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FAQs

 

1.    Why is a new Community Safety Building required in Sidney?

The Sidney Fire Department in conjunction with the British Columbia Ambulance Service Station located in Sidney provides emergency services within Town boundaries and to our mutual aid partners upon request for assistance. Sidney’s current fire hall was constructed in 1988 and over the twenty five –plus years of operation, it has become overcrowded and cannot accommodate the requirements of a department that has added seven career staff, larger and additional apparatus, and requires a safe drill ground with a training tower. This coupled with the existing fire hall and ambulance station not being constructed to withstand a moderate to severe seismic event are key factors in the decision to construct a new Community Safety Building.

2.    How did the Town determine the new location for the Community Safety Building?

The search for a new location for a Community Safety Building first came before council in 2010. Two other sites were considered prior to the selection of our current site. Unfortunately our ability enter into purchase and or lease agreements for these sites fell through. We are pleased with our final site selection and this has been bolstered by the positive feedback we have received from local area residents after going door to door and attendees at our public open house.

3.   What impact will there be to fire and emergency response times for personnel and equipment? Can response times meet accepted standards when there is traffic congestion around the Mary Winspear Centre, especially when shows are beginning or ending?

No response time increases are anticipated.  In the event that traffic at Seventh and Bevan/Beacon does threaten to increase response times, the Fire Department will utilize traffic control devices to change the lights, facilitating a quicker response.

Many urban fire halls have flashing lights near both sides of their driveway accesses to ensure exiting response vehicles have priority over all other traffic; we plan to have similar technology.

4.    What is the risk that the building would be damaged by a plane crash and unable to provide service in an emergency? Is the proposed building on an airport flight path?

The CSB location is located North of the runway centerline and well out the Runway End Safety Area (RESA) factoring in the maximum permitted runway expansion and using the international RESA standard which is much greater than the Transport Canada requirement.  Attached is a corresponding report outlining the CSB's compliance with federal safety requirements.

5.     What is the total cost of the building and how does the Town propose to pay for it?  The questioner assumed that the total cost would exceed $10 million. Has Sidney secured grants from other levels of government to reduce the costs to Sidney?

At this time, our professional estimates, developed by a construction company with extensive experience in building fire halls, are indicating that the total cost of the building will be approximately $10M.  We have no reason to think that costs will exceed this amount if we proceed with construction in the near future.  Our project architect has warned us, however, that every year of delay will likely result in cost increases of 10%.

As we have indicated in all of our public information to date, the project will be funded from a combination of:  borrowing; proceeds from the sale of the existing fire hall site; lease payments from BC Ambulance Service; Gas Tax revenues.  We have consistently estimated that the ultimate borrowing amount would be somewhere between $5M and $8M; this is still a reliable estimate.  All of this information has been on our website for quite some time.

Government grants are typically not available for projects such as this, or for municipal buildings in general.  It is anticipated that each local government/community will pay its own way for these types of assets.

Please refer to the Finances page for a more thorough discussion.


6.    Regarding the Alternative Approval Process which gives residents a say in major borrowing, has Sidney ever used the AAP before? Please provide some examples of projects where the AAP was used by Sidney and neighbouring municipalities. Are there also examples where the AFZ has been used for borrowing of this magnitude?

Yes, Sidney has used AAP in the past.  In fact, our last long-term borrowing was approved through AAP. This process was undertaken in late 2009 for a $3M borrowing that covered 3 projects:  Lochside Walkway Revitalization, Iroquios Park Improvements and Public Works Yard Improvements.  The Town’s only other long-term borrowing within the last ten years or so was for only $850,000, and it was done Assent Free back in 2005.

AAP is a very commonly used borrowing approval process throughout BC, especially for borrowing that needs approval in between elections.

Assent Free borrowing is not that common, as not many municipalities have enough “borrowing room” to undertake it, especially at such a high amount.  There may or may not be others who have borrowed this much through the AFZ.  The fact that the legislation specifically allows for it may indicate that others in the same position may have done so.

Please note:  On August 22nd, Council made the decision to go Assent Free for this borrowing, as permitted under legislation, and due to our low level of debt.  The borrowing bylaw will be back before Council for adoption in October, following Ministerial review.

7.    What is the total interest cost of borrowing the $10 million the Town is considering? From whom would the money be borrowed and over what term?

All municipalities in BC must borrow funds through the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA).  The MFA is an entity set up by the province in 1970 for the purpose of providing borrowing and investment services to local governments.  The MFA provides BC local governments with the best credit rating in Canada (AAA), which results in the best possible borrowing rates.

We are currently considering a 30-year borrowing term, for a building with an expected lifespan of at least twice that.

The exact amount of interest can only be estimated at this time.  The way MFA borrowing works, we can lock in for a period of 5 or 10 years at a time, at the interest rate in effect at the time the borrowing is financed by the MFA (they have 2 debt issues a year – spring and fall).  We are planning on locking in for a 10-year term; the interest rate for such a term is currently estimated at 2.22% (or 1.54% for 5 years).  Each time a term is over, we have to lock in for another term at the interest rates that will be in effect at that time.

The best estimate we can provide is by using the current projected 30-year rate, which is 3.0%.  At this rate, the interest cost for the full term is estimated to be approximately $4.8M.

Please note that the above estimate is based on the full $10M being borrowed.  As discussed in #5 above, we are only expecting to borrow somewhere between $5M and $8M; at these levels, the interest cost would obviously be lower ($2.4M to $3.85M).

Also please note that the MFA interest rate projections are constantly changing; what is presented here is based on the most current information.

8.     How will these cumulative cost increases impact Sidney residents?

The annual debt servicing in the first 10 years of the loan is projected to cost between $213,857 and $342,170, for borrowing between $5M and $8M.  This is equivalent to a tax impact between 1.99% and 3.18% ($27 and $44) for the average residence.

Please note that the above tax impacts are based on the current level of property taxes collected by the Town.  The amount of new tax revenue has been increasing over the past two years, and is projected to continue growing, based on the current level of building activity.  New tax revenues will help pay for this expended service, as well as all existing services, reducing the projected impact of this new borrowing on existing taxpayers.

As an example, the proposed Sidney Gateway development, if construction value estimates are realized, would generate enough tax revenue all on its own to cover up to $7.5M in borrowing.

Please refer to the Finances page for a more thorough discussion.

9.      How do the costs of the new building compare with the cost of seismic upgrade for the current Fire Hall and expanding into the parking area beside it, which is already owned by the Town?

Favourably, expansion of the current building to post disaster standards would require a comprehensive refit and addition requiring the land currently used as a public parking lot to the South. This location even with the use of the adjacent parking lot remains too small for a training tower and drill ground area. Therefore in addition to a refurbished and expanded fire hall without ambulance facilities a separate training facility would also be required likely constructed on the West Side of Sidney. Construction of the CSB on Eighth Street provides rental income from BCAS, is inexpensive land as the Town already owns it or obtained it in a lease swap, and can allocate the proceeds of selling the downtown existing fire hall site and possibly the adjacent parking lot to offset CSB construction costs. Lastly if the existing fire hall site was refurbishing it would require a temporary move of fire apparatus likely to the down yard until the addition / reconstruction was complete.


10.   Some residents assume that Sidney may need a new Town Hall in the next few years.  Has consideration been given to incorporating the Town Hall into the Public Safety Building?

At some point in the future, Sidney may require a new Town Hall, but those needs are not imminent.  Thus far, consideration has not been given to incorporating the two.

At this point, a new Town Hall is seen as more of a “nice to have” than a “must have”, and the most likely scenario for acquiring a new hall would be through a partnership with a large-scale development.

11.   How will the borrowing for the proposed Community Safety Building impact Sidney’s capacity and cost for future borrowing for projects such as a new Town Hall?

Even at the upper limit of $10M (and we’ve covered the likelihood of the borrowing coming in somewhere between $5-$8M) the Town would be at less than 20% of its borrowing capacity.  This would leave plenty of room for other important projects.  We don’t envision ever using anywhere near our full borrowing capacity, however.

As discussed in #10 above, borrowing for a new Town Hall is not in our current plans.  If some level of “top up’ is required to take advantage of a partnership opportunity through a development, borrowing could be an option; in such a scenario, there would be plenty of borrowing room.

12.  What are the benefits of the new Community Safety Building to justify the costs?

In the event of a moderate or large seismic event, which is estimated at approximately 30% likelihood of occurring in the next 50 years, do Sidney residents expect a response from their fire and emergency medical responders? If the building falls in on the engines, ladder trucks, and ambulances, we cannot provide services to the third oldest cohort of residents in BC.

The current fire hall is also the Town’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) from which all resident response and support activities would be coordinated. If the building is not able to be safely occupied, we would be working out of our secondary, paper based EOC located at the Public Works Yard.

We are the only municipality on the Peninsula that has not invested in post disaster rated Public safety infrastructure, yet we have the largest number and concentration of at-risk residents, who will be totally reliant on emergency services post disaster.

Sidney residents expect a full-service-level response form their fire department, which is provided at a very low cost due to the large number of extremely dedicated volunteers the community is fortunate to have. We ask our firefighters to deliver fully accredited professional levels of service to a growing community comprised increasingly of 4-5 story wood frame multi residential occupancies and small lot, zero lot line single family dwellings. If we expect our firefighters to safely adapt and work in this environment, we must provide them with a facility that allows them to safely train, which requires space for a drill ground and a training tower that simulates standpipe firefighting in multi-story structures.

A new CSB will not only house the FD but also BCAS, components of PEMO, the Peninsula Emergency Measures Organization, a post disaster rated EOC, act as training centre for emergency response agencies on the Saanich Peninsula, and serve as a backup Town Hall facility to maintain business continuity post disaster.

As the Town grows, the requirement for additional staff housed at the CSB to provide emergency services 24 hours a day will increase. Having dorm rooms that we can offer to “resident firefighters” provides us the opportunity to have response staff at the fire hall for the cost of simply housing them, providing laundry facilities, and fitness facilities. This is a cost saving strategy that many forward thinking municipalities are moving towards, as it provides an exceptional level of service to residents without an additional tax burden (i.e. for a full-time, paid department).

It is only a matter of time before a new fire hall is required.  The planning we are doing right now will address our needs for at least the next 50 years.  Unfortunately, the longer we wait, the greater the overall risk to our community and the greater the cost.

13.  Why not locate the Community Safety Building on the west side of the Highway, possibly on the lands being proposed for Gateway?

66% of firefighters live east of Highway 17; 24% live on the west side; 10% live in North Saanich.

East vs West Sidney Call Volume:
  2014
2015
 East Sidney Calls:
411/500=82% 604/687=88%
 West Sidney Calls:
77/500=16% 76/687=11%
 Mutual Aid (Out of District) Calls:
11/500=2% 7/687=1%
     

Requiring 66% of firefighters to cross Highway 17 to west Sidney, then respond in emergency vehicles back across Highway 17 to east Sidney in 88% of call outs cannot be justified.

Resulting increase in response time due to transiting back and forth across Highway 17 may affect building spatial separation distance and insurance premiums.

14.    How often are sirens used?

Discretion is used in the deployment of sirens and air horns, and they are never used unnecessarily. This is particularly applicable during late evening and early morning hours.

Although the actual number of emergencies is unpredictable, when fire apparatus and ambulances are required to have their lights and sirens “active” when responding to emergencies to clear traffic it is done so with discretion.

15.    How many Firefighters/Paramedics will work at this Station?

The Community Safety Building will staffed by seven career firefighters Monday to Friday and thirty-five dedicated evenings and weekends providing 24/7 365 days per year coverage. There will also be two BC Ambulance crews based at the Community Safety Building.

16.    What can I expect when I have a fire / ambulance station as a neighbour?

Fire / ambulance stations make good neighbors. These public safety facilities feature grounds that are always well-maintained and clean. Sidney’s emergency responders love being a part of the community they serve and Sidney Fire prides itself on being good community members and values its reputation of volunteerism. 

17.    How would the architecture of the building fit into the surrounding neighbourhood?

The Town of Sidney takes great pride in the appearance of its facilities as civic assets. In addition, the Town of Sidney is sensitive to the need for the Community Safety Building design to mesh with its surroundings. To that end, the Town has given thoughtful consideration to the architecture of the building through the design process. Our design team has done an excellent job producing a not only an efficient and functional building but also one that compliments and augments the surrounding neighborhood.

18.    Will a fire station in my neighbourhood negatively impact my property value?

Many residents, realtors, and contractors believe that having a fire station in a neighborhood actually increases the value of nearby homes, and there is no evidence to support a homeowner’s concern that the presence of a fire/paramedic station in the neighborhood will reduce property values.

19.    What value is there in having a fire station in your neighbourhood?

Constructing a new Community Safety Building meets not only the needs of Sidney’s emergency responders but also provides advantages to the neighborhood as well. The presence of a fire station adds security to the neighborhood. A fire station is a public safety building with 24-hour staffing available to respond 365 days a year which adds to the security and quick response should something happen. When fire breaks out or a medical emergency occurs, time is of the essence. Having a fire/paramedic station in your neighborhood means firefighters and paramedics are closer to you or your family in your time of need.

20.   Are fire/paramedic stations noisy?

Fire/paramedic stations are not inherently noisy, and personnel are sensitive to their location and their surroundings. Consider the following. − Not all calls are “lights and sirens” emergency responses. Although safely exiting the station is a priority, the staff recognizes that the siren can be a disturbance to neighbors, and they use it with discretion. Drive-thru apparatus bays as planned for the Community Safety Building eliminate the need for backing trucks into the station, therefore eliminating the need to use rear back-up warning systems.