Unidentified Highlands East officials told consultants that fire halls in the municipality should be closed, according to an organizational assessment.

Consultant firm Savino Human Resource Partners Limited (SHRP) recommended the closure of one or two of Highlands East’s five fire halls in a report presented to council Oct. 8. It also recommended creating one central office for administration and department heads. The report said it “is not financially prudent for the municipality to continue to run and maintain” all of its facilities.

Those recommendations stemmed from face-to-face interviews with municipal staff and council. The interview summary section of the report was not immediately made public but The Highlander obtained it via a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request. The section said multiple staff and/ or council members suggested closing fire halls and consolidating offices, but not all were identified.

“All people interviewed agreed that there are too many locations to currently maintain,” the report said. “The two most common suggestions for facilities consolidation by people interview included:

“Reduce the number of fire stations by 1 or 2 and have agreements with neighbouring municipalities to cover the affected areas. Reduce the number of municipal offices down to one and have all Deptartment Heads and Admin staff work from the same location.”

Another recommendation was to centralize equipment purchases, SHRP said.

SHRP interviewed 18 people. Those were three council members, including Mayor Dave Burton, chief administrative officer Shannon Hunter, all department heads and other staff. The interviews were kept anonymous with no indication of who was interviewed or what each person said.

It is not clear who suggested closing halls or what information that was based on. The talks occurred in June before any specific, up-to-date facilities data had been presented to either council or the Highlands East Fire Committee. The committee, which is tasked with reviewing fire services, is exploring fewer fire halls as an option but has yet to make any recommendations to council.

Most of the report detailed surveys on internal operations.

Councillors want more information

The Highlander reached out to all Highlands East councillors about their positions on closing fire halls. Each of them indicated more information needs to come forward before deciding.

”I have not got, nor has any council member, enough information to decide or comment on closing anything. I think it’s premature,” Burton said.

Fire committee chair and Coun. Cam McKenzie said he was surprised to see the recommendation to close halls. He added his mind is still open and the committee has more work ahead of it.

“I don’t have enough information (to decide), personally,” he said.

Other councillors echoed similar sentiments.

“I need much more information,” Coun. Suzanne Partridge said. “I, personally, have not ever stated that I felt any fire hall should be closed.”

Coun. Ruth Strong said she thinks having one fire hall come into place between Wilberforce and Highland Grove would be something to consider, depending on costs. But she added more needs to be brought forward.

“I feel much more thought and discussion has to be put into this before making decisions,” Strong said.

Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall said he has yet to decide. He added council must consider different options and factors such as insurance rates.

He further said a recommendation coming forward does not mean it reflects the municipality’s opinion.

“It’s up for consideration but that’s as far as it is at,” Ryall said. “At the end of the day, it’s up for us to go through and determine what we would or would not do.”

MacKenzie said the fire committee would discuss the organizational and facility reviews.

When asked, he said he would not personally put much stock into SHRP’s recommendation to close fire halls.

“Down the road, council will have to make some decisions. I think council’s going to be open-minded.”

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Joseph Quigley is a staff writer with The Highlander. Joseph is always digging hard for news stories and covers all the latest happenings in the County of Haliburton. He believes in the importance of local news, finding more to every story and listening to marginalized voices. When he’s not working on news, Joseph finds himself getting all-too engaged in social media and cheering on his favourite Toronto Maple Leafs.