The majority City of Yellowknife councillors showed support for changes to the level of service provided by the fire division following a lengthy discussion Aug. 24.
Most notably, the city proposes no longer providing fire response service to properties on the Ingraham Trail that are outside the Yellowknife municipal boundary.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, senior administrative officer explained that the intent behind the new policy, which would take effect in April, is to clarify to Yellowknifers exactly what they can expect from their fire department “so that the public is clear, our firefighters are clear and administration’s clear and council of course is clear as well.”
Monday’s discussion was consumed by the Ingraham Trail issue.
The meeting quickly delved into a heated exchange between Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, whose electoral district represents the Ingraham Trail, and Coun. Niels Konge.
Johnson said that residents, property owners, and business owners should have fire service provided by the city in the short-term and until funding arrangements can be made with the GNWT Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. He said there was little consultation on removing the service and that he wanted to see the city and the GNWT work on coming up with a new funding solution.
“In the interim of (MACA) not willing to enter into that funding arrangement, I really do not believe it’s a solution to remove fire services for the Ingraham Trail,” Johnson said, adding that it will lead to problems like residents having to pay more to obtain insurance.
“I’ve had many people call me and say, ‘this is going to immediately increase my insurance.'”
Johnson also noted that many on the Ingraham Trail have economic ties to the city with businesses and residences in Yellowknife and benefit from fire service which provides fire insurance reports and assurance that people are safe in the case of fires. In other cases, businesses, like Aurora Village, can draw hundreds of guests at a time and said taking away the fire service would create an unnecessary risk.
Coun. Niels Konge, supported by most councillors present, said that the city shouldn’t be subsidizing property owners for fire service outside municipal boundaries.
“People on the trail say they really want these services. Well of course they do, they’re not paying for it. Every time I go into the ice cream store I want them to give me ice cream to without paying for it,” Konge said. “That’s just how the world works. We always want something for nothing.”
He said that there are many cases where property owners have moved outside municipal boundaries to the Ingraham Trail because they don’t want to pay the taxes required to operate fire and other services.
Most of council and the mayor, although sympathetic with Ingraham Trail property owners and agreeing that a funding solution needs to be made with the GNWT, supported Konge’s position.
Mayor Rebecca Alty pointed out that the fire division budget is paid for by user fees (32 per cent) and property taxes (68 per cent). The city needs to focus on its core responsibilities, she added.
“But this is not just about money,” she said of answering fire calls outside of the city. “We need to have the resources to respond and that is where it gets tough. If we take a fire truck water tanker, ambulance and crew, we are limiting response capacity within the (municipal) boundary at that time.”
Councillors are expected to vote on the issue Sept. 14.