NEW GLASGOW, N.S. – Councillors for the Municipality of Pictou County have approved a “Band-Aid” fix to their problem with fire protection funding inequality.
As part of their budget released June 10, the municipality approved emergency funding to the tune of $150,000 for five rural fire departments that are struggling to meet their operational needs and have a limited taxable assessment for fire protection. This equals an additional $30,000 this year for the following departments: Barney’s River, Pictou Landing, Blue Mountain, East River St. Mary’s and East River Valley fire departments.
The way it works now is that fire departments have the right to put an area levy on the residents within their area to fund their departments. Some charge as high as 20 cents on $100 of assessment. The municipality also covers the cost of insurance for the departments. Also, departments are eligible for grants. Most receive $4,000 but those in the areas with lower property assessment and less of a population can receive as much as $16,000 based on a funding model proposed by a previous council.
Parker said this additional funding is a “one-year patch” for fire departments and not a long-term solution.
“We need to use this year to come up with a fairer way of funding for everyone, so our money gets properly spread around,” he said. “My bottom line is everyone deserves good fire protection and we need to make sure our volunteer firefighters are safe when they go to a fire.”
Through the course of the year a study will be conducted to determine a more equitable funding model. Parker said when the review takes place it will be important for all the rural departments to be involved in the discussion.
Coun. Andy Thompson, whose district includes the East River Valley, East River Saint Mary’s and Blue Mountain fire departments, said firefighters in his area are very appreciative of the one-year commitment from council.
“Now the challenge here is how do we come up with a permanent solution, but I can tell you they’re grateful for the generosity,” Thompson said.
Coun. Ron Baillie cast the lone nay vote on the motion.
“I can’t support the resolution for the simple reason I think the residents in the area have to step up first, even if it may not mean much into the coffers of the fire department,” he said. "I think the residents have to show the initiative before everyone else in the county starts paying for fire service in those areas.”
Coun. David Parker said he had some concerns, but agreed that something needs to be done to address the way funding is currently happening.
“We have some real challenges, some real inequities and I think we need a thorough, thorough study from someone who knows a whole lot more than I do, to try to bring a sense of balance back to fire departments in Pictou County.”