Vernon is considering contracting out fire dispatch services although it criticized other communities for doing the same. - Black press photo

Vernon is considering contracting out fire dispatch services although it criticized other communities for doing the same. - Black press photo

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A break from the past

City of Vernon’s potential privitization of fire dispatch a shift from former policies

A different set of eyes can bring a new perspective and that’s apparently the case at Vernon city hall.

It was just back in 2011, that council gave a resounding endorsement to in-house fire dispatch by agreeing to spend $209,285 on equipment instead of a $336,820 model that would have seen some of the systems administered by a Vancouver firm.

Renovations worth $100,000 were also done to the fire hall to accommodate dispatch and to research technological options.

“It meets our needs and will meet our needs with upgrades as time goes along,” said Wayne Lippert, then-mayor.

But fast-forward to 2017 and council is now pursuing information on possibly contracting out fire dispatch.

“We want to look at it from the taxpayers’ perspective. We want to know our options,” said Akbal Mund, current mayor.

What has changed. Well first off, Mund is the second mayor since Lippert, while council members have also come and gone. But perhaps more importantly, the bureaucracy has shifted during the past six years.

And the current batch of civil servants are making recommendations to the politicians based on experiences gained elsewhere. So it likely isn’t coincidence that when the city issued a release about dispatch, Cranbrook was mentioned as a place where contracting out has occurred. Vernon’s chief administrative officer, Will Pearce, came from the East Kootenay town as did interim fire chief David Lind, while Wayne Price, Cranbrook’s current fire chief, is providing some support in Vernon.

Obviously there is nothing wrong with a municipality looking at operations and determining if a more cost-effective option exists. But consider that also back in 2011, other local communities were criticized harshly for doing exactly that.

At the time, Vernon officials just expected the Regional District of North Okanagan would renew a service contract, and it actually tried to push RDNO into a corner by not submitting a formal bid when a request for proposals was issued.

“Everyone knows the costs and the information has been given to them,” said then-councillor Jack Gilroy of why the other communities should simply accept Vernon’s terms.

Ultimately, the city’s strategy failed and RDNO has received dispatch from the Fraser Valley Regional District ever since.

In fact, current Coun. Brian Quiring partly blames the need for a service review on the city never attracting dispatch customers to offset operating expenses.

“This (possible privatization) is an end result of a model that is not economically viable,” he said.

In 2011, then-mayor Lippert was defiant about the city’s decision to go it alone from the rest of RDNO.

“We found it was to our benefit to carry on with our own dispatch,” he said.

Six years later, and Lippert’s legacy has obviously been abandoned.