Council sees a new Fire Hall, more firefighters as a top priority

July 20, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

“When one door closes another one opens.” A famous quote spoken by renowned 19th Century scientist, inventor and engineer Alexander Graham Bell, but it’s one that several members of Orangeville  Council are attempting to put into practice as they seek to move on from the now infamous debate surrounding the future of the Orangeville Police Service (OPS).

Indeed, with that particular issue put to bed, at least for the time being, Council has been able to focus on the future, specifically what projects and priorities it would like to tackle before the next municipal election, on October 22, 2018.

The usual rhetoric of investing in roads, reducing taxes and maintaining other forms of municipal infrastructure were raised throughout discussions, but the Orangeville Fire Department was singled out for special attention, with some members pointing to the Town’s Fire Department Business Plan, composed by Fire Chief Ron Morden, as proof that the service is in dire need.

At the top of the list in that business plan is a request for a new fire hall and eight more full-time firefighters.

Coun. Don Kidd has long been a proponent of the local fire department and, when talking to the Citizen,  expressed his belief that Council should stand behind the service much in the same way it did with OPS.

“The future of the Orangeville Fire Department is absolutely up there as one of the most important topics or issues in this town right now,” he said. “We’ve heard from our fire chief many, many times telling us that our service, as it stands right now, does not meet industry standards. That’s a pretty big concern.”

He added, “We have a new fire hall coming down the line here whether we like it or not. Whether it’s soon, two years, three years or five years. … I’m not sure when it’s going to be, but it’s coming down the creek and it’s coming fast. That, along with potentially eight new firefighters, is a big expense to the town.”

A new fire hall is expected to cost somewhere between $6 million and $8 million, while eight additional full-time firefighters will add $1 million to the municipal budget each year.

Coun. Sylvia Bradley feels it’s a cost the municipality simply has to incur.

“This isn’t something we want, it’s something we need. We’ve heard about the problems of our current fire hall not being big enough, there are problems with the roof. … It’s not accessible, it’s an older hall and we’re going to need to hire more firefighters soon to provide the coverage our taxpayers deserve – where will we be putting those firefighters? There’s no room in the current facility,” Coun. Bradley said. “But, there is a lot for us to focus on. There really is no end to the things that need to be done in town.”

Heavy rains in recent weeks have perhaps pointed to shortfalls in the municipality’s sewage and water drainage systems, although Mayor Jeremy Williams feels the Town handled those potentially devastating situations reasonably well. Among his many priorities Mayor Williams lists the regionalization of both the Orangeville Police Service and Orangeville Fire Department as personal priorities of his, while also pointing to continued investment in the municipal transit system and attracting new business to the town as other areas of focus.

For his number one priority, however, the mayor would like to see council get back to basics and invest in its roads.

“My father was a councillor and the one thing he always told me was that as long as you make sure the garbage is picked up and roads are in good shape, you’ll be okay. That’s actually really good advice,” he said. “I suspect over the next few years we’re going to have to really start putting a lot more money into our roads. Some of our ‘upcoming’ projects have been on the list as long as I’ve been on council.”

He added, “They’re not in horrible shape right now, but in 10 years they might be. We really need to start catching up on some of the work that needs to be done.”

For Coun. Scott Wilson, his main priority has always been clear – to save the local taxpayer as much money as he possibly can. During the policing process Coun. Wilson perhaps said it best when he commented that he supported neither the OPP nor the OPS – he simply supported the savings one of those two options represented.

“I want to see the savings for the Town,” Coun. Wilson said. “It’s important for me to point out that I’m not in favour of OPS and I’m not in favour of the OPP. I’m in favour of the savings. The savings is always what I’ve been interested in. It’s always been about the money for me. When you’re campaigning that’s what people want to know – how you can cut taxes.”

He also seemed to be in favour of investing in the local fire department, commenting at a previous municipal meeting, “I think we just need to move forward and bite the bullet. It’s going to be a tough one to bite, but for the safety of the people of Orangeville and the men and women that provide this service to us, I think we should move ahead.”

Even Mayor Williams, who at previous meetings has claimed massive investment in the fire department wasn’t something he could justify supporting, admitted the construction of a new fire hall, or at least massive renovation, and hiring of eight new full-time firefighters was something the Town would “eventually” have to pay for.

“I’ve voted against increasing our fire department before, simply because it’s such a great expense, but obviously it’s something we’re going to have to look at down the road. There’s no way around that. Orangeville is growing and eventually we’re going to have to invest in our fire department,” he said. “We just have to make sure the timing is right.”

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