Penticton-based emergency fire dispatch services are moving to Kelowna.
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen directors voted Thursday to award a five-year contract to the City of Kelowna for $1,076,000, despite the objections of the four Penticton city council members on the board.
Under the regional district‘s weighted voting system for financial matters, the motion passed by a 30-23 margin, although the actual vote count was 12-6 in favour. The Penticton directors were joined by Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson and Princeton Mayor Randy McLean in opposing the Kelowna bid.
A visibly upset Penticton Fire Chief Wayne Williams declined detailed comment afterwards, noting he wanted to personally tell the five Penticton dispatchers the news before they learned about it on FaceBook.
"It‘s very upsetting. We don‘t know what our next actions are going to be," he said.
Penticton had submitted the highest of four tenders for the dispatch contract with a bid of $2,865,000. Surrey and the Fraser Valley Regional District had both submitted bids of less than $1.3 million.
In the end, the cost difference was just too much for most RDOS directors to ignore. Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells said the regional board must take fiscal responsibility into consideration.
"How could you not go for the low bid, when the service being provided is equal if not better?" Wells said.
Michael Brydon, RDOS director for West Bench which is part of the Penticton Fire Department protection area, said the regional district must pay attention to the economies of scale.
Brydon noted the same principal is being faced by West Bench residents who are contemplating whether to link up with the City of Penticton‘s water system.
The Kelowna dispatch centre currently provides dispatch service for all fire departments within the Central Okanagan Regional District.
However, the opposing directors doubted that Kelowna will hire any more dispatchers, even though they will be faced with an additional 4,700 calls a year from the RDOS.
Penticton director Garry Litke also expressed concern about the tender rating system used by the RDOS, which placed 40 per cent of the criteria on price, yet contained no category for reliability.
Litke pointed to Kelowna "Radio Over Internet Protocol" system in which radio calls are directed to outlying fire departments through the Internet. He noted there are often Internet service problems in the South Okanagan, especially near Anarchist Mountain.
"When the Internet goes down, what happens to your 911 service? People are going to be left with their lives hanging in balance while somebody tries to figure out how to re-establish communications," he said.
[MJB editorial aside] Note that Director Litke confused "the Internet" (a network) with "Internet Protocol" (a packet-switched data transfer protocol). See Wikipedia for more information.
Hampson said the cost-savings realized by moving the dispatch centre to Kelowna would only amount to about $5 or $6 a year per household.
[MJB editorial aside] We heard exactly this same argument when talking about the donation to Okanagan College, the subsidy to the Okanagan Film Commission, this project, that project.... This "cost of a cup of coffee" logic is precisely how you get shocked when you open your tax bill. No projects or proposals we see at the RDOS are unworthy in isolation. But hard choices still have to be made.
The Penticton dispatch centre will continue to operate until the end of this year, when the current five-year contract with the RDOS expires.