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City modifies its area rating model to create balance in cost sharing associated with fire services

Composite fire service areas like Valley East will still pay largest share, but costs will be more evenly distributed
Greater Sudbury city council voted to modify its area rating model when it comes to fire services impact the tax rates of its citizens.

Greater Sudbury city council voted to modify its area rating model when it comes to how fire services impact the tax rates of its citizens.

Council is working toward setting their tax policy for 2021, and during their meeting on April 27 the matter of the city's area rating was hotly contested, with council ultimately settling on a model that was described by a few members of council as striking the right balance.

Discussion and debate opened with a pair of the city's newer members of council, ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc making a bid to have area rating scrapped completely and have the city phase in a tax model where costs are shared equally across the board.

"We're one of the few only municipalities that maintains this area rating, it's time to phase this out," said McCausland.

Leduc raised the point that of the more than 50 lines of service that the city is in, the only two that are area rated are transit and fire services.

"We don't area rate anything else, out of our lines of service it's just these two," said Leduc.

The area rating model was introduced with amalgamation more than 20 years ago, and McCausland said it was time for the model to "go the way of the dinosaur".

Council however wasn't on board with a pair of alternatives that would have seen area rating phased out between 2021 and 2025 were both defeated.

The first alternative to be defeated called for area rating to be phased out for both transit and fire services, while the second alternative called for the phasing out of just fire services, while keeping transit services under the area rating.

The second vote was a deadlock, ending in a tie vote of 6-6 with Mayor Bigger casting the 12th and deciding vote that pushed it to a tie, meaning the motion was defeated.

At the status quo, had council voted not to change anything in their area rating model, the urban centres that are serviced by career firefighters would have seen a $13 change specific to fire services, whole the composite/commuter area would have seen a change in their costs increase by $99.

The composite areas would have seen the largest increase for fire services as Station 16 in Val Therese will be adding eight career firefighters to their ranks at a cost of $1.07 million. That decision was finalized in March as a result of the arbitration award that ordered two more full-time firefighters be hired to work at the Valley East station.

If you're confused by the numbers, the city will be adding eight total firefighters to their ranks, in order to fill out their composite station in Val Therese so that there are four* career firefighters on duty per shift at all times.

While Station 16 will be seeing the biggest bump in service levels, council was in agreement that it wouldn't be fair to have residents in Valley East bear the biggest brunt of the cost associated with the hiring of the new full-time firefighters.

As Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier so eloquently described the option to share the costs around, "we're not whacking anyone on the head with this".

The hybrid model doesn't do away with area rating, but it still puts the largest increase specific to fire services on the composite area.

This alternative model includes phasing in the impact to the composite area over three years while also including an allocation from career and composite areas (six per cent) to volunteer phased on in over two years.

The urban centre that's serviced by career firefighters will see a $14 change in 2021, the composite/commuter area will see a $32, or 4.1 per cent change, and the volunteer/commuter and commuter areas will each see a 3.7 per cent change in the amount of $29.

After the three-year phasing in process, the composite area will likely once again take on the bulk of the cost associated with the service, with Coun. Kirwan speaking in favour of the model, noting that it didn't hit areas like Valley East with the brunt of the costs right up front.

"This really encapsulates everything in this option," said Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo. "The least impact is in the urban core and the most is in the composite area and they're getting the most out of this service."

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini was one of three votes in opposition to the new area rating model, raising concern with service levels and that far outlying areas would be seeing an increase in costs.

"With all due respect to my fellow councillors, we say it's one city one service, but it's not," said Vagnini. "To say what's going on (with service levels) in Beaver Lake is the same as the downtown would be nonsense."

The vote was ultimately passed by a count of 9-3 with councillors Leduc, Vagnini and Signoretti voting in opposition.

The full report can be found here.

*A previous version of this story indicated that the arbitration award would result in two full-time firefighters per shift at Station 16. That number has been corrected to four. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

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