Friction a sign of things to come?

Ainsworth set what could be a tone for council dialogue when she questioned the need for $35,000 to produce design specifications for a temporary fire station to service south Barrie, but most particularly the city’s southwest zone. Ainsworth wondered if there wasn’t someone on staff who could do the work – and was told there wasn’t.

by John Devine

This week’s inaugural meeting of the 2010-2014 Barrie municipal council featured a minor tiff that could be an indication of the council personalities that may emerge in the coming months and years.
In this corner, New Barrie looking to the city’s future, its growth needs and related, sometimes steep, costs. In that corner, Old Barrie with fond memories of the city as a smaller community, with less grandiose plans and big-budget items such as new fire stations.
Although she has just been elected councillor for Ward 1, Bonnie Ainsworth is no stranger to Barrie municipal politics. This is her second go-round, the first when she was elected back in 1997 for two three-year terms, when councillors were still called aldermen.
Ainsworth set what could be a tone for council dialogue when she questioned the need for $35,000 to produce design specifications for a temporary fire station to service south Barrie, but most particularly the city’s southwest zone. Ainsworth wondered if there wasn’t someone on staff who could do the work – and was told there wasn’t.
She, along with Ward 4’s Barry Ward, turned thumbs down on the motion, by Ward 7’s John Brassard, the chair of the city’s Master Fire Plan committee, to approve the $35,000, which Brassard said was an upwards limit, therefore getting design work underway ahead of council’s anticipated approval of Station 5, and the millions it will take to build and staff it, in the municipal budget coming in the spring.
It’s not an insignificant cost: $2 million to lease the building, hire 20 new firefighters to staff it, along with necessary equipment – like trucks. Ainsworth said the cost in itself amounts to a one-point tax increase.
If Ainsworth isn’t happy with the $35,000 expense, she’ll hate what the Master Fire Plan has in store for the city: a temporary Station 5, a permanent one a couple of years down the road, a fire-training facility, and off in the not-to-distance future, Station 6 to serve the city’s north end.
That will take a significantly bigger slice out of city revenues than a $35,000 design bill. Let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees here. Pricy? Yes indeed? But required services usually are. Police and hospital care don’t come cheap, and neither does fire services.
Although the city needs the station right now, there is no city-owned land in the region on which to build it. So, the plan calls for leasing a location and then building a permanent site in a couple of years somewhere in the annexed Innisfil land. It’s all there in the Master Fire Plan report – have a read of it (fourth item).

Ward 7 councillor John Brassard

On Monday, a ‘discussion’ ensured regarding not only the need to spend the money, but also over the whole fire plan itself, with Ainsworth suggesting that a pause be taken until the new members of council had time to familiarize themselves with the issue. That drew a somewhat heated response from Brassard, who reminded council that the city’s own standards for response times, 10 firefighters on a scene within ten minutes, are not being met in the southwest quadrant.
He reminded council the plan has been around for some time, for anyone’s perusal. For some background, read this City Scene Barrie story, and this one as well.
As often happens at council meetings, the dialogue drifted away from the main point being discussed – the $35,000. Mayor Jeff Lehman, perhaps seeing a vision of things to come, reined in the chatter and brought the focus back to the motion, which was adopted, with Ainsworth and Ward voting no.
Ward told City Scene Barrie he voted no because it amounted to giving approval for a major addition to the 2011 budget “in isolation before we get a look at the entire business plan.
“Staff has indicated we are facing a 2011 budget increase of about 5.6 per cent. A new station is a large part of that increase. The estimated cost is $2.1 million, or about a one- to two-per-cent tax increase.
“A 5.6-per-cent increase in taxes is unacceptable. We will need all tools at our disposal to find ways to lower that amount. Moving ahead with the design of the fire station, however worthy, will make it very difficult to make objective decisions on it at budget time. I believe we should have waited until budget discussions to make the decision on design.”
The design of a permanent station needs to meet the same requirements as a permanent station, said Brassard, who reiterated what senior city officials have said: that the city doesn’t have the required expertise.
“There are experts in this field, and it makes much more sense to hire them on a contract basis than it would be to hire anyone full-time and have to pay salary and benefits year after year when there are not enough of these type of projects that happen within the city.”
Staff, in the 2011 budget, is proposing a new fire station, and approving the design work now will save two-three months, bringing fire services online sooner, said Brassard.
“Station 5 was identified in the Master Fire Plan approved by council in 2009, as being needed as soon as possible to relieve response-time deficiencies in south and southwest Barrie,” he told City Scene Barrie
Brassard listed the following performance-based design criteria the temporary station will need:
• Air-circulation and fresh-air requirements meeting all appropriate codes and regulations.
• Proper energy-design requirements for 24-hour operations, and emergency standby power.
• Proper vehicle exhaust-extraction system for apparatus bay.
• Proper design requirements for lighting levels, controls, etc.
• design criteria and calculations for water, power, and heating requirements.
• Performance-based design criteria for life-safety requirements for the facility.
• Structural design criteria for post-disaster construction requirements.
• Site-development design criteria for servicing, traffic flows, entrance details based on the intended use of emergency vehicles.
“In almost every circumstance, it’s much cheaper in the long run to hire someone on contract who has the expertise in a particular area, than to hire full-time staff that we’ll have to pay salary and benefits to,” said Brassard. “If we did have staff who could do this, I would be the first one to ensure that they did the work in an effort to save the expense of having to hire outside help.”
Reaction to this big-ticket item (the whole fire plan) was an early glimpse into how different views, attitudes and visions might play out in the coming term.

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