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Preview: Tempers could flare at Tuesday fire meeting

Controversial optimization plan goes before city councillors for the first time
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City councillors will debate the controversial fire optimization plan for the first time Tuesday, following a series of sometimes raucous public meetings. File photo.

City councillors will debate the controversial fire optimization plan for the first time Tuesday, following a series of sometimes raucous public meetings.

The plan, years in the making, would reduce the number of fire stations in the city to 15 from 24, relocate some stations to more central locations, reduce the number volunteer firefighters and add 58 full-time career firefighters.

Over the 7-10 years the plan would be implemented, firefighting costs would increase about $6 million a year, compared to an increase of around $4 million a year if the status quo is maintained.

That's because many of the stations and their vehicles are older and in need of replacement or renovation.

The report also recommends an end to area rating, which is a form of taxation where residents in areas of a city where some services aren't available pay lower taxes. Communities in Greater Sudbury served by volunteers currently pay lower property taxes than those served by career firefighters.

That has led to a situation where career stations respond to fires anywhere in the city, even if residents there aren't paying taxes for full-time firefighters. 

Under the optimization plan, taxes would be harmonized and response times would be improved in areas across the city, allowing crews to reach 90 per cent of Greater Sudbury within nine minutes, where they currently cover 69 per cent.

The optimization plan has been in the works since 2014, when a fire and paramedic tactical plan recommended fire and paramedic services in the city be optimized. The study began in 2015, and paramedic services were added the following year.

But the proposal has pitted volunteers against career firefighters.  While the city is budgeted to have 350 volunteers, currently there are only 260. Volunteers argue that's because of a lack of effort among city staff, who would prefer to hire more career firefighters.

The union representing volunteer firefighters say the proposal has them so upset, they walked away from contract talks with the city.

City officials, however, counter that fire fighting has changed considerably since 2000 because of stricter provincial regulations. Those tougher rules mean volunteer and career firefighters must have the same training. The increase time commitment for training and other regulations have made it difficult to recruit and retain volunteers, the city argues.

Added to the dispute are taxpayers alarmed at the soaring costs for policing, an area that has largely been neglected since amalgamation. Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier has called for a referendum on the plan, and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini has been vocal in his opposition, as well.

Tuesday's meeting begins at 4 p.m. Sudbury.com will carry the meeting live on our website.



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