YARMOUTH - The Town of Yarmouth is in negotiations with the International Association of Firefighters and one of the things it has put on the table is to replace Yarmouth Fire Department dispatchers with a less expensive service provider.
Mayor Pam Mood says the town will be obtaining formal price quotations from dispatch services over the next few weeks.
“It is tremendously important to the town that the level of service will remain the same,” she said.
The four dispatch positions are being considered for elimination for a variety of reasons.
Research conducted by town staff shows there are service providers that can provide the same dispatching services at a fraction of the cost. Right now the annual cost for dispatch is $260,000, says Mayor Mood. That cost includes salaries, benefits and overtime.
She adds that the Town of Yarmouth has a very high level of service when it comes to firefighting and is the only town, this side of Halifax, that has full-time, paid firefighters, 24/7, 365 days a year, in addition to a well-trained volunteer force.
“There are 50 municipal units and I think all but four are doing it the way we are about to do it, where your dispatch is not right there,” she said. The town of Yarmouth has said it receives $100 a month from each of the fire departments it provides dispatcher services to but that the fees only bring in $28,800. The Municipality of Yarmouth does pay 30 per cent of the fire services budget for the Yarmouth department, with the town paying 70 per cent.
Several years ago, the RCMP eliminated local dispatchers in Yarmouth, centralizing the service in Truro, the mayor said.
“The level of service has not gone down at all,” she said.
Today’s technology allows firefighters to find things with more ease than in the past. The new civic numbering system also aids in locating addresses.
“The town has to balance the level of services we provide with associated costs and our ability to pay,” says Mayor Mood.
“Taxpayers expect us to do that. If there’s another way to get the same level of service for the same cost, then we have to do that.”
Another consideration associated with the cost of dispatching are the wage increases.
Firefighter dispatchers, thanks to their right to have arbitrators, have received wage increases totalling over 36 per cent over the past eight years, says Mayor Mood.
“That rate of increase is far beyond sustainable. I would suggest there are not many people out there, ratepayers, that receive a 36 per cent raise. Our tax base hasn’t increased over the past eight years and we can’t increase taxes 36 per cent to keep up with the union demand,” she said.
Referring to what the town is putting into its fire service, she said, “We are punching way above our weight and we are doing much more than the vast majority of towns in this province.”
The exact date of the layoffs is unknown. The town says no final decisions have been made.
The discussions regarding the dispatcher jobs were in camera because they dealt with the matter of human resources – a traditional proceeding for councils.
Yarmouth fire department platoon chief Lynn Seeley is president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2094. He says the union is looking into the matter and that he will be participating in a conference call on Thursday.
Yarmouth fire chief John Verrall said he had no comment at this time.
The Yarmouth base handles dispatching for 25 departments in the tri-counties.
Meeting to be held
There is a meeting for all fire departments on May 10, at 7:30 p.m., at the Lake Vaughan fire hall. All fire departments are being asked to attend.