By Trevor Busch
Taberite Forrest Lester is taking a petition to the streets to try to force the town’s hand over a potential relocation of the current fire hall.
Lester, who has lived in the community for over 25 years, began door knocking last week and has received a positive response so far from other citizens that are less than enthusiastic about the town’s proposal.
“What I’m hoping to achieve is to make the council realize that the rest of the citizens — or the taxpayers of Taber — do not have to fund the construction of other people,” Lester told the Times last week before commencing his petition campaign. “They’re delusional about if we build low cost housing, industry is coming to Taber. What we’re saying is that council should reconsider their decision to move the fire hall.”
At the town’s Feb. 13 Emergency Services Building Open House, moving the fire hall to a more centralized location has been highlighted as being able to reduce response times by approximately five minutes, increasing the safety of residents and businesses.
The Alberta Building Code in 2006 addressed high intensity residential fires (HIRF), identifying a need for fire departments to respond in under 10 minutes more than 90 per cent of the time.
Lester is exploring various options on how to get the message out including a social media campaign, but right now he is employing the tried-and-true method of simple door knocking. He expects to wrap up the effort in mid-April before making a formal presentation to town council.
“It’s mostly going to be door-to-door, and I think we have a good chance. I’d like to get a thousand signatures or more. If you get a lot of signatures, they’ll pay attention. I just want them to be aware that the majority of citizens don’t want this. They’ve made a preliminary decision to fund it, I just want them to realize the mistake they’re making by putting this burden on the rest of the taxpayers in Taber. There’s still a downturn in the oil patch, I know lots of people that have lost their jobs and are just scraping by doing other stuff, it’s just an extra burden and I feel that all levels of government are taking advantage of all of us, from the municipal right up to the federal, and it’s got to stop sometime. It’s pretty easy to spend someone else’s money without any conscience. And then all the sudden it’s ‘jeez we made a mistake’, or we move that fire hall, they come up with a new rule, and it’s still inadequate.”
Lester attacked as fantasy any assertion by town officials on Feb. 13 that the community lost out on a major value-added agricultural development because of a lack of low-cost housing.
“And when they said they missed out on Cavendish Farms, they were never leaving Lethbridge, ever. Just to do our due diligence, let’s find out what someone else has. We have no intention of going anywhere else, let’s ask, because it’s free to ask. They come to the town, what are you going to do for us if we move to Taber, with zero intention? If Taber said we’ll fund your building, we’ll fund this, this and this, you guys just move in — they might have to think about it. But the City of Lethbridge and Lethbridge County, they’re putting in an $11 million pipeline for them. Taber can’t do that. You’re not leaving where you’re established unless something completely phenomenal comes up. That’s just the way it is.”
Suggesting the problem of HIRF is more of a housing design issue than one of firefighter response times, Lester went on to suggest the Town of Taber’s information is misleading to the public.
“Their definitions on HIRF — you can spin the code anyway you want, but they definitely aren’t lying — you can put sprinklers in, that’s one way of mitigating it. Their big thing is that it costs $20,000 more to build a house in Taber than in Coaldale or Lethbridge because of HIRF — which to me is wrong. It’s a design problem, you can’t have openings on the yard sides. My house is like that, my house was built in 2009. But you can put smaller windows in — there’s lots of different things you can do instead of an expensive sprinkler system. It’s a design problem, it’s pretty easy to design a house without windows on either side. Especially the houses they’re talking about, 1,200 square foot two stories, so 600 square feet and you’re not putting too much on the bottom floor. I understand they know HIRF, but to me they’re misleading the general public, and I’ve told them that in my letters to them.”
Lester doesn’t believe that relocating the fire hall will make his property or that of his neighbours any safer should they need the services of the fire department.
“To me, they’re fear mongering to the general public. I live over by the hospital. Is is going to be any better if they move the fire hall there? Are they going to get to my house any faster if it catches on fire? No. So why would I fund it? They think it’s going to improve economic development, and it’s not. The low cost housing, or whatever you want to call it, you can’t have low cost housing. I don’t even know what they’re charging for the lots over there now. But to do a cheap house, 1,000 square feet, it’ll be $175,000 – $200,000, plus the lot, $260,000? That’s not a cheap house for most people.”
The Town of Taber’s enduring fondness for discussion of the issue in closed session, away from the eyes and ears of the general public, hasn’t helped dispel perceptions that the town may have an agenda they’d rather not see become common knowledge.
“They sound like the old Calgary council, all the sudden everything was closed, closed, closed,” said Lester. “I’ve been reading their agendas — closed, closed, closed. Why do we have to have closed sessions in the Town of Taber? Years ago when I had a little more interest in municipal politics, I was going to the council meetings, it never seemed like there was closed council. That’s back when Harley Phillips (former mayor) was there, and with Ray Bryant (former mayor) there didn’t seem to be as many. How many secrets can Taber have on big decisions that they have to make?”
A lack of accountability and transparency over the issue has only escalated significantly this suspicion on the part of the public, according to Lester.
“I don’t think they’ve been as open with it as they could. I don’t think they’re very open to the public. These people have already made up their minds that they’re building this whether the citizens of Taber want it or not. That’s why I’m doing a petition, if we get enough signatures, maybe they’ll reconsider. I honestly don’t think that the person that donated this really wanted them to half-fund a fire hall and put the rest as a burden to the taxpayers. I think his gift was to make improvements to the amenities in Taber, like recreation. He was thinking that people in power have enough common sense, which we’re seeing they don’t.”
Citizens interested in participating or wishing to sign Lester’s petition can contact him at 587-220-0738, or via email at email@example.com.
“Their biggest thing is they want to make it cheaper for contractors to build houses here. They don’t want to make it cheaper for (people) to live here,” said Lester. “Do the needs of the few outweigh the many?”