By Trevor Busch
Another community group has raised objections to one of the Town of Taber’s recommended sites for a proposed fire hall.
Murray Rochelle, chairman of the Signature Point Home Ownership Association, headed the delegation to town council’s Sept. 25 regular meeting where the concerns were outlined.
Signature Point is directly adjacent to one of the town’s proposed sites northwest of the curling rink.
“We have signatures from 92 residents who are concerned about the viability and safety of that particular area. A major concern is congestion.”
The other location being recommended by town administration is the southeast corner of town-owned property near Dr. Hamman and St. Pat’s schools.
The site has recently seen opposition from Horizon School Division’s board of trustees, who issued a stern rebuke to the idea at their board meeting in August.
Administration recommended the two “highest ranked” locations to council during the in camera portion of their Aug. 21 regular meeting. A future public engagement process regarding the fire hall decision was also ordered by council as part of the same resolution.
Rochelle read from a prepared statement on behalf of the petition signatories, detailing their opposition due to levels of foot traffic in the area and reductions in parking space for various town events, among other issues.
“We, the undersigned residents of the Town of Taber, give notice of our strong opposition to the proposed construction of a new fire hall to be located on the parking lot north of the curling rink. We are acutely concerned that this proposed location is very ill-suited to the needs of a fire hall, fire station, and our citizens. This area is both a hub of considerable senior citizen foot traffic and youth activities in our town. Clearly the safety of our seniors and young people needs to be a priority in your deliberations. Further, to eliminate this portion of an already congested parking and traffic area will further complicate the traffic flow through what is meant to be a park area of our town. This further reduction of available space and parking area will clearly make the hosting of large events, such as Cornfest, weddings, graduations, ball games and tournaments, bonspiels, and family gatherings in the park very difficult, and perhaps no longer feasible. So we would ask that these very real concerns be addressed and given great consideration in your deliberations.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz immediately attempted to mitigate the town’s position, suggesting the new hall if constructed in that location would also incorporate the area’s ambulance service.
“You state the fire hall, but I don’t think you have all the information, because the ambulance service is going to be there, too. We’re actually looking at moving the ambulance service closer to our seniors to try to help our ambulance service and protect our seniors as they age.”
The town was recently left approximately $2.4 million from the estate of a local benefactor after he passed away in October 2016. Following in camera discussion at their July 17 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to set aside $1.5 million dollars of the donation for a new fire hall building.
Council discussion over how to best allocate the funding was conducted behind closed doors, and citizens have questioned the lack of accountability and transparency involved with a decision to earmark millions in public funds.
Beginning with an anecdote of a discussion with a former town firefighter, Coun. Joe Strojwas attempted to make a proposal suggesting the town consider a permanent paid fire service to alleviate response time concerns in the community.
Before Strojwas could finish this statement, however, he was abruptly interrupted by CAO Cory Armfelt over an issue of meeting protocol.
“I’m just concerned about a point of order that’s happening right now. We have a delegation in front of us, and so we should be focusing on asking that delegation questions. We can deliberate the fire hall later on in the evening. For the council session, I think we should focus on the delegation.”
Coun. Randy Sparks suggested the concerns of residents need to be taken into account when council deliberates the locations that have been recommended by administration.
“I could comment on what Councillor Strojwas has just said, but I won’t, because this isn’t the time and place for that to be happening. We need to hear what the citizens of the Town of Taber think about the sites that have been chosen, and that’s why this process has started, so that you, as citizens, have the opportunity to come here and let council know what you feel about these sites. I’ve had individuals from the other site that live there contact me and are very concerned about that also. As council, if we have 92 residents that are living within the vicinity of this proposed site, council needs to listen to what these 92 residents have to say, because they are strongly opposed.”