Opinion: Should Salt Spring ratepayers have a choice in the design and build of the new fire hall?

On June 30, 2022, Salt Spring Island ratepayers affirmed the Referendum to approve $13.7 million dollars to build a new long overdue Fire Hall under the proviso - “No New Taxes”. Depending on how you spin the numbers the return was 75% voted in favour, which sounds impressive. There were 7588 Ratepayers eligible to vote, of those 2608 voted in favour and 864 opposed, with 4,116 or 54.3% who simply chose not to Vote. Ultimately 34% of eligible ratepayers passed the referendum, not so impressive.

At the regularly scheduled Meeting of the Fire Board on Monday, August 21, 2023, as a Fire Board Trustee, I attempted to introduce 2 motions (see addendum below)

1. Spend Ratepayers Taxes Wisely.
2. Allow Ratepayers to have a Choice between 2 Fire Hall Designs - Plan A and Plan B. Neither Motion received a Seconder so the Motions never reached the floor for discussion. Clearly, my 6 Fellow Trustees had discussed how they would treat the Motions prior to the Meeting.

Let’s leave Fellow Ratepayers to decide if the Code of Conduct of our current Board of Directors meets their expectations of reasonableness when it comes to spending your tax dollars efficiently and wisely.

With little of no oversight of our Improvement Districts by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Board of Trustees are within their mandate to spend $13.7 Million on a 2 Bay - 11,500 Sq Ft Fire Hall. At a cost approaching $1200 Cost Per Sq Ft, this project will go down as the most costly 2 Bay - Rural Fire Fire Hall in the Province of British Columbia, if not all of Canada. Meanwhile, our Chair of the Board Trustees and his Deputy Trustee consistently campaign our Elected Ministers for Grants (more money). This after knowing full well as documented and conveyed time and time again by MLA Adam Olsen there are No Grants for Improvement Districts, which is the category SSIFID and NSSWD fall within. It’s deemed as Communities grow they naturally move into an improved Governance Model such as a Regional District or Incorporate into a Municipal Government. The New Fire Hall is by far the most expensive Capital Project we’ve ever undertaken and with our lack of Governance, there will be No Grants, specifically for that reason. That’s the bit our CRD Director and his supporters don’t quite understand when their only concern is the cost of Rural Road Maintenance which seems to cloud judgement. Without taking into consideration how effective Grants both Federally and Provincially could be in mitigating the overall costs of operating our Community. The perfect example is the Town of Ladysmith, population 9,000. When it comes to securing financial Grants, they are absolute pros and it shows. I digress but the Chair of Fire Board and his Deputy Trustee by Campaigning the Ministers of the NDP Government so vociferously for Grants for the New Fire Hall, are demonstrating blatantly why we need to move the SSIFID and NSSWD into a Regional District (CRD or CVRD) or revisit the Merits of becoming a Municipality to access Grants from the Province but just as important the Federal Government.

Now to Plan B, in every undertaking there’s usually a backup plan when things start to get a little expensive. We’ve reached that point in my opinion on August 21, 2023 when the Board of Trustees disclosed their current costs for a 2 Bay - 11,500 Sq Ft Fire Hall at $9.0 Million and $3.6 Million in soft costs for a total of $12.6 Million or $1095 Cost Per Sq Ft.

Plan B is a mirror image of the Cumberland Fire Hall completed in March 2021 for $4.2 Million and features ~15,000 Sq Ft - 3 Bay Drive Thru & 2 Bay Antique Museum. That works out to a cost of $280 Cost Per Sq Ft. The trick is, what does it take to duplicate something similar in 2023 Dollars, especially over the last 3 years living through a persistent pandemic and difficult inflationary times. Initially we took the Cumberland Budget of $4.2 Million, costed in 2020 Dollars and added an uplift of 15% per year x 3 = 45% and tacked on another 10% for good measure for a total of 55%. This projected the cost at $6.5 Million, purely a guesstimate but taking into consideration opinions from those in the Construction Industry for advice.

Knowing that would not suffice for the SSIFID, my fellow supporters and I have acquired the Architectural Drawings for the Cumberland Fire Hall. Graciously provided by the Village of Cumberland for costing purposes only. We’ve taken those drawings to a Professional Construction Cost Consultant for costing into 2023 dollars. The results will be known by Friday, September 22, 2023. This will put the Cost of Plan B on par with costing of Plan A. The only way you the know the true costs to build is through the Tendering Process and have Fix Cost Commitment from a Builder.

The more we dive into it, particularly with the soft costs to duplicate the Cumberland Fire Hall, we should come in at $9.6 Million or less. Meaning a potential saving of $3 Million to Ratepayers or $4.1 Million below the original cap of $13.7 Million the Referendum was based on.

The Attributes of the Cumberland Fire Hall ticks the majority of the boxes for Our Firefighters for the next 50 years, while providing Ratepayers tax relief over the next 25 yrs, the projected amortization period for borrowing up to $9.7 Million.

Some of the high points of Plan B:

  1. Approximately 3500 Sq Ft larger than the current plan.
  2. 3 Apparatus Bays - Drive Thru as opposed to 2. Not included in the current plan due to costs constraints.
  3. 2 Smaller Bays for an Antique Fire Engine Museum. Not included in the current plan due to cost constraints.
  4. Entrance Hallway that Honours Firefighters who have served now and over the last decades.
  5. Architecturally pleasing.
  6. Extremely Cost effective.
  7. The synergy of having the General Contractor MKM Projects Ltd. associated with Finlayson Bonet Architects to once again build an Award Winning Design is definitely a bonus . With a set of plans that require minor changes due to New Building Code in May of 2023 and changes to accommodate additional Staff ie: office cubicles, will help offset the cost of Architectural Plans.

Now for some of the comments:

  1. We could never entertain Plan B, we have a contractual relationship with our current Architectural Firm and it would cost us Millions in damages. Answer: The current contracted price for Architecture is $399,201 for a completed project. Making settlements at this point in time of the build is not an uncommon practice in the Construction Industry. Take Bowen Island’s New Fire Hall commissioned this past Spring for example, they chose to with another Architectural Firm when our Firm came in too costly.
  2. Plan B would delay the progress of the New Fire Hall by a year or more. Answer: Our current Team has been on the build project for 14 1/2 months. MKM and Finlayson Bonet Architects built the Cumberland Fire Hall from start to finish in 16 months. One could argue that Plan B could be finished long before Plan A, with MKM as General Contractor, they’ve done it all before.

Does anyone have the fortitude to address the addition of 3rd Apparatus Bay and standalone Antique Museum in the next 5 years because it’s not included in the $13.7 Million Budget? In lieu of the fact that Plan B caters for both at a significantly lower cost. That’s a salient question to be asked of your Fire Board Trustees on Thursday, September 14, 2023 at the Community Gospel Chapel at 7:00PM for the Town Hall Meeting.

In summary, we are Reaching Out to the Core 4 Candidates in the LCC Election and their Supporters who ran on a Campaign Platform of “JUST SAY NO - To Wasted Tax Dollars”, to the 4116 Ratepayers who chose not to Vote, to the 864 who chose to Vote - NO and finally the 2608 who graciously Voted - Yes with the assumption that there would be “No New Taxes” and the $13.7 Million committed would be spent efficiently and wisely.

Please reach out to the Fire District Board of Trustees and ask they respectfully provide Ratepayers a Choice in our Fire Hall Design and Build and allow our Community of Ratepayers to decide between Plan A and Plan B.

Thank you to all in Our Community of Ratepayers for your engagement.

Comments and Questions - ssifirehallchoices@gmail.com

Addendum - Motions - 21 August 2023

General Meeting of the Salt Spring Fire Improvement District Date - 21 August 2023

Motion - to consider an Amendment to Policy Manual AG-1105.01 with regards to spending Ratepayers tax dollars wisely.
Whereas: The Policy Manual under Code of Conduct remains silent on the responsibility to spend money wisely.
Be It Resolved: Policy Manual AG -1105.01 Amendment - Use of Public Resources: 11. b

The responsibility to spend the money wisely: Once money has been budgeted/appropriated and received from the Province, as a result of the tax levy ordinance, the money must be spent wisely. Refer to Policy Manual - Finance AF-3701-03 with regards to purchasing power on a day to day basis. An additional requirement to spend wisely is the requirement that a trustee can’t have a direct or indirect financial interest in what is being purchased. (Adopted from the “Fire Lawyer” John T. Brady – Trustee Training Quicktips 101)

General Meeting of the Salt Spring Fire Improvement District Date - 21 August 2023

Motion - To consider a Plan A and Plan B Concepts for the New Fire Hall Build to be disclosed and showcased to the Ratepayers at Salt Spring Island’s Fall Fair on September 9 & 10, 2023 and the Town Hall on September 14, 2023. To allow public scrutiny in order to comment and form an opinion on which plan they prefer.

Whereas: The Board of Trustees are now into month 14 since the passing of the New Fire Hall Referendum, with still no finite plans or costs to build to date. Let this be considered Plan A with the final design and position of costs to to be disclosed at the General Meeting on August 21, 2023 at the Fire Hall Training Room.

Whereas: Plan B is the cost to duplicate the Village of Cumberland Fire Hall commissioned in March 2021 by our current General Contractor – MKM Projects Ltd. At the original cost of $4.2 Million in 2021, adding an uplift of ~55% brings the cost to $6.5 Million, which appears within reason for a fixed cost budget. To be confirmed by MKM our General Contractor for reasonableness and accuracy.

Be It Resolved: The SSIFID Trustees (Majority) endorse the concept of tabling the costs and unique merits of both Plan A & B Concepts to the Ratepayers of Salt Spring Island at the Salt Spring Fall Fair on Sept 9 & 10, 2023 and the Town Hall on September 14, 2023 for scrutiny and allow the Community of Ratepayers to decide which plan is preferred and acceptable by surveying their comments and opinions.

David Courtney
Salt Spring Island Ratepayer Advocate

September 13, 2023 3:05 PM