Halifax fire officials warn against cutting firefighting budget
'We are as lean as any fire department in the nation,' says firefighter Brendan Meagher
Halifax's fire chief told regional council Friday there will be a noticeable impact if he has to cut close to a million dollars from his budget.
"Ninety-five per cent of our budget is wages, so there's no way to take out that kind of money without affecting staffing," said Ken Stuebing.
A representative of the Halifax Professional Fire Fighters Association pleaded with councillors not to take that route. Brendan Meagher has been a firefighter in the municipality for 22 years and is a captain at the Bayers Road station.
"We are as lean as any fire department in the nation," he said. "We ask not to look backwards as we move forward."
The fire department's proposal is essentially a stand pat budget of $71.8 million — only $147,000 more than the 2018 budget — but that only works for a tax rate increase of 2.9 per cent. If the tax rate increase is kept to 1.9 per cent, the fire department would have to cut $997,000.
Coun. Steve Streatch called for finance officials to not only keep the $997,000 in the fire department, but to add another $337,000 to ensure the Fall River station is staffed around the clock by career firefighters. Right now, volunteers look after the evening and weekend hours.
The station also provides services for the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Streatch said having career firefighters available 24/7 will affect response times.
"If I'm a resident on the balcony of my home or I was standing on the balcony of the hotel at the airport, that four minutes would make the world of difference to me," he said.
The additional fire service money joins a long list of extra budget items that total more than $5 million, including $450,000 more for libraries.
A projected surplus could help pay for some of the costs. Finance officials could also recommend dipping into reserves or increase borrowing to pick up the tab.
Staff recommendations are expected before the end of February.