Kaslo residents have endorsed a $1.6 million loan to build a new fire hall and turn their municipal fire department over to the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
Unofficial results from Saturday’s referendum saw 456 residents vote yes and 242 vote no. Voter turnout was 64 per cent. The result means an annual tax bill of up to $284,000. The price tag included with the hall includes $400,000 to pay off existing debt from equipment purchases.
Regional fire chief Terry Swan suggested the final cost could be lower depending on volunteer labour and community sponsorships.
A separate referendum to enshrine fire protection for Ainsworth and Woodbury using the existing Balfour-Harrop and Kaslo departments also passed resoundingly, 57 to 8. That represented a 67 per cent voter turnout.
Residents will pay up to $24,000 to formalize a service that has been provided on a contract basis the last two years.
The present Kaslo fire hall, built in the 1970s, is attached to the village office. It has no washroom and doesn’t meet current building standards.
The new hall is expected to be built next to the arena and have enough room to accommodate all emergency responders in Kaslo, including ambulance and search and rescue.
Rural Kaslo regional director Andy Shadrack, who spent four days last week going door-to-door encouraging constituents to vote, called the outcome “a huge step forward” and said he was “looking forward to the new era.”
However, he also “heard loud and clear” concerns about the costs of the new Kaslo hall, and acknowledged the importance of building it on time and under budget.
“We’re still in the middle of a recession as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Until now, Kaslo has provided contract service to the rural area between Ainso Road and Cowan Road, but Shadrack says the village had the option of cancelling the service.
“Now the village and I will have one vote each inside a regional district service and jointly manage the assets and operation,” Shadrack says. “Day-to-day, the fire chief is still in control, but in terms of budget and policy, we’ll work together. That’s a big change.”
Shadrack said long-term, they could look at providing fire response further north of Cowan Road, but for now the focus is on building the new hall and creating relationships with other emergency groups they hope to share space with.
He was pleasantly surprised at the outcomes of both votes and also impressed with the turnout, and suggested advance balloting for the provincial election also held Saturday may have helped.