Sundridge, Strong councils on opposite sides of fire department debate

There may be a pathway for the Sundridge-Strong Fire Department to hire a second full-time employee as requested by Fire Chief Andrew Torrance.

However, it will require the Village of Sundridge pursuing the initiative on its own with Strong Township’s blessing as long as the fire service agreement both municipalities share is changed to show Sundridge is acting on its own.

Torrance made the case for a second full-time employee at the June meeting of a Fire Department Management Board meeting.

Torrance said this person would fill in during his absences so he can attend professional development events, training courses, meetings and take vacations.

Torrance also said about two-thirds of the individual’s salary for the first year would be covered by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and Sundridge and Strong would pay the remaining one-third salary.

While Sundridge Coun. Fraser Williamson, who chairs the fire management board, supported Torrance’s request, Strong Coun. Jeff McLaren preferred the individual be hired as a part-time employee.

As an alternative, McLaren suggested the shared fire service agreement between both municipalities should be changed to clear the way for Sundridge to pursue the full-time hire option on its own.

McLaren’s suggestion got a lot of attention at the July 26 regular Strong council meeting where Williamson was allowed to participate.

Strong Coun. Marianne Stickland expanded on McLaren’s suggestion.

“We have our shared (fire) services,” Stickland told Williamson.

Stickland said both municipalities could change the fire service agreement language, giving Sundridge the ability to pursue the hiring on its own “without you viewing it as we’re holding you back.”

Stickland said it was one option Sundridge could explore and added Strong might even use the services of the second full-time employee at a cost.

“Our intent is to look at it from a business point of view,” Stickland said, adding “we’re not trying to stifle you.”

“Once you have all your ducks in a row and we see that you have a viable service to provide, then we would purchase that from you on an as-needed basis.”

Williamson welcomed the suggestion to modify the fire service agreement and said he would take that back to Sundridge council for debate.

Before both sides reached this consensus, Williamson said early in the debate that there were Strong residents who would welcome a second full-time fire employee “and that they would be OK with a slight (tax) increase to cover it.”

McLaren disagreed, saying so far he’s asked 28 residents whether a second full-time employee should be hired and all said no.

With the exception of Torrance, the entire Sundridge-Strong Fire Department is made up of volunteers, including the deputy fire chief and they all hold down full-time jobs outside their volunteer firefighting hours.

Stickland wanted to know why the deputy fire chief couldn’t fill in for Torrance considering that’s part of the job description and one of the conditions that comes with the position.

Williamson said the deputy fire chief isn’t always available to replace Torrance but Stickland stuck to her position that part of the work of the deputy fire chief was to “step into the fire chief’s shoes in his absence.”

Stickland next told Williamson there was no way the fire department needed a second full-time employee for 52 weeks of the year, adding “you have provided no statistics on what that would entail.”

Stickland said the full-time salary of the second firefighting position would run about $80,000 annually for both municipalities and then they need to consider an additional 30 to 40 per cent more on top of that as costs like employer taxes and a pension plan are factored into the equation.

“I would have an extremely difficult time approving an $80,000 a year job split between the two municipalities,” Stickland said.

“I cannot support that to our taxpayers.”

Stickland added every time the municipality hires someone, it means another one per cent increase to everyone’s tax bill.

“We’re not a charity,” Stickland said.

“We’re here to run a business. Whatever you put forward needs to make business sense to us.”

At this point in the debate, discussion turned to both municipalities considering tweaking the fire service agreement so that Sundridge can hire the second full-time fire department person if it wants to go at it alone.


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