We’re all on board with keeping tax increases from our local governments as low as possible.
That said, there are sometimes items that local governments should or even must spend money on to keep our communities running.
North Cowichan council recently turned down a staff request to hire an assistant fire chief. Councillors didn’t want to see taxes go up to pay for the new position.
However, when looking at the rationale behind the new position — to be able to conduct provincially mandated fire inspections for buildings within the municipality — one has to question the consequences of not hiring someone.
North Cowichan is required by the province to establish a regular system of fire inspections for hotels and public buildings. What that means is more than 1,700 fire inspections every single year. One fire inspector can do about 500 inspections per year, not including re-inspections or follow up for non-compliance. Right now, North Cowichan has one position that is only 40 per cent fire inspector and 60 per cent bylaw enforcement.
Clearly the numbers just don’t work. If someone is not hired, a great many of these required fire inspections will not be completed. There’s no way around it.
This is a public safety issue (not to mention what being out of compliance with a provincial mandate might mean).
And imagine if a fire happened at a hotel or public building in the municipality, no inspection had been done, and it was found that there was some kind of fire safety deficiency. Will the municipality become liable in such a situation? Seems likely.
We think perhaps North Cowichan should look for somewhere else to trim the budget. This seems like one of those things that needs to be done, not just a wish list item (though we’d also be all for lobbying the province, if they want to mandate inspections, to at least help to pay the bill).
The position was back at council for reconsideration on Tuesday night.