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Volume 24, Number 20, Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Future of major grants in doubt

Recent issues with Fort Saskatchewan's fire services department are quite troubling.

A new fire chief, Shawn McKerry, took over the department just about exactly two years ago, in May, 2017. Six months later he had to tell City Council that the department had been badly neglected. All our fire trucks were getting too old. Our last fire truck had been the ladder truck in 2009, and we hadn't replaced anything since then. We needed at least two new pumper trucks right away just to catch up.

One year ago McKerry reported to City Council that it was taking too long to respond to fires. His review of the service found that the average time taken to get the first fire truck on scene was 17 minutes and three seconds. That is nearly twice as long as the department's official standard of 10 minutes.

The only answer, he said, was to move to full-time firefighters with a crew ready at the station at all times.

City Council was shocked. They had been told that the response time standard was slipping back in 2008, but had heard nothing since. Mayor Gale Katchur rightly said that she felt embarrassed.

This week McKerry had more bad news to give Council. Local firefighters need a raise.

At just $28.43 per hour, Fort Saskatchewan firefighters are getting barely more than half the rate paid to neighbouring departments in Edmonton or Sherwood Park.

It's a disgrace. As Katchur pointed out last Tuesday, these are people that put their lives on the line for us.

All of these problems point to what can only be called chronic mis-management. Our fire department has been seriously underfunded in every way possible. It lacks quality equipment, is understaffed and underpaid.

But I'm not here now to point fingers or get angry with the management of the City of Fort Saskatchewan. In part, this is because there is more than enough blame to go around. Everyone is a fault here to some extent: City management, City Council, the firefighters themselves and even the public.

All I really want to say is fix it. Now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Toxic roundup for Fort residentsNEWS/Entries/2019/5/23_Toxic_roundup_for_Fort_residents.html

Emergency at Fort fire department

A change in government has put a major grant funding source for the City of Fort Saskatchewan in doubt.

The Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant program is set to end in 2021, and may now end sooner, City of Fort Saskatchewan Chief Financial Officer Jeremy Emann warned City Council this week.

The previous Alberta government had promised to maintain the program until that time, and even replace it with a new stable, predictable capital program, he said Tuesday, May 21. But that has now changed.

“The continuation of the existing MSI grant program and its future are now more uncertain due to the recent change in provincial leadership.”

The program has provided millions of dollars annually to the City of Fort Saskatchewan since it was established in 2007. The funds have been used for major capital projects, including highway and road repair and new facilities such as Taurus Field.

Not only is the future of the program now uncertain, Fort officials won’t be getting an answer any time soon, Emann added. “More information on the MSI grant program will most likely not be available until the provincial budget is tabled this fall.”

Emann did have some good budget news, however. It appears traffic fine revenues have stabilized following a major drop in 2018. The 2019 budget appears to be on track in this area.

Traffic fines were expected to bring in more than $4 million last year, but were just $2.1 million. The 2019 City of Fort Saskatchewan budget calls for $2.2 million income from traffic fines.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019