Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is editor and publisher of the Stanstead Journal.
Posted 03.09.02
Stanstead, Quebec


Neighboring towns being gouged

Everybody knows volunteer firefighters aren't entirely volunteers. They are paid for the time they spend fighting fires and responding to emergency situations. And rightfully so; it's tough, dangerous, often exhausting work that should be rewarded.

Right, too, that the neighboring municipalities that use the services of these volunteers should pay their wages.

But suddenly the Town of Stanstead is using these volunteers as pawns in what amounts to little more than price gouging.

The town, with no warning to the neighboring municipalities, has jacked up the firefighters' wages when the department visits Ogden, Stanstead East, and Barnston West. Not just a little increase, but 40 percent on top of already generous fees. It must be stressed, though, that it won't be the men getting the extra cash but the town.

Stanstead council has tried to justify this by saying the increase will help cover the cost of administration, training, insurance, equipment and so on. But these neighboring towns already contribute generously to Stanstead's relatively small department by paying what amounts to thousands of dollars per fire call.

In Stanstead East, for instance, council has budgeted $12,000 for coverage of half the municipality by the Stanstead Fire Department. If the year goes well, they'll stay within that budget. By comparison, Stanstead East will pay a fixed rate of $6300 to the Ayer's Cliff Fire Department for coverage of almost exactly the same amount of territory. No more, no less.

More evidence that Stanstead is raking it in at the neighbors' expense? In 2000 alone, the Municipality of Ogden paid out over $33,000 for fire calls; council had budgeted $17,000 that year.

In other words, the Town of Stanstead has the neighboring communities by the short hairs when it comes to fire protection. With no fire departments of their own, they rely on Stanstead for the service. And other fire departments are too far away. Stanstead holds the monopoly. So the town can impose whatever fees it wants, as it has done in the past and is doing again.

Ironically, Stanstead council has often cried foul about the provincial government imposing expenses on the municipalities with no say at the local level. And here they are doing the same thing.

For years, the neighboring municipalities have been after Stanstead to work out a more equitable deal for fire protection, some way to have at least a say if they're going to pay. Stanstead has all but refused to sit down with them, let alone discuss forming a régie or implementing the suggestions in the famous report that now sits on a shelf somewhere.

During this period, Stanstead reps have said, "We have to get our own house in order before we worry about the neighbors." Well, things (thankfully) seem to be running well in the department and the malaise has lifted. It's time to make the fire house a fair house.