 16 regional fire halls into three zones. Fire departments within each zone would then share a radio link to dispatch in Kelowna.

The Penticton Fire Department, which receives 70 per cent of the region’s calls, would maintain its separate connection to dispatch, and Summerland would lose its individual link.

In March, adoption of the RDOS budget was stalled by debate on the upgrade, and directors for Summerland and Osoyoos eventually voted against it.

Under the current cost-sharing arrangement, the City of Penticton would pay about 40 per cent of the upgrade cost, despite receiving the least benefit from system improvements.