Municipalities talk fire services

Christopher Gooding
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SPRINGHILL - Despite hesitations of sitting at the same table as the Town of Amherst, Warden Keith Hunter and representatives from the Municipality of Cumberland County arrived promptly in Springhill to meet with the mayors of Amherst, Oxford, Springhill and Parrsboro and start talking about the future of fire services throughout the region.

SPRINGHILL - Despite hesitations of sitting at the same table as the Town of Amherst, Warden Keith Hunter and representatives from the Municipality of Cumberland County arrived promptly in Springhill to meet with the mayors of Amherst, Oxford, Springhill and Parrsboro and start talking about the future of fire services throughout the region.

What many were expecting to be a short meeting, however, rolled into the mid-afternoon as each side made their case.

"Given the back and forth, give and take nature of the talks, giving [the meeting] an hour was a little short sighted," Oxford's CAO Darrell White said.

Unable to comment on the in-camera discussions, White reported that the municipal leaders will now go to their respective.

Whether progress was been made or not is speculative.

"The real sign of progress is that they showed up," Amherst mayor Jerry Hallee said. "And I made note of that. Whether or not the will is there to resolve this is yet to be determined."

Hallee was reluctant to say things are moving closer to a resolution from the dispute, but Amherst town council is holding a special meeting on Friday at 1:30 p.m. to consider a counter-proposal from the county.

Still he isn't optimistic a deal is near.

"I don't even know if the numbers will ever be made public, but I don't think council will approve it," Hallee said. "I don't know how they could."

Warden Hunter said later that he thought the meeting was productive.

"They gave us a proposal and we gave them a counter proposal. Now the ball is in their court," Hunter said. "Hopefully, they'll either accept it or come back with another proposal."

Hunter is not sure whether he expects an agreement to come soon, but he said the sides are a lot closer now than they've ever been.

In an all-for-one, one-for-all strategy the four town's extended an invitation to the county to proceed with discussions despite the county's refusal to include Amherst in it discussions, saying that community's request for $286,000 and an undisclosed annual capital contribution was inflated and unreasonable. Requests made by Springhill, Oxford and Parrsboro, Warden Keith Hunter was reported saying, were within the realm of negotiation, however.

Oxford, presently receiving an estimated $34,000 for providing fire services to the county has requested more than $46,000 to renew its contract while the municipality is offering $36,000. Springhill, which is seeking $61,000 to renew its contract, has been offered $36,000 while Parrsboro has been offered $27,500, just shy of its $28,000 asking price.

Amherst, however, stands to suffer the greatest loss for providing services to the county, with just $45,000 on the table or $55,000 if the town agrees to purchase its own aerial truck. Presently Amherst receives $130,000 for providing fire services to the county.

Rejecting the county's initial offer, the four towns served notice they would be withdrawing fire services to the county effective July 1, 2008.

Building its own fire department near Amherst, Warden Hunter had said, would be cheaper than giving in to the Town of Amherst's request and leave money available to updating Collingwood's fire services to residents outside the Town of Oxford.


Organizations: Amherst town council

Geographic location: Amherst, Oxford, Parrsboro Cumberland County

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