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Cortes Island emergency response service goes to referendum

Proposal to cover training will join hall tax on ballot in fall election
Cortes Island will hold a non-binding referendum regarding whether the fire department will expand first response for medical emergencies service. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Cortes Island residents can add emergency first response service to the ballot for this fall’s elections.

They will also be deciding on a proposed hall tax to provide a regular source of revenue for hall operations on the island.

In each case, the referendum will be non-binding.

RELATED STORY: Cortes Island to vote on hall tax idea in fall elections

Area B Director Noba Anderson admitted her choice was not go to non-binding referendum.

On the hall tax issue, she had preferred a binding referendum, but at the June 20 meeting, the majority of the Strathcona Regional District board voted to hold a non-binding referendum first. This will mean the board will still require a further process for electoral assent in the future, such as a binding referendum.

“I think, if nothing else, we as a board need to provide administrative fairness,” she said. “Given that the board chose last month to go to non-binding referendum on the hall tax, I think it would be very, very difficult for the community to understand why we would be … going directly to a binding referendum on a new idea.”

As the emergency response service will require funding for training of fire department personnel, Anderson suggested that to be consistent, meaning the SRD should also opt for a non-binding referendum. A recent staff report suggests the service will cost $41,000 in the first year and $25,000 for each year following.

RELATED STORY: Gulf Island fire fighters want first responder training

The local fire department had also asked for formal authorization to provide other services such as wharf protection and assisting road rescues – services they already provide and which do not involve additional funding. A motion for the bylaw to amend the service agreements passed without opposition.

Some board members disagreed with the idea of a non-binding referendum, as they tried to emphasize the importance of emergency response service for residents.

“To me, saving lives and a community hall are two different issues,” said Larry Samson, one of the Campbell River directors. “To me, this is a no-brainer. A first responder program is so invaluable to a community.”

Anderson responded she did not question the value of emergency response but felt the board needs to be consistent when considering the hall tax and emergency responder requests, even though the longstanding hall tax question had generated strongly opposing views over almost a decade.

“I don’t think it’s fair to go to the community with two very different approaches for two different proposed services by two different non-profits on the Island,” she said. “In essence, they’re both non-profits who own assets who want to provide service to the community.… My dream would be to go back and rescind our decision on the hall tax and send them both to binding [referenda] but that wasn’t the will of the board.”

The motion for a non-binding referendum passed, although directors Samson, Brenda Leigh and Charlie Cornfield voted in opposition.

With the motion passing, the board also successfully passed a motion that, come fall, if a majority of voters support a first responder service, the SRD should proceed with a binding referendum in 2019. Directors Samson, Leigh, Andy Adams, Brenda Overton and Brad Unger voted against this motion.

The board also unanimously passed a motion to a public engagement process to answer questions on the first responder service prior to this fall’s non-binding referendum.