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Letter to the Editor: Fire service blame game needs to stop; criticism of Barnwell goes over the line

Posted on April 13, 2017 by Vauxhall Advance

Seeing that the mayor (Henk DeVlieger, Taber) doesn’t understand that the fire issue has long since been extinguished, I guess now it’s time to beat the proverbial dead horse for the first and last time through the media.

Perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back was reading about our good neighbour and partner being dragged through the mud in last week’s article, “Mayor disappointed with Barnwell fire decision” (featured at http://www.tabertimes.com).

We’ve got big shoulders and are prepared to weather criticism but I just can’t allow the mayor’s comments of the village’s decision remain unchallenged.

The M.D. of Taber and the Village of Barnwell have a long history, in fact until 1980 the Village of Barnwell was a hamlet in the M.D. of Taber when the M.D. actively supported its designation as a village. Since that time the M.D. has always worked collaboratively with them and have celebrated with them as their community has grown and matured.

Their decision to construct a fire hall and work with the M.D. of Taber in doing so is a natural extension of the familiar and friendly municipal relationship that we have developed over decades of trustful and honest dealings.

Cost estimates cited by the mayor are ridiculous. Barnwell plans a modest building and the M.D. already owns the equipment that will operate out of it. The mayor speaks of the negotiations of the fire agreement in 2015 in the following way, and I quote “every meeting they were coming up with new approaches, new ideas – they were basically working on this to make it impossible, to get their own goal, which was ‘Plan B’, which was never revealed to us.”

The truth, mayor, is this: the M.D. of Taber negotiated in good faith (please review the minutes posted on the Town of Taber website: https://www.taber.ca/DocumentCenter/View/1229).

We sought numerous ways to address the concerns we had with the fire agreement particularly with financial and operational accountability and input into policy, programs and personnel designed to provide the rural fire service we desired.

Each reasonable and thoughtful offer was rebuffed in turn by the town and the M.D. continued to negotiate in good faith until the 11th hour when the town presented its ultimatum to ‘take it or leave it’.

I would suggest that the town’s strategy was pure folly. When you have only two customers, one of whom already operates four fire departments in its municipality, it is not recommended that you tell them during negotiations ‘if you don’t like our fire service – start your own’ at least twice during the negotiation process. These words in and of themselves do not speak to good faith negotiation — they are inflamma- tory and destructive. The ultimatum put forward by the town did not address the concerns of the M.D.

There was nothing collaborative or co-operative about the ultimatum. The ultimatum did not address the M.D. as a partner – it addressed them as a cus- tomer who should just accept whatever the town want- ed to provide in terms of service and accountability.

Until the M.D. of Taber received the ultimatum we did not consider establishing another fire department to join the four we already operate despite the mayor’s allegations otherwise.

This decision was made many weeks afterward following a review of our long term goals for fire services and how best to address them.

It should be noted that every criticism initially levied about the initiative (was) to stir up public emotion.

That we would not be able to find volunteers, that they would not be trained, that the response times would be terrible and that the public’s safety would be at risk have proven false in every regard.

The result of our policy decision is the establishment of the M.D. of Taber Regional Fire Service which is a collaborative inter-municipal service which operates fire services in the Town of Vauxhall, the Village of Barnwell and the M.D. of Taber including the Hays, Grassy Lake, Enchant and M.D. Regional fire departments.

It is a successful volunteer fire department model which is sustainable, accountable to all municipal partners, is effective and cost efficient.

The long-term agreements signed by the three municipal partners ensures its continuance and success for many decades to come.

It is ironic that the same proposal described in the minutes noted above is the identical framework for the agreement entered into by the village and the M.D. recently.

Village representatives, who were present during all of the fire negotia- tions, obviously thought that this proposal is as right for their community as it is for the M.D.

In the end all I can say is this: Mayor, when you find yourself party to failed relationships and agreements, perhaps it’s time to consider if you’re the one with the problem.

BOB WALLACE
Division 5 M.D. of Taber councillor

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