Public meeting on proposed fire hall sees lively discussion

Kristen Campbell/NNSL photo The community hall was packed on Monday evening as Fire Chief Ross Potter gave a presentation regarding the proposed new fire hall. Following his presentation, a panel consisting of Potter, SAO Mike Richardson and Mayor Ken Latour fielded questions from members of the public.

A variety of opinions were tossed around during Monday night’s public meeting but one message was clear throughout the differences: Hay River needs a new fire hall.

The evening began with a presentation from Fire Chief Ross Potter, where he outlined the department’s needs in the new facility.

Potter explained what was wrong with the new facility, including firefighter safety being compromised due to current practices solely because of a lack of space and equipment and the fact that the current hall does not have any sort of fire prevention system in place to protect the millions of dollars of equipment stored within it’s walls.

“There’s no fire alarm system, there’s no sprinkler system, there’s absolutely no protection for our units,” said Potter.

Following the presentation, Mayor Ken Latour reminded the full community hall that no decision had been made yet on the fire hall and that the purpose of the meeting was to answer any questions and clear the air of any misconceptions.

Several members of the public rose to the microphone to express a variety of questions and concerns, but most revolved around the financial end.

One of the first items cleared up by council was the price of the hall. The number being expressed at the public meeting was $5.7 million, which was the lowest bid received by council after the design-build tendering process had closed.

It was asked by several community members why the number began at $3.2 million and then jumped to the $7 million mentioned in Potter’s presentation before being cut down to $5.7.

SAO Mike Richardson explained that cutbacks were made to the fire hall design in order to reach the $5.7 million. He said that the town would also be working with the contractors in order to see what other saving could be made.

But as for the $3.2 million, Richardson said it was just a number thrown out at the beginning of the process four years ago.

“This $3.2 million was put together to allow us to access funding,” said Richardson.

And funding is where discussion remained for a large portion of the meeting.

Taxpayers were concerned over how much of their money was going to be funding this project, and what the potential increases would be.

“How much of the $5.2 million comes from the taxpayers,” asked Peter Osted.

Richardson explained that the project would not be having an affect on milrates in town and that all the money was coming from reserves and budgeted items.

“No, 100 per cent of the funding for this project comes from outside funding,” said Richardson. He said that funding has been acquired from the federal government through the GNWT, and that other sources of funding through the GNWT have been set aside for the project.

“So what’s the problem then,” Osted shouted out.

But not everyone was satisfied with the answers given by the panel, consisting of Potter, Latour and Richardson.

Sandra Lester spoke out, stating that she believes the project should come down to a plebicite – an idea that Latour did not agree with.

“I think it would be in the best interest of the community to go to a plebicite on this project,” said Lester.

She cited her concerns with the project to not only have to do with the price and funding, but also the impact that this project may have on other projects such as the recreation centre and town hall which will both eventually need to be dealt with due to aging facilities.

Latour addressed the plebicite idea by saying that “we’ve got a good design and we don’t have to go to a plebicite, but thats my own feeling.”

Richardson addressed the concerns over additional projects, saying that the town would not be selling out their future by going through with the fire hall.

He said that surveys were done to pinpoint which facilities were a priority, and the firehall was deemed top of the list. He said that funds are being put away for the eventual work on the recreation centre and although nothing has been budgeted for the new town hall to date, that the project would likely be approximately five years away.

As the two and a half hour meeting drew to a close, Latour thanked the public for coming and sharing their opinions and for also being respectful given the emotion fueling the discussions.

“I know that this has become an emotional issue for some,” said Latour.  “By and large we’ve done a good job at this process.”

Richardson explained that the next steps would see some more number crunching to allow council to reach a final price tag for the fire hall. He said that they hope to have a finalized number at the April 23 meeting of council to bring forward to the public. Should there not be a number by the meeting, Latour said that council would hold a special meeting in the week to begin the final decision making process.

“We won’t be passing this right away,” said Latour.