A variety of opinions were tossed around during an April 16 public meeting, but one message was clear: Hay River needs a new fire hall.
The evening began with a presentation from Fire Chief Ross Potter, who outlined the department’s needs in the new facility.
Potter explained what was wrong with the existing 40-year-old facility, including firefighter safety being compromised due to current practices – this due to a lack of space and equipment and because the current hall does not have any sort of fire prevention system in place to protect the millions of dollars of equipment stored within its 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, acting mayor Ken Latour reminded the packed community hall – close to 75 people were present – 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.
Several community members asked 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 million.
SAO Mike Richardson said cutbacks were made to the fire hall design in order to reach the $5.7 million mark. He said 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.
Attendees were concerned about 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 said the project would not have an affect on mill rates 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 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, saying she believes the project should come down to a public vote – an idea Latour did not agree with.
“I think it would be in the best interest of the community to go to a plebiscite on this project,” said Lester.
She cited her concerns with the price and funding of the project, as well as the impact building the fire hall 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 plebiscite idea by saying, “we’ve got a good design and we don’t have to go to a plebiscite, but that’s my own feeling.”
Richardson addressed the concerns over additional projects, saying that the town would not be selling out its future by going through with the fire hall.
Stantec has done the design work. A construction contract will have to be awarded if the project proceeds.
He said surveys were done to pinpoint which facilities were a priority, and the fire hall was deemed top of the list. He said 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, the project would is 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 said that the next steps would see some more number crunching to allow council to reach a final price tag for the fire hall.