North Cowichan will not hire a new full-time assistant fire chief in 2020.
Staff had recommended the hiring to help deal with the growing number of required fire inspections in the municipality, but council decided against it at its meeting on Jan. 29.
Coun. Rob Douglas asked finance director Mark Frame how much the position would cost, and where the funding would come from to pay for it.
Frame replied that the position would cost between $110,000 and $112,000 per year, and would come from taxation.
Douglas said that could cause the expected tax increase for the year to be above five per cent, and he would rather have the funding for the position come from existing revenue sources in the municipality.
“The tax increase for the year is creeping up to five per cent, and more funding requests are coming down the pike,” Douglas said.
The municipality is in the process of establishing a regular system of fire inspections of hotels and public buildings as mandated by the province, and more than 1,700 fire inspections will be required to be completed every year in North Cowichan.
One fire inspector can complete approximately 500 inspections annually, according to a staff report, and that doesn’t take into account the necessary re-inspections or follow up with non-compliant businesses.
Currently, North Cowichan has one CUPE position that is 40 per cent fire inspector and 60 per cent bylaw enforcement officer.
The staff report said with the current level of bylaw enforcement and the increased demands for enforcement related to the opioid/homeless crisis, there is no capacity to do other than minimal fire and safety inspections.
Frame said cost recovery for the position could be attempted through a system of fees for inspections, but noted that most municipalities don’t charge for initial inspections.
He also said North Cowichan’s current policy requires self-inspection for several classes of buildings, and the reports are sent to the municipality.
“We only inspect high-risk buildings, like residential complexes,” Frame said.
Mayor Al Siebring said he would want to find another way to cover the costs of the new position.
CAO Ted Swabey said staff will have to come back to council with a report on how to meet the organizational needs of the municipality now that the recommendation for the new assistant fire chief has been denied.