Situation critical for Hawkesbury dispatch
The fate of Hawkesbury regional fire dispatch is currently up in the air.
The town desperately needs the co-operation of its neighbours if it wants to reduce the large deficit it currently incurs to operate the system.
At a recent United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) committee of the whole meeting, Hawkesbury Mayor René Berthiaume said he was not pleased with the emergency services committee's proposal to operate the dispatch system with the UCPR in order to maintain the service in Hawkesbury.
"I am really not pleased with this at all," Berthiaume stated. "This is certainly not in Hawkesbury's best interest."
The town is currently proposing to increase the rate it charges municipalities that use the system by eight per cent. A fee increase of 24 per cent over three years would take effect in January 2013 and would give the town an opportunity to make a dent in the deficit it carries to operate the communications centre.
Berthiaume has repeatedly noted that since the dispatch centre opened in 2002, it has incurred losses. That trend will continue if the town can't find a way to increase its revenues.
"In 2011, we had a loss of $299,000 on a budget of $450,000," Berthiaume noted. "We want to reduce our portion of the deficit by 25 per cent."
The town currently provides fire dispatch services to Champlain Township, The Nation, East Hawkesbury, Casselman, Alfred-Plantagenet, Russell, North Glengarry and North Stormont.
Despite only having a $450,000 budget in 2011, nearly $490,000 was spent to operate the system.
Warden and The Nation Mayor Francois St-Amour said he understood Berthiaume's frustrations, but noted municipalities don't want to pay more.
"Let's call a spade a spade here," St-Amour commented. "It's expensive. Municipalities don't want to continue with a contract that is so expensive. Our mandate is to look at all options on the table and to examine cheaper options. In the end, it's up to municipalities to decide how to proceed."
Berthiaume said Hawkesbury is prepared to operate the communication centre, but it needs municipalities on board to do so.
"The numbers are negotiable," he commented. "I brought this discussion here because I want to discuss it with all of you. That is what we need to do here - sit down and talk and see if a real partnership can be formed."
Champlain Mayor Gary Barton said Berthiaume's concerns were urgent and said his municipality isn't keen on paying more for the service.
"Mr. Berthiaume's concerns are relevant and they are urgent," Barton commented. "The problem is, he wants to have this discussion when we have no idea what the numbers are exactly. This is a long-term decision and this is a real problem for Hawkesbury. We need to ask ourselves is there something we can do or not? But we need to know what we'll be paying."
Barton said Champlain's costs started at $8,000 and have risen to more than $30,000.
"That's just too much money," he stated. "We're looking at other options because not many municipalities are going to want to pay more. Hawkesbury has a problem now, but are we doing to be able to solve it within the next few months? I doubt it."
Berthiaume said no matter what the municipalities choose to do, all options must be weighed carefully.
"We have to look at the advantages and disadvantages of all options on the table," he remarked. "It's time to put our cards on the table and have an honest, real discussion about this. That's the only way we're going to move forward at all."
Emergency services director Michel Chrétien said "there is still lots of discussion to have" on the issue, while chief administrative officer (CAO) Stéphane Parisien agreed a "frank discussion" must be had.
"The reality is, Hawkesbury is asking you to pay more," Parisien said. "That's basically what's happening here. Do you want to pay more or not? Do you want to find a cheaper option? These are the questions you have to ask yourself and this is an issue that needs to be talked about once and for all."