Fire hall costs sparking debate

Since it was approved on January 31, the cost of a new fire hall at the top of Two Mile Hill has gone up by $1 million.

Since it was approved on January 31, the cost of a new fire hall at the top of Two Mile Hill has gone up by $1 million.

The station’s cost is now pegged at $6 million, 20 per cent higher than it was six weeks ago.

And that rising price tag comes with plenty of questions attached.

For example, the territorial government was supposed to partner with the city to build a new fire hall-ambulance base on the site.

That partnership would have cut administrative costs and eliminated the need to build two separate facilities.

Currently, there are 11 people, or more, working in the ambulance station on a daily basis. It was built to house one three-person crew and an administrative staffer.

The joint fire-ambulance base project has been discussed for at least two years.

But, for reasons still unexplained, that project has fallen apart.

The city is still in negotiations, said mayor Bev Buckway, deferring all questions to the Yukon government. (The Yukon government refused to discuss the issue).

“Talks are definitely ongoing with them (YTG) and we are proceeding with the fire hall at this point with not having that component included as part of this current building,” said Buckway.

“We’ve handled it by making the decision that we need to have a new fire hall in place. So we will move forward on the fire hall, but we have enough space on that property to work out some arrangement with (the Yukon government) for the ambulance base if that is their wish, and talks are ongoing on that.”

Talks with the government have ended, said councillor Doug Graham.

The city gave the territory an ultimatum, and then proceeded alone, he said.

“We knew we needed a new fire hall reasonably quickly, like we just can’t hold off any longer, so our city administration gave (the Yukon) a drop-dead date to be included in the new building,” said Graham.

“If we were going to build a building that was going to house the new fire hall and ambulance and the whole group, we needed to know by December.

“They hadn’t made a commitment by December, there’s no doubt about it, so we are now proceeding with the fire hall as a stand-alone unit.”

But there are other unresolved issues related to the building of the new hall.

Among them, the fate of the existing fire hall on Second Avenue.

And, talking with city politicians raises more questions than answers.

 “We have no immediate plans to shut down the Second Avenue fire hall,” said Buckway.

And she dismissed suggestions the current base could be used as an ambulance station or a place for city offices in the immediate future.

Graham was more specific.

The existing base is going to be used until there’s more development on First Avenue.

“The decision was made to leave it where it is for now until we complete the development on First Avenue,” he said.

“And down in that area we also have some land that could potentially be a new fire hall because I don’t think there’s any doubt that we intend to, at some point in time, do away with the one on Second Avenue.

 “It’s just too inconvenient there and, besides, we’re probably eventually going to need the space for city hall.

“If we do away with the one on Second Avenue it would be because we are building another one somewhere in the downtown area.

“I think that there’s no doubt that, within the next five to 10 years, the one on Second will be relocated somewhere else, but there will be one downtown, I’m almost certain of that.”

The new base at the top of Two Mile Hill is going to force the city to borrow money, and that’s going to affect taxes, especially now that the city has stepped away from its partnership with YTG.

Some councillors are concerned about taxes being hiked to pay for it, while others are seemingly indifferent about the ballooning cost.

“Any borrowing you do does involve increasing taxes. I hate to say that, but from a safety point of view this (fire hall) is long overdue and a small increase — I don’t think people will be too upset about,” said councillor Dave Stockdale.

“We’ve just increased taxes quite a bit in the last budget, but you have to have these basic services and safety is certainly high on the priority list.”

But Graham is very concerned about the cost.

“Anybody that isn’t concerned about money doesn’t have any common sense as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

“(The fire hall) started out as a concept a few years ago for $4 million, but the number that we had for the budget last year was $5 million, $4 million to borrow and $1 million to come out of reserves.

 “I’m really concerned. Every time you borrow a buck you’ve got to be concerned about it because you not only have to pay the dollar back but you have to pay the interest as well, and anybody with even a bit of common sense can tell what happened in our 2007 budget where we had to increase user fees all over the place as well as the five-per-cent tax increase.

“You know, this borrowing is going to add, I don’t know, about $250,000 to our own (operations) budget all by itself and so of course I’m concerned about the borrowing. It just makes sense … you can’t add that kind of money to (the budget) without going, ‘Where will we get the money? We’re going to have to raise taxes again.’”

Costs will increase the longer you delay the project, said Buckway.

“The price has definitely gone up and, bearing in mind that the talking of the fire hall as we go year, by year, by year, as the years roll by, the costs definitely go up,” said Buckway.

“We want to get our plans in place; we want to tender it and we want to start building it because the longer we wait, that price will go up. That’s a fact.

“It’s not a secret, that’s just how it works. Prices constantly increase, so the longer we wait