Chilliwack council asked to hire more firefighters at budget hearing – Chilliwack Progress

It is the only day of the year that Chilliwack citizens provide direct input on municipal spending to the City Council.

During this year’s information hearing Tuesday evening (Jan. 18), the council heard from more than 15 citizens commenting on the 2022 budget, both in person at City Hall, by email and virtually.

Speakers addressed everything from the need for more professional firefighters, swamp restoration, flood protection, blueways, affordable housing, and snow plows.

In the city’s fall 2021 online budget survey, “fire protection” came out on top, followed by “police,” “roads and transportation,” “flood protection” and “parks and trails,” as the top five spending priorities for Chilliwack .

It was the first time in years that the majority of Chilliwack respondents did not rank “police” in the first place, but instead ranked “fire protection” as the top priority.

That emphasis on additional firefighters was also extended to the evening hearing.

While two new professional firefighters for the Chilliwack Fire Department will increase staffing in Halls 1 and 4, along with a new fire inspector, several budget speakers, some possibly firefighters, urged a much larger number of full-time professional firefighters. hired, on top of the two budgeted for 2022.

Some made comparisons to the higher number of firefighters per capita noted in many other municipalities of similar size, such as Kamloops, which has double the number of professional firefighters of Chilliwack, according to one speaker.

Chilliwack Fire Chief Ian Josephson explained that Chilliwack has a “composite” fire department of 175 firefighters, including 40 professional firefighters and 135 paid on-call workers.

Staffing is based on community risk assessments and the fact that most fires occur in downtown and Sardis, meaning those fire halls are fully staffed 24/7, 365 days a year. Josephson emphasized that the composite structure made the department “safe, effective and efficient,” and they were “thankful to all 175 firefighters who keep our community safe.”

Resident Roxanna Kooistra was back before the council six years after she first took the stage at the 2016 budget meeting with her eight-year-old son Lincoln to ask the council to prioritize research into pool, recovery and salmon habitat.

“Salmon numbers have not improved since that time,” Kooistra says, and the non-fish-friendly flood protection infrastructure continues to age. She thanked the municipality for researching the recovery of the mud pool at Camp-Hope and for introducing the blueways system of accessible waterways.

Kooistra reminded councilors that they could leave “a legacy” by taking further steps to protect Chilliwack’s vital salmon habitat and natural splendor.

Resident Lisa Morry asked the city for funding for a new Promontory-based firehouse, an additional 60 firefighters to reverse the trend of the community being “grossly understaffed,” and for the city council to add two city council members.

Resident Eryne Croquet wanted to know where in the budget citizens could find money for swamp restoration, “not just rebuilding, but modeling the effects of climate change,” as well as flood resilience and habitat protection.

She asked if city officials would start saving for the $18 million to restore power to the Camp-Hope slough system, but was told it wasn’t really affordable at this point, nor in the budget, unless higher levels of government came to the table. with shared funding.

The tax increase board voted 2.99 percent for 2022, which is the same tax rate increase approved in 2021. It equates to an average tax increase of $60 for most homeowners.

Resident Gary Raddysh made his annual appeal to the city council for absolutely no tax hike, zero percent, instead of the 2.99 percent it approved.

Resident Bryden Nelmes, who has regularly commented on the budget in recent years, noted that in recent years he and resident Gary Raddysh often attended the budget hearing alone, and stated how pleased he was to see so many citizens pass the time. names to give feedback this year.

Nelmes asked where the flood protection plans announced in 2014 were in the 10-year financial plan. City officials said they are working with First Nations to finalize the alignment of the new levees west of Young Road, and once they have them, they will proceed with flood protection design and construction, with some degree of completion by 2028. .

Resident Cody Chance suggested using city land to build more affordable housing, with projects being launched to remove the risk to developers.

Resident Janice Balakshin spoke last spring about the importance of improvements and maintenance to bike paths, and some overzealous undergrowth on Bell Road, which staff said would check.

Several Yarrow speakers addressed a minor controversy about the pickleball court before getting clarification from staff that the proposal for a new facility at the Yarrow Community Center site was not set in stone as the location.

Watch the January 18 council meeting online at chilliwack.com, under the ‘town hall’ tab, click on the ‘archived videos of council meetings’ to watch the budget hearing. After the hearing was over, the council gave the third reading of the budget regulation.

Do you have something to add to this story, or a news tip? E-mail:
jfeinberg@theprogress.com


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