Fire protection charge looming for Tofino’s Ocean Park residents

As part of Tofino’s ongoing utility rate review, a $20,000 annual charge for fire flow meters will be spread across the nine properties that have them, rather than across all ratepayers.

During a June 9 council meeting, district staff said Tofino had six fire flow meters, most attached to large resorts, costing roughly $15,500 annually but at a June 17 special council meeting these numbers changed to nine fire flow meters and $20,000 annually.

Each property with a fire flow meter— a roughly six-inch connection that provides fire protection—would be charged about $700 per-quarter starting in 2016.

 â€œWe have fire hydrants downtown to service residential areas. These large, large, properties have a fire flow meter because there’s not a fire hydrant nearby,” said Mayor Josie Osborne during June 9’s meeting.

Coun. Dorothy Baert asked why the connections were so expensive.

“How is that administration cost determined,” she asked. “I’m kind of astonished at six meters costing that much.”

Tofino’s manager of finance Nyla Attiana said a line-by-line budget was provided to a consultant and base charges were determined.

Coun. Duncan McMaster supported charging fire flow users individually.

“I’m assuming if the fire flow meter wasn’t installed…the cost of their insurance would be a lot higher,” he said. “That makes me think that whomever it is that requires a fire flow meter should bear the cost.”

Coun. Greg Blanchette suggested fire flow charges should be spread over the entire commercial sector.

“For argument’s sake, let me put forward the notion that these resorts are the economic engine of Tofino and that everybody benefits from them,” Blanchette said.

“I agree with other councillors that residents shouldn’t be subsidizing resorts or businesses, but what about the notion that that $15,500 should be spread across the entire commercial sector…rather than just targeted at the six resorts that enjoy the benefits because the benefits themselves are, in a sense, spread across the entire commercial sector.”

Council did not support Blanchette’s notion and preferred the idea of charging individual properties. 

The waters became murkier when a residential neighborhood was thrown into the mix as a representative from Tofino’s Ocean Park subdivision attended a June 16 community meeting and asked why Ocean Park residents should have to pay for their fire flow meter.

He said Ocean Park has about 68 lots and residents had paid out of their own pockets to have individual water meters installed.

 â€œWe did this in order to foster both conservation and equity within the strata with the full expectation that we would be treated as any other residential account, yet this extra charge of $2,800 annually will be charged,” he said.

“We are, in fact, not being treated the same as every other resident.”

The district’s manager of public works Bob Schantz questioned whether Ocean Park had a fire flow meter but Attiana quickly confirmed it did.

The Ocean Park representative then asked Schantz when Ocean Park’s fire flow meter was last serviced by the district.

“The fire flows have not been maintained as they should be; they will be going forward,” Schantz replied. 

Schantz was asked if Ocean Park’s fire flow meter had ever been maintained since he became Tofino’s manager of public works in 2010 and he responded that it had not.

Council discussed the issue again during a special meeting on June 17 and maintained that fire flow charges should be paid by fire flow users.

 â€œIf you have a fire flow meter that’s needed, that property should be paying for the fire flow meter rather than spreading the cost over everyone else,” McMaster said.

“Having said that, if there’s a maintenance charge that we’re charging, they should be maintained.”

Blanchette asked why Ocean Park’s residents would be singled out.

“Every other residence in town comes under the umbrella of shared charges so why should those residences…be singled out for a special extra charge for fire protection,” he asked.

Osborne noted Ocean Park was the only purely-residential connection among Tofino’s nine fire flow meters. 

Coun. Al Anderson asked how the district came up with the $20,000 annual figure.

“The overall amount for the fire flow meter is calculated using the same analysis that was used for all the other customer categories,” Osborne responded. 

“The challenge is that, because water doesn’t flow through fire flow meters and we hope never needs to flow through the fire flow meters, the cost…has to be borne through a fixed charge only because there’s no variable charge to collect.”

Coun. Dorothy Baert also questioned the amount being charged.  

 â€œWe have charges for various things around the town that are kind of, sometimes, maybe logical from an accounting point of view…but from an observer it’s like, ‘I’m sorry but where’s $20,000 of maintenance actually happening here,’” she said.

Attiana said adjusting one piece of the water utility rate would have ripple effects.

“It’s important to note that the methodology used to calculate the cost of those services is the same methodology that was used to determine the cost of service for all other classes,” she said.

“If you reduce it, or if you change it, then the methodology somewhat gets compromised and inequities appear…I think it’s a matter of how comfortable council feels with creating an inequity in other areas by changing the methodology used in that category alone.”

Osborne said council could spread Ocean Park’s fire flow charge over all ratepayers.

“Depending on how council feels, the charge for that particular fire flow meter could be absorbed by all the other account holders or all the other residential account holders if that feels more appropriate,” she said.

“If it feels unfair or doesn’t sit right that a residential strata is paying for a fire flow connection above and beyond what other residences are paying then we can change that.”

Coun. Cathy Thicke said fire flow meter charges should be paid by those who have them but she supported singling out Ocean Park.

“I would certainly be in favour of supporting Ocean Park being removed from that…they are now individual private residences,” she said.

Blanchette cautioned such a move could create an unwanted precedent.

“I’m of two minds; in the view of fairness, I think Ocean Park being purely residential should have its special charge spread over the rest of the residences but I don’t want to set a precedent for any upcoming residential stratas that might be coming along,” he said.

 

Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca