No more firefighters; three city positions added

Abbotsford city council considered new hirings as part of its 2013 budget talks.

Abbotsford city council has turned down a request for five new firefighters, but has approved the hiring of a bylaw enforcement officer, a plan checker and a senior planner.

The decisions were made at Monday afternoon’s council meeting as part of ongoing 2013 budget talks. They bring the preliminary tax increase to 1.34 per cent.

Fire Chief Don Beer of Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS) presented a proposal to hire five firefighters next year for Hall 7 – located on Old Clayburn Road in the Sandy Hill area.

He said the hall currently relies on a large number of auxiliary firefighters, who must be paged during an emergency and are often at home or work at the time. They then must report to the firehall to gear up before heading to a scene.

Beer said the average response time for an auxiliary member is seven minutes, compared to one and a half minutes for a career firefighter.

He said the cost of five new members would be just over $363,000 for 2013, but the hirings would reduce overtime costs, bringing the net cost to $145,000.

The proposal, the first of a four-year plan to hire 20 firefighters, was first turned down by council in last year’s budget, and Beer was told to bring it back to council again this year.

Councillors Patricia Ross, Bill MacGregor and Dave Loewen were in favour of the hirings.

“It’s about response time and it’s about making sure everybody in their home, in this community, has the best level of service possible,” Ross said.

MacGregor said “safety and security” should be the city’s top priority, and Loewen said he believed that taxpayers would be in favour of hiring more firefighters.

The remaining councillors who spoke on the issue cited budget constraints as their primary concern. They were backed by Mayor Bruce Banman.

“We have a duty to stretch a penny absolutely as far as we can right now,” he said.

Council also rejected requests for the hiring of a special events co-ordinator and a payroll manager for the city – at a cost of $100,000 and $113,000 respectively.

But an additional bylaw enforcement officer was approved, with councillors agreeing that the position’s costs would be offset by the revenue collected by ticket fines.

Jay Teichroeb, the city’s general manager of economic planning and development services, said it has been difficult for the existing five bylaw officers to keep up with demand.

He said increased bylaw enforcement would allow for more focus on dealing with nuisance buildings, agricultural land violations, illegal parking lots and the cleaning up of unsightly yards.

The position in 2013 will result in a one-time cost of $29,000 and an annual cost of $82,400. Revenue expected to be generated from ticket fines amounts to $26,000 for a total net cost of $85,400.

Also approved were a plan checker and a senior planner for a total net cost of $11,000 in 2013, once the revenue generated by the positions is taken into account.

The pair will be responsible for areas such as planning land use, approving development applications and issuing building permits.