The City of Langford’s decision to strike out on its own for emergency fire dispatch services will likely put more cash in the pockets of Sooke taxpayers.
Langford has operated a joint fire dispatch service for nine years with Sooke, Highlands, Metchosin, Salt Spring Island, the Southern Gulf Islands and the Juan de Fuca electoral areas under the auspices of the Capital Regional District.
The recent move forced the other municipalities to find another service, and after the CRD looked around, it found only one likely partner – Saanich.
“We didn’t have much of a choice because only Saanich answered the RFP (request for proposal). Now we’re waiting for more information from the CRD,” Sooke Fire Chief Kenn Mount said.
The District of Sooke pays $120,995 a year for the Langford dispatch, and that’s expected to drop to $87,356 when Saanich takes over the service next year.
“It will be modelled on cost per call, based on call volume rather than on population,” Mayor Maja Tait said.
Sooke Fire Rescue answers about 850 calls per year.
Mount said there’s still the opportunity to save more money with the dispatch service since there will be no start-up costs with Saanich because it is an existing service.
Over the last several years, many smaller dispatch centres in the Fraser Valley, Nanaimo and Trail have closed, with emergency services being moved to larger centres to handle calls. The trend is fewer dispatch centres taking on greater responsibilities to improve their infrastructure, Mount said.
Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey said the needs of an urban area like Langford are different from other communities in the regional group, so it makes sense they would seek separate contracts.
As the largest municipality in the group, Langford’s participation has been financially meaningful. But with the switch to a more significant external dispatch operator, a CRD staff report said there will likely be no financial implications due to Langford leaving.
Staff predicted in the report a cost savings of up to half, even without Langford.
Langford has mutual aid agreements with Colwood and View Royal, which haven’t used the Langford-based dispatch since 2012. Coordination between the separate dispatchers is currently manual, which Langford Mayor Stew Young said leads to “some delay.” He previously told Black Press the system works as is, but he thinks using the same dispatcher will make it better.
– with files from Zoe Ducklow