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No new Abbotsford firefighters in 2012

A request for five new firefighters in 2012 has been denied by Abbotsford council.

The rejection of the proposal by the Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service saves the city $70,000 this year and reduces the proposed municipal tax increase from 1.72 to 1.66 per cent, if no further expenditures are added to the new budget.

The hirings were set for November, with five more firefighters to be added each year until 20 full-time positions were created.

“Because it was so late in the year, they wanted to defer the discussion until they had more information on the response rates and industry standards,” said city manager Frank Pizzuto. “And they would revisit it again with the 2013 budget.”

The decision raised safety and response time questions but Pizzuto believes that “between our professional and our volunteer firefighters, we will be able to cover it.”

Coun. Patricia Ross called the decision “very disappointing,” and disputed some councillors’ claims that the city’s slower than expected growth rate justifies delaying the hires.

“This is not about growth, it’s about simple geography and response times. And the fact is, right now, there are certain areas of our community that are under served,” she said.

Abbotsford Fire Chief Don Beer confirmed he will be bringing the request back for 2013 because the issue of response time remains.

He said the new Fire Hall 8, on Blueridge Drive, will have a full-time crew later this year.

“That will fill that gap in the western side of the urban core.”

But the eventual hiring of 20 firefighters was designated for Hall 7, located in the eastern urban core.

“We’re going to be an additional year away in order to provide the citizens who live on the eastern portion of the urban area the response time standards we believe they should have,” said Beer.

That area includes historic Clayburn Village.

Currently, an auxiliary crew mans Hall 7.

“Keep in mind, they respond from home or a place of business so they are at least four to six minutes further out than what career staff would be,” said Beer.

He said those minutes can change a room and contents fire into an entire structure blaze.

As part of its budget deliberations, council has also examined the five-year financial plan.

In addition to the 1.66 per cent increase for 2012, the plan estimates municipal tax increases of 0.74 per cent in 2013 (that figure is based on a two per cent savings expected to be found following a proposed core services review), 1.33 per cent in 2014, 1.51 per cent in 2015 and 1.54 in 2016.

Both water and sewer rates will have no increase this year, while garbage rates will increase by 2.3 per cent (about a $5 increase per average household).

Council had examined only a 1.5 per cent garbage rate increase, but rejected it because it would mean having to close the city’s recycling depot on Sundays.

Council is expected to have one final debate on the new budget, scheduled for March 5, before giving the five-year financial plan its approval.

Still to be decided is whether $250,000 in funding should be given to Ledgeview Golf and Country Club, which made the request last month, citing financial difficulties during the global economic downturn.

Also expected to be debated at the March 5 meeting is the cost of the proposed core services review, which examines how the local government operates and tries to identify possible efficiencies, and whether changes will be made to the city’s tiered water rate system which charges more for water use in the summer months.

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