Consider yourselves forewarned: Here is another long-winded report.
If I missed something, I am very sorry. I have tried to be as thorough as possible. Thank you for taking the time to read it.
Tonight, Thursday October 11th, 2012, the Executive of the Crowsnest Pass Ratepayers Association held an open public meeting, at the Hillcrest Miners Club, to discuss recent issues within the community of the Crowsnest Pass.
The meeting was scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. but by 6:20 p.m. it was already standing room only. Concerned taxpayers filed through the doors into an already packed building. Hundreds of people stuffed themselves into the room, with many others filling the gaming room side, as well. In fact, the crowds spilled out the doors and onto the surrounding property. By the end of the night we had a good count of well over 400 people who attended this meeting.
Most of the Ratepayers Executive were in attendance, with only Ed Strembicki and Doreen Glavin absent. Elsie Linderman, Sasha JaegerBaird and several other volunteers, manned the petition tables at the front door, while people crowded around the tables to sign the petition. They were lined up long outside the doors, waiting for their chance to get in and sign. Marilyn Milley was assigning people to the various areas around the community, to take the petitions. Marlene Anctil was busy getting the canvassers to swear in their affidavits.
The meeting commenced at 7:00 p.m. with President Bill Kovach welcoming everyone in attendance and thanking them for being there. Sasha JaegerBaird filled in for secretary Doreen Glavin, and took the minutes of the meeting. The sound system was provided courtesy of Earl Scott.
Bill mentioned right away that anyone who was interested in taking around a petition, could come over and get sworn in by Marlene Anctil.
He then went on to give an update about the Ratepayers meeting with Pat Stier, last Thursday October 4th.
He discussed the letter to the Mayor asking for a meeting or if not then requesting for Bruce and the rest of council to step down. He let everyone know that the Mayor finally granted us an audience with himself, council, and administration, the afternoon of Tuesday October 9th.
Bill let everyone know that an email, with a follow up letter, has been sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Honourable Doug Griffiths, explaining our situation and asking him to intervene on our behalf.
Then the discussion turned to the volunteers of this community. He said that the volunteers are the backbone of this community and it is their hard work on which the foundation has been built. This was met with a huge cheer and acknowledgement from the crowd!! Bill brought up the firefighters, the swimming pool board, the ski hill volunteers, the museum and numerous other volunteer organizations that this community depends upon.
He then discussed the Ratepayers presentation and proposal to council on Tuesday October 9th. He recapped the meeting and then explained that council and administration gave us no more than lip service.
Bill then read the report from Volunteer Alberta for the Alberta Fire Chief's Association. This report covered Local Initiatives, including context and objectives.
The report is as follows:
Local support for the fire department is an essential condition for success in recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. It is therefore crucial to build support among employers, community groups and residents.
The level of local support is influences by the public perception of the fire department. Well-run fire departments that are seen as "professional" typically have more success in recruiting and retaining more committed and desirable volunteers.
local fire departments need to undertake a series of initiatives that improve the public perception of the fire department. (all things that we seem to already, up until recently, and have had a good grip on) This includes initiatives that raise awareness about the department; generate interest in volunteering for the department; and reinforce volunteer management operations in the department so that the department is "walking the talk".
Individual fire departments should use the Department Self-Assessment Tool to determine which initiatives are appropriate for their department.
Then the discussion turned to the recent fireworks issue and accusation by the Municipality.
Bill explained that the fireworks were in fact stored properly, by certified pyrotechnicians and that the Municipality was aware of these fireworks. They were even bought by and paid for, by the Municipality. He went on to say that the accusations were entirely false, the Municipality was fabricating things and grasping at straws.
Bill then mentioned that at the meeting with the Mayor, council and administration on Tuesday, the Mayor stated that he didn't care if they had to tear down the foundations of this community and instead build new one's.
It was then mentioned that Bill received a call today from the Ministry and they will do whatever they can to help with our petition. This news was met with some cheering from the crowd.
Bill then went onto to explain why we were not doing a petition up calling for the resignation of council and the Mayor. He explained that we only had 30 days to do the petition and that the Minister and the Municipal Affair's office had another 30 days to go over it. If we called for a resignation or of council and the Mayor the minister might leave them in place, as there is only then 10 months left until a new election.
He said that if we do the petition this way, asking for the Minister to intervene and check into our Municipal Finances, he could then do so right away.
At this point in time, Marilyn Milley was asked to speak on the petition. She said that it was a great turn out and thanked everyone for coming. She went on to explain how petitioning works, the map's of the areas that we need covering and that if anyone wants to help out by going door-to-door with the petition, that they would have to see Marlene and do the affidavit, then come back ans see her to be assigned an area.
Bill said that all next week and next Saturday, if anyone needed to sign the petition or if they wanted to get the petition to help fill out, that they could go to Gary's Barbershop/Marlene's Bookkeeping Services to do so.
He explained that in order to sign the petition, you have to be 18 years of age, a local resident of the Crowsnest Pass for the last 6 months, and entitled to vote within our Municipality only.
He also said that anyone taking the petitions around the community, needed to get the filled in one's back as soon as possible, as they need to be counted and we want to have plenty of time to do so.
The topic of discussion turned to the volunteer groups in our community. He asked if anyone had any more news regarding the volunteer firemen or the volunteer swimming pool board.
Several people got up to speak. It was told that as far as the firefighters are concerned "everyone" except 4 or 5, who still have their pages, have received letters of termination. All of the terminated firefighters have been told that they are "welcome" to reapply. However, they have been informed, that before they are rehired, they need to get a criminal check done, have a current driver's abstract (both at their own expense), undergo a medical exam and form filled in, go through an interview process and have all their training up-to-date and current.
This information was met with much booing and exclamations of surprise and disbelief from the crowded room!!
We were also told that as of tomorrow, all of the volunteers who have been terminated will not longer have any insurance coverage, which includes life, disability and any necessary bonding that they have had.
The 4 or 5 firefighters that still are on call and have not turned in their pagers have been in talks with the Fire Chief, administration and council. They have not received letter's of termination and have not lost their insurance coverage. They have been encouraged to try to convince the other firefighters to come back and reapply.
It was asked where the 5 paid firefighters have come from. We were informed that they have come from Charli Lake. This is the same place that the new Fire Chief has come from. The very same one who had the entire volunteer firefighters walk out on him, only to be replaced with paid firefighters. Some of which are now stationed in our community.
Fire Insurance coverage came up. It was suggested that people need to check with their own insurance agents/company's.
One lady who works for Western Financial Group, stood up and spoke on the fire insurance situation. She said that she deals with the three big insurance companies: Intact, Wawanesa and another one (I will post the name once I get it from her).
She stated that she has talked to the majority of the Insurance Companies about our current situation and was told that we are still covered and that it is status quo. They are watching the situation here in the Crowsnest Pass, however we are not to blame for our current state and therefore not our fault that we do not have the necessary firefighters and fire protection.
She welcomed anyone to come in and talk with her or anyone one of the other people in her office, whether you deal with Western Financial or not. She said that they would be happy to help with any questions.
We then had a series of Question's and Answer's from the crowd.
Question: How can we get the firemen back today!?!? Or speed up the process.
It was put out to the audience to see if anyone had any suggestions. One was that the firemen need to go and take
back their fire halls.
Bill said that the letter to the Municipal Affairs Office asked if the Minister could step in as soon as possible to help with our firemen situation.
He also suggested that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and that we should all write, email or call the Minister at Municipal Affairs asking for his help.
Bill said that the minister is building a file on the Crowsnest Pass. The more people who contact him about he issues the better!!!
It was asked where will the money come from to pay for all the new position's including the Peace Officer's.
Dean Ward got up to speak on this. He started by saying that a Peace Officer was sitting waiting down by the S.P.C.A watching all of the traffic coming to the meeting. He suggested that maybe the Peace Officer was waiting there to nab people after the meeting and going to write a bunch of tickets, to pay for himself.
This generated several comments and some laughter.
Dean then went onto the go over some of the numbers and discussing fees, including franchise fees and taxes. He said that at the time of the last election we all wanted change, and we got it. However, there is good change and bad change and we got the bad!!!
It was mentioned by an audience member, that if we are taxed to death, eventually many will move away and our house property prices will go drastically down and be worth nothing.
Bill then fielded more questions from the floor.
It was brought up about the Fire Chief and was it true that he was not certified to do fire inspections. This was confirmed.
It was also brought up about Devon and losing that tax base.
Bill then stated the Mayor and CAO constantly compared us to other communities in regards to our tax base, taxes and fees.The CAO said that we were at par or even less than other communities and should feel good about that.
Bill stated that you can not compare us to other towns. That it was like comparing apples to oranges. He said that we are drastically different that other towns, and we no longer had the industry that was contributing to that tax base, as was in the past.
One lady spoke up saying that we have a 50% - 60% senior population and are on limited or fixed income. So where is the money going to come from? It was stated that 83% of us pay for the tax bill in the Crowsnest Pass.
Another question: Has rescue been affected yet? No not yet, however many of them are just waiting for that hammer to fall.
Question: What is the minimum number of firemen needed to respond to a call. Answer: 5 minimum. - Currently we have 4 paid one's, who do not even know the area.
Question: Who owns the fire halls? Answer: The Municipality.
Question: Who bought the fire support vehicle's and equipment? Answer the firemen, and Jamie Margetek was instrumental in many of those purchases.
Question from "Cathy": In regards to "The List". Who is on "The List"? Who knows who is on "The List"? Can we ask who is on "The List" or if we are on "The List" how can we get our name off of "The List"?? This question was met with much laughter.
Sasha JaegerBaird (yours truly) was asked to answer that question. Answer: They never told us who was on "The List". The mayor seemed to indicated that he, the CAO, the RCMP and the Peace Officer's all knew who were on the "Soon To Infamous List".
After this question, Lisa Sygutek asked to speak. She told us that in a recent series of question's directed to the Mayor, she asked how many firemen we have available. She was told 28. However when pressed by her, the Mayor could not tell her who they were.
It was the deduced that 14 of these had to be Rescue (however not trained for fire), and 14 firemen (4 of which must be the hired help from Charli Lake). So who are the other 10???
Question from "Tim": What about the rumor about the Swimming Pool board? Answer: All members have in fact been dismissed (or asked to resign). They have all received a letter in the mail dismissing them. They were told that they could reapply and are all welcome to join the new one big Super Board!!
Statement and question from one person in the crowd: We have way less people now in the Pass, than we did years ago. We did not need Peace Officers then, why do we need them now???
To which most people agreed.
Bill talked about the BIG companies the Mayor said are coming to the Pass. One of which will employ over 700 people.
Bill brought up Philips Cable. We were then told, by a woman in the crowd, that when it comes to these "NEW companies, until a development permit is issued, we will NOT know who or even if a business is coming into the Pass.
Another Question from a fellow in the crowd: He asked if the Ratepayers Association was prepared to get rid of council and if the Executive was ready to take over and run this town. This question was cheered by many.
Bill said that we can ask anytime, as an organization or group, to have our bylaws changed. However, if council will listen is another thing entirely.
Question from "Debbie": How can we get rid of the CAO before the next election??
Bill replied that council can do it anytime, but only if they think it needs to be done, which is unlikely. However, it can happen right away with the Minister of Municipal Affairs intervention.
Otto stated that the more people who sign the petition and the quicker we get the signatures, the faster we can get this taken care of.
Someone asked for the mailing address, phone number and email address of the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
We told everyone that we will post it online on our Facebook page.
However for those there tonight, the phone number was given out and is 1-780-427-3744.
The email is email@example.com
Bill thanked everyone for coming and to sign the petition if they had not already signed it.
The meeting concluded at 8:15 p.m.