Halifax fire budget could get boost to support volunteers

Halifax regional council will consider increasing next year's budget for the city's fire service to try and attract more volunteer firefighters in rural areas.

Fire officials present spending plan that totals $58.3M

Halifax regional council debated next year's fire department budget on Tuesday. (Rob Short/CBC)

Halifax regional council will consider increasing next year's budget for the city's fire service to try and attract more volunteer firefighters in rural areas.

"I could use double the number of volunteers that I have now," fire Chief Doug Trussler said at a Tuesday meeting of council's committee of the whole.

The municipality currently has more than 500 volunteers. Fire officials admit they are not meeting their standard of having at least four firefighters on the scene of a fire in a rural area within 10 minutes of a call, 90 per cent of the time.

To fix that, Trussler has suggested increasing honorariums volunteers receive to defray costs. If approved, it would add $500,000 more to next year's budget for the fire service and $1.1 million annually after that.

Fire officials have presented plans for a $58.3 million budget, which is $176,000 less than this year. But it does not include increased honorariums. 

Raise taxes or cut programs

The new incentive Trussler is leaning towards is an extra hourly on-call rate. But he wants to have more consultations with volunteer fire stations before he makes a final decision.

Councillors agreed to consider adding the beefed-up honorarium program to next year's budget, even though it's unclear whether something else will be cut or taxes raised to accommodate the proposal.

"This is the one thing I might consider raising taxes for," said Coun. Barry Dalrymple.

"We agreed to hold the line on taxes," said Coun. Reg Rankin. "So this should not be decided until the entire budget is before us."

There has already been another request to extend green cart collection until the end of September and add the $1.7-million cost to next year's budget.

Debate on the 2016-2017 budget is expected to take place on Mar. 8. 

The CBC's Pam Berman live blogged from Tuesday's meeting.

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca

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