Sudbury council mulls over contentious fire-paramedic plan
If passed, proposal would close 9 fire halls and largely replace volunteers with career firefighters
A proposed overhaul to fire and paramedic services in Sudbury, Ont., is generating a mixed reaction from city councillors, and calls to hold a referendum.
"What I would ask is that are you ready for tax hikes, less trucks, less stations," Coun. Gerry Montpellier said about holding a public vote on the matter.
"There's no way that I will ever accept that, without a station, you can have better service. I just fail to believe that."
If the city's proposed fire and paramedic services optimization plan passes, Montpellier's ward of Dowling, Levack and Onaping would lose a fire hall.
Eight other fire stations would shut down, and volunteers would be largely replaced by career firefighters.
"I think a project like this might have been better served if they had broken it up into components instead of trying to do the entire thing in one shot," Coun. Fern Cormier said.
"It boils down to the cost and the impact to the outlying communities."
'The more I see, the less I believe'
Cormier told CBC News he cannot support what he has seen in the proposal so far because he is not sure it is sustainable and affordable for the community.
Coun. Michael Vagnini works in the financial industry, and even he said the numbers in the plan do not make sense to him.
"The more I see, the less I believe that this is even going to be an effective program," Vagnini said.
"We need to fix the recruiting of the volunteers and the retention of the volunteers. Not trying to bring careers [firefighters] out to the rural area where they might be sitting for weeks at a time without even a call-out."
Under the plan, Vagnini would lose three fire stations in his ward of Worthington, Whitefish, Naughton, Lively and Copper Cliff.
Vagnini said he is supporting Montpellier's call for a referendum. But other councillors are skeptical.
'Certainly can't afford to keep taking care of them'
"Do they want a faster, guaranteed response from their fire service? That's the question that I'm asking all the residents in ward seven," Coun. Mike Jakubo said.
"It's whether you want this service and whether you're willing to pay for it."
Jakubo rejects the notion that the proposal will result in a reduction to services. Instead, he said it will likely do the opposite.
For Coun. Al Sizer, it does not make sense to keep old fire stations open that are in need of costly repairs.
"If they're not effective and not serving the public, than we certainly can't afford to keep taking care of them," Sizer said.
"We're all concerned about costs. We're all concerned about fire safety, and I think this plan here takes that into account."
Can't 'do everything'
As Coun. Mark Signoretti points out, the plan's proposed changes would not happen overnight.
"People need to realize this is a seven-to-10-year project," Signoretti said.
"It's a plan. You always have to start with a plan because, if you don't have a plan, you're just flying by the seat of your pants."
Still, Coun. Robert Kirwan questions whether the city will have enough money to move forward.
"We've got taxpayers who are saying they don't want to see their taxes go up," Kirwan said.
"We've got some big discussions on the table, and we're not going to be able to do everything."
Should council vote or bring it to the people?
Councillors are expected to get more information about the optimization project over the next few weeks.
Then they will decide whether to vote on the plan or ask the public to cast ballots.
"There shouldn't be any bickering or fighting amongst people right now," Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac said.
"If it means a hike in our taxes, if it means less services, if it means more insurance, tell your councillors at the meetings what you really believe should be happening. Then wait for the report to be complete, brought to council, and then we'll have to decide if council makes the decision or if we bring it back to the people."