Municipalities in Prescott and Russell will have to sign  new contracts with Hawkesbury fire dispatch before February.

While every Prescott Russell municipality currently using Hawkesbury’s dispatch service has said it would switch to Ottawa’s fire dispatch service, Ottawa now says it won’t accept each municipality separately – everyone has to switch over as a group. And, Ottawa’s dispatch service has said it can’t accommodate a switch before February.

With contracts with Hawkesbury’s service expiring in February and no deal with Ottawa, local municipalities are in an awkward position. They have been left with no choice except to negotiate new contracts, quickly, for the essential service.

On Wednesday, Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois said a new committee in Hawkesbury will handle contract negotiations. She said her municipality would not take advantage of the situation. “We could, but we won’t,” she said.

It was decided Hawkesbury will prepare a new contract and distribute it to the other municipalities, and if necessary, Counties CAO Stephane Parisien will act as a mediator. The new contract will be for 18 months or longer, with the understanding everyone will eventually switch over to Ottawa’s service.

Mayor Charlebois said she couldn’t say when a contract will be done, and said East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby was “being pushy” when he asked for an estimate.

Infrastructure improvements

Local municipalities will need to make millions of dollars worth of improvements to fire dispatch infrastructure in the United Counties before switching over to Ottawa. On Wednesday, Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux proposed the United Counties should be responsible for the cost of the improvements – at the moment, each individual municipality will be responsible. He also suggested the Counties negotiate with Hawkesbury and Ottawa on behalf of the individual municipalities, but both resolutions were withdrawn.

After a study commissioned by the United Counties suggested Ottawa’s prices would be much cheaper for Hawkesbury dispatch customers, Russell Township was first to act, voting to make the switch in June of 2015. Other local municipalities followed suit – because the costs of the dispatch service are shared by its customers, when one leaves, costs go up for everyone else. The study estimated the cost for Ottawa’s fire dispatch service would be about $3.25 per capita, regardless of how many municipalities joined.