Mayor Bill Dingwall said Pitt Meadows council will still explore hiring two new full-time firefighters. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Mayor Bill Dingwall said Pitt Meadows council will still explore hiring two new full-time firefighters. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Budget numbers mean city can’t afford firefighters, says former mayor MacLean

Two new full-time firefighters were an election issue in Pitt Meadows

To keep taxes down, Pitt Meadows council should re-think hiring two more full-time firefighters, said former mayor Don MacLean.

Council heard a budget summary at its first regular meeting on Tuesday, with a proposed 5.75 per cent increase for property taxes and utilities in 2019.

That does not include two new firefighters, who would cost an estimated $250,000 per year.

For every one per cent tax increase in the budget, the city garners approximately $200,000 in revenue for the budget.

Cheryl Harding, director of financial services, said the 5.75 per cent increase would cost the average Pitt Meadows residential property owner an additional $175 per year.

She said $94 of that is not discretionary spending, because it is earmarked for Metro water and sewer services, organic waste collection, the employer health tax, the RCMP budget and Fraser Valley Regional Library.

Mayor Bill Dingwall, who during last month’s municipal election campaign reaffirmed his support for hiring two full-time firefighters, said most of the spending is outside of council’s control, and the balance is to maintain current service levels.

“Regardless of which seven of us were sitting here a week ago … the same numbers would have come to whoever was sitting up here,” Dingwall added.

He noted Pitt Meadows enjoys some of the lowest tax rates in the region, but acknowledged the $175 increase could hurt those on fixed incomes.

“It is going to hurt, no question about it.”

While MacLean accepts much of the spending is outside council’s control, he said hiring two full-time firefighters is a discretionary expenditure. And, in his opinion, they are unnecessary.

“Up until a port potty burned, we had no structure fires in 2018,” he said.

MacLean acknowledged the career firefighters could respond to a greater number of medical emergencies, but noted the last council has already arranged for a new ambulance rest-and-ready station near city hall. That facility should mean a more frequent paramedic presence in Pitt Meadows, and shorter response times, he said.

“I’m sure the new council is going to look at the fire service, and I’m sure they have enough smarts to say, ‘What do we necessarily need?’”

But Dingwall said the issue is not that simple. For one thing, council could look at hiring the firefighters for part of the year, which would reduce the cost for 2019, but fulfill his election commitment.

He said council needs to hear from the fire department, and he would like the city to hold a public information session about service levels by emergency responders – what medical emergency calls are attended by firefighters in Pitt Meadows compared with surrounding communities. He expects that meeting to happen in the coming weeks.

He said council will be “very mindful” of the tax implications.