Highway rescues in jeopardy

Referendum needs voter support to continue service

Area residents who wish to ensure emergency personnel are available with the training and equipment to get them out if they are ever trapped in a crashed vehicle will want to vote on an important referendum on Aug. 29.

If the proposal fails at the polls, all highway rescue services in the South Cariboo will cease on Dec. 31 (with the possible exception of the Lone Butte fire service area).

The reason for the referendum is because the District of 100 Mile House has stated increased costs for training and equipment have left an unmanageable and unfair burden on 100 Mile House Fire-Rescue, which performs the service in the South Cariboo.

To continue, it will need Cariboo Regional District (CRD) funding contributions.

The CRD has wrapped up its series of subregional open houses intended to educate taxpayers and answer questions about the potential impacts of a South Cariboo Highway Rescue Service Enhancement agreement.

CRD protective services manager Rowena Bastien said the tax impacts are very small for such an important service – for 2015, it will be $1.41 per $100,000 of property assessment.

The low cost may be why only three people turned out to the meeting held in 108 Mile Ranch on July 28 and just four (aside from fire department members) went to Forest Grove on July 22. However, a better attendance was seen at the Interlakes Community Centre on July 23.

Meanwhile, Bastien expressed the CRD’s concern that taxpayers might mistakenly think “someone else” will voice approval for a “no-brainer” to keep such an important service with only a minimal cost.

The reality is, if too few folks turn out to the polls on Aug. 29, the vote could be slanted in a direction the majority of South Cariboo residents might not want it to go, she explained.

The general consensus at the meetings, including at the Interlakes open house which about 40 people attended, has been in favour of the enhanced services, she adds.

Bastien notes the most common questions at all three public meetings surrounded what potential there might be for a hike in taxation later, should the referendum successfully pass and highway rescue service continue.

Since this referendum involves a maximum annual taxation of the higher of $40,000 or the new tax requisitions (if they climb higher than that through assessment increases), any further tax increase would require another referendum approval, she explained.

The maximum is set at $0.0192/$1,000, or $1.92 per $100,000 of total property assessment, she noted.

The highway rescue enhancement contribution would establish a service to provide a contribution of funds to the District of 100 Mile House for the continued provision of highway rescue services in Electoral Areas H, L, and a portion of G. (A small northwest segment of Area G is covered by another, non-CRD service.)

However, Bastien said if volunteer fire departments did find the means to take this on in their own communities, costs would be greater for service area residents.

That’s because of the expensive rescue equipment (such as Jaws of Life and tools used to cut open crushed vehicles) and training that won’t likely be shared across the greater areas.





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