It may be messy at times, but Mayor Brian Bigger said the controversy surrounding the fire optimization plan is an example of how open government works.
"What you've seen is an attempt to be open and transparent, coming to the public with details of what staff are thinking of,” Bigger said this week, ahead of an April 26 special meeting on the plan. “Obviously, we've gotten feedback as elected officials on how people in various areas of the community feel they're going to be impacted."
That 'feedback' included news Thursday that residents in Beaver Lake are considering a lawsuit should the city decide to close the volunteer firefighter station in that community.
“This would result in response times of more than 20 minutes to this area, and leave the residents and motorists along highway 17 at severe risk with respect to personal injury and property damage,” the release said. “The plan, based on skewed data and presented as facts is misleading, and has basically dropped all requirements for adequate response times to rural locations within Greater Sudbury.”
Residents are planning a news conference Saturday morning in Worthington to give more details about their plans.
The plan, presented at a number of public meetings last month, says Sudbury's career and firefighting stations need $44 million in upgrades over the next decade. It also says that bringing the entire city to the same service standard -- to respond to emergencies in 90 per cent of the city within 10 minutes – would cost about $64 million.
It would also mean hiring 58 career firefighters and reducing reliance on volunteers and closing some stations. That has angered volunteers, and relations between career and volunteer firefighters have worsened. Paramedics, meanwhile, say they are running at capacity, yet the plan doesn't address their concerns.
Bigger said the proposals give councillors options, but no decisions have been made on anything yet.
"We make decisions by majority, and as I said at the start, we haven't yet had the opportunity to make those decisions yet," he said. "The intent of the optimization plan is to help our service delivery in all areas and to improve our service delivery with volunteers included, as well as career. Those are things we are working on and elements that will continue always to work on from a staff perspective and form a council perspective.
"But it is, something I believe, citizens would expect of their elected municipal representatives to constantly look at and review all services that we provide and ensure that we are delivering them in the best way."
Bigger said council will first have to make decisions on service levels for each part of the community, and then make decisions from there.
"This should not be taken as something that's going to happen immediately and overnight," he said. "All of council is very interested in the individual components of moving this plan forward. And nothing moves forward without approvals through a budget process. If there's no dollars, we won't see any major changes to anything at this point and time ... Council decides what the strategy ultimately will be."