Kelowna has been awarded a five year contract to provide fire dispatch service to all the communities in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.
In a 12 to six vote the regional district board awarded the five year fire dispatch service contract to Kelowna fire department, much to the dismay of the three councillors and the mayor of Penticton who sit on the board.
But, with a bid coming in over $1 million lower than Penticton, many on the board stated they just could not endorse another option.
“There were four contractors here and Penticton has put forward a very high price, an incredibly high price. I can tell you every year I have had to vote on this, since 2003, I have come out swinging my fist saying there is no way I am going to support moving dispatch out of Penticton,” said Naramata director Tom Chapman.
“I am almost embarrassed, with all due respect, of the cost differential between Penticton and the other three departments,” Chapman said.
Penticton, which holds the contract until Dec. 31, came in with a bid of $2,865,000. Kelowna’s bid was $1,075,000 and was the lowest of the bid offers, narrowly beating out Surrey fire service and the Fraser Valley Regional District.
“I came here hoping Penticton had made a mistake because I could barely believe the difference in figures, but I haven’t heard that,” said rural Oliver director Allan Patton. “I also heard Kelowna is going to provide a secure and effective system. The money difference is substantial enough to really make it a no-brainer for myself.”
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton, who stepped away from his duties as RDOS chair to speak to this matter as a peer, said the Penticton fire dispatchers have “immediate intimate knowledge of the area” and that can’t be replaced. Ashton said Penticton is not the cheapest but believed they could provide the service better than the other bids.
Dale Kronebusch, RDOS emergency services supervisor, assured the board that Kelowna would provide the same services as Penticton currently does and suggested the board put forward with the contract an expectation of service and benchmarks expected to be met by the Kelowna fire department.
Penticton councillor and regional district board member Garry Litke said when the request for proposal was put out the bidders did not find out until later that there were 4,700 extra calls a year. He said when that information came forward to the bidders their costs didn’t flinch. “I can’t believe that Kelowna would accept an additional 4,700 calls a year with no increase in cost and can absorb it at the same price. It is difficult to believe,” said Litke.
Concerns about using radio over Internet protocol was also raised by Litke. “My understanding is that in the South Okanagan…the Internet often goes down. So when the Internet goes down what happens to your 911 service? People are going to be left with their lives hanging in the balance while somebody tries to figure out how to re-establish communication,” said Litke.
“It all comes down to lives. How much is a life worth? If we are going to start saying that $5 to $6 a household is what the price of a life is, well, then I have a problem with that.”
Kristi Patton is a Capital News contributor.