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County not interested in fire service negotiations with Olds

Olds council passed a motion to terminate the Fire Services Sub Agreement with Mountain View County, effective the expiry date

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - Mountain View County is not prepared to negotiate further with the Town of Olds on the current fire sub agreement between the municipalities and expects Olds to adhere to the agreement for its full term ending in 2023, says reeve Bruce Beattie.

“We don’t feel there is anything to mediate because there is no part of the current agreement that we are not meeting,” said Beattie. “To renegotiate the entire agreement specifically around costs associated with it is just not something we are in a position to do.

“I hope that Olds will continue live up to the agreement that they signed and will continue to provide service to our rural residents. Certainly in 2023 those negotiations (for a new agreement) will happen but at this point we are not interested in negotiating this agreement.”

On July 12, the Olds town council passed a motion “that the Town of Olds terminate the Fire Services Sub Agreement with Mountain View County, effective the expiry date and that the mayor send a letter to Mountain View County to notify the municipality of this termination.”

The fire sub agreement, which expires at the end of 2023, sets out funding and service levels shared by the municipalities.

Negotiations between the parties regarding the sub agreement have been ongoing through the municipalities’ inter-municipal cooperation committee (ICC). 

The current intermunicipal collaboration framework agreement between the municipalities sets out provisions for negotiations between the parties, including the ability to call for mediation.

During the talks, the Town of Olds has asked for a “substantially more than we are paying now” and for mediation, both of which the county has rejected, he said.

“They want to have a substantial increase and we don’t feel that it is appropriate in the middle of an agreement to renegotiate it,” he said.

Because the ICC talks dealing with a legal matter are in-camera, Beattie was not prepared to say exactly how much the town is asking for.

“The changes Olds is pursuing are not acceptable to the county,” he said.

Olds town councillor Mary Jane Harper is the chair of the ICC committee. She calls the county’s position that it is not prepared to negotiate further on the current sub agreement disappointing.

“It’s very unfortunate that the citizens of Olds have been subsidizing the service to Mountain View County residents,” said Harper. “Mountain View County has to consider fire services like an insurance and I think the least they can do is pay for 50 per cent of the base cost to have a million dollar service at the beck and call when it is needed to the residents of Mountain View County.”

Harper declined to say exactly how much more the town is asking the county to pay.

“I wouldn’t be able to give you exact numbers but right now what the Town of Olds is asking is that Mountain View County pay 50 per cent of the base cost just to have service provided,” she said. “Having the base costs paid 50-50 by each municipal is like paying an insurance premium and it’s got nothing to do with per capita costs.”  

Asked if the county is currently paying less than 50 per cent of the base costs, she said yes.

In an Albertan interview following the July 12 motion, Olds mayor Mike Muzychka said, “I’m hoping that the county will come back to the table and start renegotiating a little bit further with regards to this item and we don’t have to put this motion into effect going forward. We feel that they’re underpaying for the service that we’re providing.”

Mountain View County issued a press release on July 25 saying while it is disappointed that Olds intends to terminate the sub agreement, it fully expects fire and emergency services for rural residents in the Olds Fire District will not be impacted or interrupted.

“Residents should be assured that their level of fire services has not, and will not, change due to this termination notice provided by the Town of Olds,” reeve Beattie said in the release.

“Mountain View County remains committed to providing a high level of service in all five fire districts within the county and remains resolute that formal agreement with our urban partners is the best means of achieving this goal.”

The county’s 2021 budget calls for the Town of Olds to receive $215,892 for fire operating. The county has recently funded a new tanker for the Olds department at a cost of $430,000, as well as approximately $830,000 for firefighters apparatus purchase over the past five years, said Beattie. 

The county intends to “investigate all options to provide future fire services in the rural portion of the Olds fire district while continuing to provide its share of funding that aligns with the service levels that Mountain View County residents expect and have been fortunate to receive from the Olds Fire Department.”

Beattie says the county absolutely expects the department to continue to respond to rural emergencies.

“I think Olds would be on pretty shaky ground if they were to withdraw fire services when we have an agreement. If there were a fire outside of Olds and Olds refused to respond, I just don’t think that would go over well,” he said. 

The Town of Olds issued a media release on July 28 stating in part that the notice to terminate the fire services sub agreement "automatically triggers the dispute resolution process that was created as part of our intermunicipal collaboration framework which will allow mediation and/or arbitration to occur.

"It is the intent of the Town of Olds to engage with Mountain View County through an independent dispute resolution process to re-design a sub agreement that is conducive to a mutual partnership and is fair and equitable to both municipalities."

Beattie said he is confident the councils elected in October will be able to negotiate a new fire sub agreement in 2023.

- with files from Doug Collie

Dan Singleton

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