Emergency Services Manager's responses to my questions
Received this Tuesday afternoon:
Hello again Peter – You sent me three emails last week with budget questions so as with the previous emails I’ve once again answered your questions below in blue. I’ve attached your emails one after the other (most recent to oldest) so I hope this makes sense. Thanks again for your patience in awaiting my response.
From: Peter Johnston [mailto:pjohnston [at] lasqueti [dot] ca]
Sent: Tuesday, March 07, 2017 2:18 PM
To: Ryan Thoms
Cc: Anderson, Merrick; Laurence Fisher (laurence [at] wildwood [dot] ca); Al Radke; Richard Carlson
Subject: Re: Lasqueti Fire Department budget - GPX mapping of assets
I've read the Asset Managment policy, and I don't see anything there that requires, or even makes desirable, detailed professional GPS mapping of regional district assets. I understand and agree that assets need to be managed well, but don't see any need to spend $4,000 of taxpayers money to mark the assets on a map, no matter how accurate the GPS mapping is. The regional district assets are important to the community, indeed a vital part of the community, and the community is looking after them. If anything seems amiss, people will investigate and do whatever is needed to safeguard them. Marking them on a map in the regional district office won't help anything, as far as I can see.
Please let me know the detailed reasons that you think this mapping work needs to be done. Asset management planning can be done, to the mandated PSAB accounting practices, without having an expensive map that is not needed or useful.
I realize that this is only $4,000 from a fire department budget of over $150,000 and it might be considered minor and unimportant. I think that each item of the budget needs to be examined and considered, to make sure that it is needed and justified, and (as much as possible) has the support of the community, who are the taxpayers.
Thank you very much for your response. Peter
Asset management involves identifying and documenting PRRD assets, surveying and mapping these assets to a high level of accuracy, recording the condition each asset is currently in (Survey,GIS, consultants and staff), what condition the asset needs to be in to meet the community’s needs, health and safety requirements meeting a standard level of care (reports and staff time) and how to get the assets into the desired or mandated condition and maintain them at that level (work plans). Staff also needs to plan for the purchase or construction of new assets, and plan for the level those will be maintained at. Once this is all documented then staff needs to sort out how to fund all of the purchases, construction, maintenance, upgrades, asset replacements etc. for the lowest dollars. Part of that planning also involves figuring out how much money is the ideal amount to set aside into reserves so that tax payers are not suddenly faced with large borrowing costs or assets that are in poor condition.
The $3,970 allocated for the survey of assets within the Fire Service budget is entirely funded by community works. This is the same for the allocation in all the PRRD services including Lasqueti Island Solid Waste. The reason this Asset Management work is accessible to Gas Tax funding is because the Federal and Provincial levels of government in Canada identify Asset Management Program implementation as an important strategic initiatives. It is very clear that there is an infrastructure asset gap in North America. The initiative will address moving to proactive vs re active management of assets to ensure a desired level of service to communities.
The surveying and condition assessments are baseline information required for the program. Crown lease renewals now require this detailed survey information/mapping or leases are not renewed i.e. landfill on Lasqueti. Local governments that cannot prove they are well on their way in developing asset management plans will not be eligible for grant funding now or in the future. Insurers require that local governments have adequate mapping of their infrastructure / assets.
In summary, asset management survey and GIS (mapping) work on Lasqueti Island;
- is 100% funded through Community works (gas tax) funding
-is a strategic priority of the Powell River Regional District Board.
-is required to develop the PRRD asset management plan.
I've checked the 8% of the Operating and Maintenance subtotals for the budget. Here's what I find:
for 2015 budget, subtotal $94,887 8% is $7,591 budget amount for
administration is $6,213 (just over 6.5%)
2015 actual, subtotal $57,933 8% is $4635 actual administration is
still $6,213 (just over 10.7%)
for 2016 budget, subtotal is $86,977 8% is $6,958 budget amount for
administration is $6,059 (6.96%)
2016 actual, subtotal $69,112 8% is $5,529 actual administration is
still $6,059 (8.77%)
for 2017 budget, subtotal is $80,388 8% is $6,431 budget amount is
for 2018 projection subtotal is $68,856 8% is $5,508 budgeted
amount is $5,058 (7.35%)
for 2019 projection subtotal is $70,447 8% is $5,636 budgeted
amount is $5,217 (7.41%)
for 2020 projection subtotal is $72,426 8% is $5,794 budgeted
amount is $5,364 (7.41%)
for 2021 projection subtotal is $74,180 8% is $5,934 budgeted
amount is $5,494 (7.41%)
It seems clear, unless I am miss-understanding something, that 8% for administration is only a vague target, not a set amount. As well, beginning this year LIVFD budget starts paying $5,179 towards your wages, plus an unknown increase in WCB costs, with only a roughly $450 decrease in the amount budgeted for administration. This seems like an significant shifting of regional district administration costs from the district to the fire local departments.
These budgets missed calculating the administration costs on “professional fees” so that accounts for the amount that is slightly off 8%. Also, you should understand that the 8% administration cost is based on the budgeted amount and does not change with the actuals.
I strongly agree that it is prudent and wise to have a reserve fund for our fire department. It now stands at close to $100,000. I don't understand the need to add so much (over $69,000) to the reserve fund this year. What is the reason for such a large amount this year, especially since it was only $20,000 last year. It was $0 in 2015, and I have no idea what the amounts transferred in the past years were, but they have totaled nearly $80,000 not including the 2016 transfer. This huge increase is made to seem extreme by the fact that it is projected to decrease in future years, though still remain very high, at $45,000 increasing slightly each year.
There is still currently no capital asset replacement plan for the Lasqueti Island Volunteer Fire Department so while that makes it challenging for us to accurately forecast upcoming capital costs we still recognize that the service should be preparing for these future costs. $100,000 in reserves will not be sufficient to address the future capital costs. For example, the last time the LIVFD bought a new fire truck, in 2003, it cost $160,000. Given that the LIVFD has a relatively old fire apparatus fleet I have recommended the service add to the reserves, consistent with the asset management policy, to best prepare for these future costs.
Can you please tell me who decided, and helped to decide, that this was a wise and necessary increase for 2017 and future years? I realize that the board makes the decision. I'm asking who helped decide to make this recommendation to them. I'd also like to know the reasoning and rationale for this decision to increase the amounts transferred to the reserve for 2017 and future years. What is the need for these increases?
As per my answer above this is my recommendation to comply with the PRRD asset management policy and to best ensure the sustainability of the Lasqueti fire service.
Again, I'd like to repeat that I am not trying to harass you, but merely to understand the reasoning and intent of the budget increases that are proposed. It's important that you and PRRD have the support of the community to make our fire department and our other services function, and be effective, and meet our needs.
I hope my answers are helping you to understand why I have made these recommendations.
I have requested copies of the Public Engagement Process and the Asset Management Program policies.
I believe you have now received these.
Thank you very much,
Thank you for the answers you have provided. Some of my questions you have not answered at all, and some of them only vaguely and obliquely. Please remember that I am not at all trying to give you a hard time. I am, on behalf of the Lasqueti community, trying to understand the reason and rationale for the proposed budget, and to understand the direction and goal for the LIVFD. I realize that this is a busy time for you, but I assure you that you are not simply providing me with your answers. I am sharing them with the Lasqueti community, and many of them also want to know what's going on, and what is planned.
What are the service compliance requirements that you are working toward? Please be specific. What are each of the requirements?
I recall you and I had an email dialog last fall about this same topic so I’ve cut and pasted here in italics the compliance issues that I highlighted in my email with you on November 16, 2016:
Hello Peter, nice to hear from you again.
I took a look at the link you sent from our previous conversation and see that was primarily a discussion about fire dispatch which is only a small portion of a fire department’s requirements. I understand you are now asking about the wider requirements for delivery of a local fire service.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner does require all structural fire departments in BC to meet certain requirements. Here is a link to the OFC’s “Playbook”, which outlines the current minimum training standards: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/em... Earlier this year, in order to comply with the Playbook’s requirements, the PRRD Board amended the Fire Departments’ Levels of Service policy to declare the LIVFD as an exterior operations fire department so while you’re reading the Playbook’s minimum training requirements please keep in mind that only those competencies pertaining to exterior operations are relevant for the LIVFD.
Like all workplaces the LIVFD must meet safety requirements as established by the Workers’ Compensation Act and Regulations. In particular I would like to draw your attention to Part 31 of the Occupational Health & Safety Regulation that speaks specifically to requirements for fire departments: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/law-policy/occupational-health-safety/searchable-ohs-regulation/ohs-regulation/part-31-firefighting
The LIVFD also provides medical first responder service for the community. This service is provided through agreement with British Columbia Emergency Health Services and therefore requires the LIVFD first responders to adhere to the Emergency Health Services Act and Emergency Medical Assistants Regulation. You can find these documents here: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/content/complete/statreg/414786120/96182/?xsl=/templates/browse.xsl
Those are the most significant legislated standards pertaining to our local fire services though there are many others that we must adhere to in the operations of our services, like the Motor Vehicle Act that requires commercial vehicle inspections for our fire apparatus over 8200 kgs, the Criminal Records Review Act that requires criminal record checks for anyone working with vulnerable adults or children, or the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that requires we ensure our services are protecting private information.
I should also add to your reading list the BC Fire Services Act: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96144_01#section24 For your current interest this Act establishes the authority and duties of the Fire Commissioner, thereby giving his authority to implement the “Playbook” document that all local fire services must follow. You may also be interested to see that this legislation creates the role of the Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner to which Ross Thompson has been appointed for Lasqueti. Earlier this year the province passed the Fire Safety Act which is not in force yet but will likely replace the Fire Services Act in the coming year. This new Act won’t change the requirements of the Playbook but may bring other responsibilities to local governments around BC. https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/legislation-debates-proceedings/40th-parliament/5th-session/bills/first-reading/gov04-1
I know that training is a big item. Our Fire Department has had regular practices, though there have been pretty much no records kept of who attended each practice and what was covered in each. These have been called practices, rather than training, but they were training.
The LIVFD holds a practice session generally every two weeks. I do not have any records of these practices but I am aware that these are informal training sessions. In order to comply with the Fire Commissioner’s training standards the LIVFD firefighters must be able to meet all the competencies formally identified by the OFC for an exterior operations fire service. This generally takes 175 hours of commitment by each firefighter to complete all the fire training modules. Fire Chief Richard Carlson has been working with the Justice Institute of BC to begin a formal training fire training program to Lasqueti but this has not begun yet.
To my question about amount of money transferred to reserves, you said you are guided by policy, and only make recommendations to the board. I'd like to know what the policy says, and wonder, as I thought my question made clear, why the amount budgeted to be sent to reserves this year is so much larger than previous and following years.
I believe you have that policy now. And you now are aware that due to updates to the draft budget’s training needs the recommended contribution to reserves has been reduced.
A secondary question on this and other budget issues is who do you consult with on Lasqueti? Do you work with our fire chief, and other members of the fire department, or our regional director, or do you rely on policy and make whatever recommendations seem best to you and fit within the policy?
As I do with all our fire departments, I work with the Fire Chief toward recommendations. In the other RD fire departments I also work on occasion with Deputy Fire Chiefs and Training Officers but these positions are not formally filled within the LIVFD so I only work with Richard.
On the question of taking part of your salary from the LIVFD budget, and other fire department budgets, I understand that money budgeted and collected must be used for each service, and not used for other services. This doesn't really answer my question of when and why this change was made. Isn't a percentage taken from each budget for administration and district management? Was this amount reduced when the change was made?
Is a similar policy used for waste management and other services within PRRD, or are the fire departments the only ones to directly pay your salary as our manager/administrator?
The administration amount does not account for my wage or benefits or WCB. The administration covers all the other costs incurred by the RD office to administer the service. A similar practice is in place for the Manager of Community Services in relation to solid waste management and other services within the community services department.
On amounts for contingencies in the budget, you have not explained what policy or rationale or reasoning is used to fix the amounts each year. Are there any methods to fix these amounts each year? It would be reasonable to, for instance, allocate a percentage for contingency. It doesn't seem reasonable to just arbitrarily fix a different amount each year, without any apparent rhyme or reason. Please explain how a decision is made for contingency amounts each year.
The contingency amount in the budget is generally a small amount intended to allow for unforeseen costs. There is no specific policy being applied here.
You say that the budget increase for 2017 is " the result of the LIVFD need for improvements in training, equipment, and for asset management planning." Please explain what amounts have been allocated for training, equipment and asset management planning. What is meant by asset management planning? It is obvious that the large increase in budgeted amount to be transferred to reserves accounts for a large part of the budget (and therefore property tax) increase for 2017. Am I mistaken in this view?
I believe I’ve answered that above.
You say that I should take up matters of public engagement with our regional director or his alternate, or the board members. Do you think that you can manage the Lasqueti fire department without the support of the Lasqueti community? Public engagement is not only for directors and board members. It is something that everyone must keep doing, or maybe begin doing.- informing the community and listening to their responses and reactions, and modifying plans and projects and budgets according to the support given and the wishes of the community.
Public engagement is a strategic priority for the PRRD and staff are frequently involved in various public engagement initiatives, particularly related to new initiatives. If you have concerns about the level of public engagement then I encourage you to please direct that concern to members of the Board.
I don't yet see that the administration fee is 8% of operating budget. I'll look again tomorrow. I'll also ask for the Community Engagement Policy, and the Asset Management Policy. If you are able to send them to me, or to direct me to them, please do. I will be very appreciative. I don't at all understand why nearly $4,000 needs to be spent this year to GPS/map PRRD assets on Lasqueti. Everyone knows what they are. I assume that you have a list of the portable assets. the fixed ones are pretty much fixed in place, and the property boundaries mapped and registered in the Land Titles office.
I believe I’ve answered that above.
Thank you again for your further clarifications. Again, I realize that my questions might seem irksome. This is not my intent. I would like to community to understand how our money is to be spent on our fire department, and would like you to have some feedback on the views of the community on planning and budgeting for this service. Peter
You are welcome.
Manager of Emergency Services
Powell River Regional District
#202 – 4675 Marine Avenue
Powell River, BC V8A 2L2
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