The Cost of Emergency Services Debated

Resident appeals a $1,166.75 bill for fire services.

The Municipal District (MD) of Bonnyville Council debated whether or not to seek cost recovery on emergency services, such as fire services, after a resident appealed a bill. The MD resident had utilized the services of the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) on December 19, 2016 when the D8 Cat he was operating caught fire.

The fire broke out five minutes out of Bonnyville near Range Road 610 and Township Road 452. Luckily, BRFA responded quick enough that not only were they able to put out the fire without it spreading to the land, but they also saved the equipment. The cost of the services, $1166.75 was billed back to the resident (via his company). The resident wrote BRFA with an appeal, stating he felt that his tax money covers the services and he should not be charged extra.

BRFA Fire Chief, Brian McEvoy, explained to Council, at the May 10th Council Meeting, that it is at their discretion whether or not the costs should be recovered. “Within the Municipal Government Act (MGA) the Municipality has the authority to recover the cost associated with responding to all emergencies. Within the fire services bylaw, for the MD of Bonnyville, the MD has established the ability to recover for fire services and responses. Further, in the policy, they’ve directed the Authority not to invoice for wild land fires or for [structure] fires, barn, building, homes,” McEvoy clarifies. Since the equipment fire did not fall under the bylaw exception, the resident was billed the cost recovery. “We do invoice for all other emergency responses; which this was,” confirms McEvoy, “if it were a farm tractor, and we have done a number of those, we do invoice for those.”

In most cases, insurance covers these costs. However, in some cases and such is the case here, the deductible is greater than the costs. Meaning that the resident would then have to pay out of pocket.

The MD recovers $150,000 – 200,000 annually from its cost recovery program, the money is used to off-set the cost barred on the Municipality. “If we weren’t collecting those monies than the requirement of taxes would be higher,” explains McEvoy. This figure was weighed heavily when debating whether or not to cancel the fee. Another factor in the decision was the precedence that would be set. Council felt that if they were to cancel one person’s cost-recovery then they should end the program and not try to recover any cost or every resident would appeal and have grounds to be successful.

Ultimately, Council was not ready to set such a precedence or to cancel the cost-recovery program and thus voted down a motion to cancel the fees off the December 19th, 2016 fire.